new orders for most US manufactured goods bounced back in March from a February slump, the Commerce Department reported. The value of new orders for all types of durable goods - those intended to last three years or more - gained 2 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted $197.75 billion after a revised 3.9 percent drop in February. The March pickup surpassed Wall Street economists' forecasts of a 1.2 percent increase.
More bad news for the struggling Japanese economy came on the eve of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's trip to Washington. The Ministry of International Trade and Industry announced the largest one-year drop in production in a quarter-century: 7.1 percent for fiscal 1998. Obuchi said, however, he was not ready to consider a supplementary budget that would pump more money into the economy than his government's stimulus measures already call for.
Two high-profile Japanese companies added their own bad news to the mix. Electronics giant Sony Corp. announced a 20 percent drop in net income for fiscal 1998 and forecast an even deeper plunge - to 39 percent - for the current year. Computer- and arcade-game maker Sega Enterprises said it will post a $378 million loss for the year just ended. Sega announced the layoff of one-quarter of its work force and the closure of 101 amusement facilities.