WASHINGTON – America's factories saw orders for big-ticket goods rise by 0.3 percent in February after falling sharply the month before. The report highlighted the sometimes uneven recovery experienced by manufacturers.
The increase in February pushed up the total value of new bookings for durable goods (search) — costly manufactured products expected to last at least three years — to $200.8 billion. The rise in orders came after a 1.1 percent drop in January, the Commerce Department (search) reported Thursday.
While most of January's decline reflected weakness in demand for commercial airplanes, most of February's pickup came from a big bounceback in new orders for commercial aircraft and parts. Demand for other types of manufactured goods last month was somewhat sluggish.
Excluding orders for transportation equipment, which can swing widely from month to month, durable-goods orders actually dipped by 0.2 percent in February, the first decline since November.
In other economic news, the number of new people signing up for unemployment benefits last week rose by a seasonally adjusted 3,000 to 324,000 the Labor Department (search) reported. Even with the rise, claims are still at a level that suggests a gradual improvement in the jobs market.
The 0.3 percent rise in overall orders for big-ticket goods in February was weaker than some analysts were expecting. They were forecasting a 0.8 percent rise.
A decline in orders for communications equipment, automobiles, electrical equipment, machinery and fabricated metal products restrained February's performance. Orders for commercial aircraft, military aircraft, computers and primary metals, a category that includes steel, all showed gains in February.
Wanting to prevent an inflation flareup, the Federal Reserve (search) on Tuesday boosted interest rates for a seventh time since its rate-raising campaign began last June. It also signaled that more rate increases were likely in the coming months.
Companies have been coping with high prices for energy as well as for certain raw materials. Economists said they'll be on the lookout to determine whether rising inflation translates into caution on the part of businesses. Analysts want to see businesses step up hiring and boost investment — important ingredients for a healthy economy.