UK manufacturing contracted in May at its fastest pace since January, tempering signs that the economy is picking up speed.

Overall industrial output was also weaker than expected as it came in unchanged from April, and the country's trade deficit worsened in May to hit its highest level in six months.

Today's figures show that manufacturing shrank by 0.8%, much weaker than forecasts for a 0.3% rise in a Reuters poll.

It was also down 2.9% compared with May 2012, when there was one less public holiday than in May 2013.

Output in the industrial sector - which makes up about 15% of Britain's economy - was flat compared with April, falling short of forecasts for a 0.2% rise, the Office for National Statistics said.

The overall industrial output figure was supported by a 4.9% rise in oil and gas output, the biggest jump in six months after some maintenance projects were completed.

Some economists said they were surprised by the weak manufacturing data, which came a week after a survey of purchasing managers found the sector had its best growth in more than two years in June. That is a month later than the period covered by today's release.

Three surveys published earlier today on the UK economy showed rising house prices, improved business confidence and steady growth in retail sales.

The ONS said that on an annual basis, industrial output was down 2.3%, compared to forecasts for a 1.5% drop. In the three months to May, output in the industrial sector was up 0.3%.

The ONS also said Britain's goods trade deficit grew to £8.491 billion sterling from £8.430 billion in April. Economists had forecast a gap of £8.47 billion. Including Britain's surplus in trade in services, the overall trade deficit widened to £2.435 billion.

The monthly figures tend to be volatile, but over the three months to May, total exports were up 1.9% and imports grew 2.3%.

The Bank of England announced no new bond-buying stimulus last week after the first policy meeting chaired by new governor Mark Carney.

But the central bank surprised markets by warning against premature expectations of an interest rate increase.