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UPDATE 1-Trio of weaker data reports takes shine off UK recovery

William Schomberg and David Milliken
Friday, 10 Jan 2014 | 7:16 AM ET

* Manufacturing, industrial output weaker than expected

* Construction falls in Nov from Oct

* Retail sales growth slows

* Sterling, gilt yields fall

LONDON, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Britain's economic recovery got a "reality check" on Friday when data showed weaker-than-expected manufacturing output, a sharp fall in the construction sector, and a slowdown in retail sales growth.

Economists said growth in the fourth quarter might now struggle to keep up the pace which has made Britain one of the fastest-growing economies among the world's rich nations.

Official data was not seen matching up with strong industry surveys.

Output for both manufacturing and industrial production was flat month-on-month in November, and October's increases were revised down, the Office for National Statistics said.

Economists in a Reuters poll had expected increases of 0.4 percent for manufacturing and industrial output in November.

The data was "something of a reality check for those getting a little carried away by the strength of the UK recovery," said James Ashley, senior economist with RBC Capital Markets.

HSBC's Simon Wells said Friday's data could reduce growth in the fourth quarter to 0.6 percent from 0.8 percent in the July-September period, unless there is a very strong performance from the dominant services sector.

Bad weather in December could also weigh on gross domestic product, he said.

Sterling fell and 10-year British government bond yields touched their lowest level since Dec. 19.

The ONS also said output in Britain's construction sector shrank by 4.0 percent in November from October, its sharpest fall since June 2012 and a setback for a sector which has been recovering from a long slump.

"The recovery in the UK remains broadly on track - but today's data are a reminder that we have not yet reached the sunlit uplands that would pave the way towards thoughts of policy tightening," RBC's Ashley told clients.

The Bank of England has forecast economic growth of 0.9 percent in the October-December period and Friday's data could help underscore its message that it is in no rush to raise record-low interest rates.

"Talk of the UK being the first developed country to hike rates looks rather misplaced," said Marc Ostwald, a fixed income strategist at Monument Securities.

Adding to the sense of a recovery struggling to stay in high gear, a separate survey showed British retail sales growth slowed in December.

A first estimate of Britain's economic growth in the fourth quarter is due to be announced on Jan. 28.

CONFIDENCE GOOD BUT MONEY IN POCKETS SHORT

Britain staged a surprisingly strong recovery in 2013 after struggling to get over the financial crisis. But the economic turnaround has depended largely on spending by consumers, many of whom have been buoyed by a recovery in the housing market while earnings fail to keep up with inflation.

A survey published on Friday by the British Retail Consortium showed that sales in the busy shopping month of December were 1.8 percent higher on the year compared with a 2.3 percent increase in November.

"While confidence levels were higher than the previous year, this wasn't always matched by more money in pockets," BRC Director-General Helen Dickinson said.

The outlook for Britain still contrasts starkly with grim forecasts of a return to recession at the start of last year.

The economy is expected to expand by 2.8 percent this year, according to the BoE. There have been some early signs of a long-awaited shift towards more sustainable growth based on exports and business investment.

Data on Thursday showed that while the country's trade deficit remains wide, goods exports rose to several other European countries, many of which are only starting to emerge from the region's debt crisis.

However, British manufacturing remains 8.5 percent smaller than its peak in 2008, before the financial crisis.

Weighing on overall industrial production in November was a 3.0 percent fall in oil and gas extraction compared with October, largely caused by reduced output at Total's St Fergus onshore North Sea gas terminal, ONS officials said.