America's factories saw orders for big-ticket goods rebound in September, a fresh dose of good news for manufacturers and a harbinger of better times ahead for the economy as a whole.

The Commerce Department (search) reported Tuesday that new orders for "durable goods" — costly manufactured products expected to last at least three years — rose by 0.8 percent last month. The figure reflected stronger demand for a wide variety of goods, including cars, communications equipment and machinery.

The bounce-back in demand comes after new orders for durable goods dipped by 0.1 percent in August, according to revised figures.

Although September's increase was slightly weaker than the 1 percent advance that some economists were forecasting, August's dip was revised Tuesday to show a much smaller decline than the 1.1 percent drop initially reported.

The 0.8 percent rise registered in September was the best showing since July, when new orders for durable goods went up by 1.6 percent.

Excluding orders for transportation equipment (search), which can swing widely from month to month, all other orders for durable goods rose by 1.2 percent in September, marking the fifth consecutive monthly increase.

Tuesday's report is consistent with a Federal Reserve (search) report and some other recent data showing improvement in the manufacturing sector. Factories were hardest hit by the 2001 recession and have struggled the most to get back on firmer footing.

Manufacturers have not only suffered from economic hard times at home and abroad but they also have had to compete with a flood of imported goods flowing into the United States. The situation has contributed to millions of manufacturing job losses in the last three years.

Shipments — a good barometer of current demand — rose by 2.5 percent in September, a turnaround from the 2.6 percent drop posted in August.

New orders for cars, meanwhile, rose 7.6 percent in September, the largest increase since January, and an improvement from the 7.1 percent decrease seen in August.

For communications equipment, orders rose 5.8 percent in September, compared with a 2.2 drop the month before. Orders for machinery increased 1 percent, after a 0.2 percent dip in August. For electrical equipment and appliances, orders went up 1.4 percent in September, on top of a 0.9 percent gain.

However, orders for fabricated metal products, primary metals, which includes steel, and computers went down in September.