By John S. McClenahen Fresh data from the U.S. Federal Reserve on industrial production -- which includes manufacturing, mining and utilities -- suggest an end to recession is near. Although industrial production in January fell for the 15th time in 16 months, the rate of decline is slowing. In January it was 0.1%. And for each of the three months from November 2001 through January 2002, output fell on average one-quarter of a percent, dramatically smaller than the 0.5% monthly average for the preceding 12 months, notes the Fed. In January, manufacturing output was unchanged from December's level, as steel production increased after a big decline in December. Prior to January, manufacturing output had declined in 14 of the preceding 15 months. Nevertheless, the manufacturing outlook remains "clouded and uncertain," states Jerry J. Jasinowski, president of the National Assn. of Manufacturers, Washington. "Even though the output of durable-goods producers -- the sector hit hardest during the recession -- actually rose in January by 0.1%, there has yet to emerge a collective rebound. "Only about half of the durable manufacturing sectors showed improvement last month. At the same time, the output of nondurables declined by 0.2% for the third month in a row," he says.