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Factories hit by falling exports in January

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The CBI’s survey of more than 360 factory bosses showed the weakest reading for exports since July last year, which led to a fall in the sector’s total order book this month r elative to normal levels.

A balance of minus 2% said total orders were above normal, while growth in overall output volumes also dipped after a particularly strong November and December, when it hit the highest levels seen since 1995.

A balance of 18% reported a rise in output, down from 29% in the previous two months.

Quarterly figures showed a rosier picture and the January fall in orders failed to dent optimism, with expectations of growth in new orders for the next quarter at its strongest since April 2012.

Continuing weakness in demand from the eurozone may weigh on exports over 2014, while the recent strength of the pound is also likely to prove unhelpful to British manufacturers.

Sterling hit a five-year high on its trade-weighted index in December and remains near that level, making British exports more expensive for overseas buyers.