OTTAWA, March 12 (Reuters) - Stronger activity in the oil and gas extraction industry helped Canada's industrial capacity climb in the fourth quarter of last year to the highest since the first quarter of 2006, Statistics Canada said on Thursday.
The increase to 83.6 percent was in line with economists' expectations and up slightly from the third quarter's 83.2 percent. Except for a slight decline in the first quarter of 2014, the capacity utilization rate has been increasing since the second quarter of 2013, the agency said.
Oil and gas extraction was mainly responsible for the advance in the fourth quarter, with the industry's utilization rate rising 1.8 percentage points to 88.8 percent on higher volumes.
The manufacturing sector operated at 83.7 percent capacity, up 0.3 percentage point from the third quarter on strength in the machinery and transportation equipment manufacturing industries.
The capacity utilization rate rose in 10 of the 21 major manufacturing groups, making up about 70 percent of the sector's gross domestic product.
For 2014, the average capacity utilization rate of Canadian industries rose 1.6 percentage points to 82.8 percent.
Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Bernadette Baum