P.M. BRIEFING : Factory Use Rate Drops to 84.3%

<i> From Times wire services</i>

The operating rate at U.S. factories, mines and utilities eased in February to 84.3% of capacity, the first decline since last September, the government reported today.

The Federal Reserve Board said February’s operating rate dropped 0.2 percentage point from January’s 84.5% level, a point that had not been surpassed in nearly a decade.

The closer factories get to full capacity, the greater the fear they will have trouble producing enough goods to meet demand, leading to shortages and price increases. The Fed for a year has been nudging up interest rates in an effort to slow economic growth and thus restrain inflation.