New orders for costly manufactured goods declined for a third straight month in August, the Commerce Department said Thursday in a report that underlined how weak the economy was even before the devastating attacks on Sept. 11.

The value of new durable goods orders fell 0.3 percent to $180.83 billion after larger drops of 1.1 percent in July and 2.5 percent in June. Durables are items like new cars, computers and appliances designed to last three years or more.

Commerce officials said it was the first time in more than two years — since the period from April-June 1999 — that orders had fallen for three months in a row. Shipments, a gauge of current activity on the factory floor, also softened for a third consecutive month, down 1.2 percent in August following declines of 0.2 percent in July and 2.4 percent in June.

Most economists predict the U.S. economy has entered a recession since the attacks on the New York Trade Center and the Pentagon near Washington, in part because uneasiness about the future likely will make consumers more hesitant about taking on expensive new purchases.