After an uneven spring, manufacturing output rose 0.5% in July, the same rate of increase as in June, the Federal Reserve reported today. Compared to a year ago, manufacturing output is up 5.0%.

Capacity utilization in the nation's factories increased 1.2% to 77.8%, the bank reported. That level is 1.0% below the long-term average.

Overall industrial production was up 0.6%, a healthy rise from the 0.1% gains in May and June. Along with the manufacturing increase, mining was up 1.2% and utilities registered a 1.3% gain.

Automotive production rose 1.9% and was 15.5% higher than in July 2011. Output also rose for defense and space equipment (2.8%), computers and electronic products (1.5%) and primary metals (1.9%). Declines were seen in the industrial machinery (1.9%), wood products (1.8%) and textile and product mills (1.5%).

“The strength of the July report is surprising given that the ISM Index suggested much weaker industry activit," observed Daniel J. Meckstroth, chief economist for the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI).

“Underlying the top-line growth, the gain was uneven," he noted. "Within the 20 major manufacturing industries, 11 industries grew, 7 declined, and 2 were unchanged. A large part of the growth came from the transportation industry. The need to replace worn-out vehicles pushed motor vehicle and parts production up 3.3%. The replacement cycle for aircraft, as well as operating economies and new models, allowed aerospace and miscellaneous transportation equipment to expand 1.6%."

On NAM's Shopfloor blog, Chief Economist Chad Moutray noted that without the strong showing by the automotive sector, manufacturing production would have risen just 0.2%.

Manufacturers "remain deeply concerned about the 'fiscal cliff,' the recession in Europe and the impact of the upcoming election," said Moutray.