Autos lead sag in US output

America's industrial output fell 3 percent in January as auto production plunged to its lowest level in 22 years, the Federal Reserve Board announced Wednesday.

Industrial output has fallen for six straight months and is down 9.6 percent since the current recession began last July, the Fed said. Auto production, which has fallen for the past seven months, plunged 22 percent in January to the lowest point since 1959, when a major steel strike curtailed the industry.

Although the overall January drop was due in part to severe winter weather which curtailed work schedules, the widespread nature of the downturn indicates ''continued economic weakness,'' the board said.

The only sector to escape last month's slide was the defense industry, which reported an 0.1 percent gain in output. Defense production has risen 3.4 percent since July.

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