By Marcus Leach

The UK's manufacturing sector grew at its fastest pace for 10 months in March, according to the Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI).

March's data confirmed a positive start to 2012, and ensured the country didn't slip back into recession following a negative end to 2011. There was a reminder however that conditions in the sector still remained tough overall.

Despite there being a boost in new orders March's figures were helped by the clearing of backlogged orders.

The index rose to a ten-month high of 52.1, from a revised reading of 51.5 in February, with a reading of 50 or more signalling growth. The PMI has now signalled expansion for four successive months, with its average reading in Q1 2012 (51.8) the highest since the second quarter of last year.

“The continued growth in manufacturing over the past few months points towards a more sustained period of improvement in the sector, and less chance of manufacturing acting as a drag on the overall economy," David Noble, Chief Executive Officer at the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply, said.

“However, manufacturers are still under a great deal of pressure to manage costs and are burning through backlogs of orders to maintain production volumes. Headcounts are being kept to a minimum in part to offset the chronic rising cost of raw materials.

“The pick-up in domestic demand for consumer goods and reports of new product launches is particularly positive. Reports that companies are building up inventories of finished goods suggests there is anticipation about a possible uplift in consumer spending. The even balance of expansion in new orders from home and markets outside Europe is also encouraging, helping to neutralise the effects of a weak Eurozone.”

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