MANUFACTURING production declined 2.5% in January this year compared with a year ago after increasing by 0.5% year on year in December. The drop was the worst in one-and-a-half years, Statistics SA data showed on Thursday.

This suggests that economic growth was weak at the beginning of the year.

Output declined in basic iron and steel, nonferrous metal products, metal products and machinery; motor vehicles, parts and accessories and other transport equipment; and furniture divisions.

Increased production in the wood and wood products, paper, publishing and printing division; and the radio, television and communication apparatus and professional equipment division, was not enough to offset the declines.

Seasonally adjusted manufacturing production decreased 1.8% in January 2016 compared with December 2015. This followed month-on-month changes of a 1.9% increase in December 2015 and a 1.2% contraction in November 2015.

Seasonally adjusted manufacturing production decreased 1.1% in the three months ended January 2016 compared with the previous three months, as seven of the 10 manufacturing divisions reported negative growth rates over the period.

Seasonally adjusted manufacturing sales increased 1.4% in January 2016 compared with December, following month-on-month contractions of 0.1% in December 2015 and 1.5% in November 2015.