U.S. orders for expensive manufactured goods posted an unexpectedly large jump in January, the government said on Wednesday, in another hopeful sign for the economy. 

Orders for durable goods, which are items intended to last for three years or more, rose 2.6 percent to $179.1 billion in January, led by a 21.6 percent jump in orders for aircraft and parts, the Commerce Department said. 

The January increase surpassed the expectations of analysts polled by Reuters, who were anticipating a rise of 1.6 percent. Orders for December rose a revised 0.9 percent to $174.5 billion. 

January's report was the second consecutive increase and the third climb in the last four months. However, orders have declined 4.3 percent since January of last year. 

The report showed gains in most categories, including a 2.2 percent rise in computers and electronic products and a 14.2 percent rise in semiconductor orders. 

Excluding transportation, durable goods orders rose 1.3 percent in January. Other than for defense goods, durable orders climbed 2.3 percent in the month. 

Durable goods for all of 2001 were down 13.2 percent, the weakest showing since 1992, the earliest year for which comparable data is available. 

In the financial markets, U.S. Treasury bonds softened slightly after the stronger-than-expected durable goods orders data and the dollar was on a firm footing. However, the markets were mostly focusing on Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's semi-annual testimony before Congress later in the day for help in interpreting recent positive signs about the economy.