Orders for US durable goods rise unexpectedly

Paul Sakuma/AP/File
Appliances (seen here at a Costco in Mountain View, Calif., last month) are an important component of durable goods, which rose an unexpected 1.8 percent in May, the US Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

Orders for big-ticket manufactured goods rose in May for the third time in four months, according to a new report, offering a little cheer for America's battered manufacturing sector.

Overall, new orders for durable goods (including manufactured items such as computers, refrigerators, and aircraft) rose a seasonally adjusted 1.8 percent between April and May to $163.9 billion, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. That matched April's 1.8 percent rise and provided the first back-to-back monthly increase in nearly a year and the most robust two-month spurt since July 2007.

Analysts had expected a 0.9 percent drop for May, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey.

The increase was propelled in part by a surge in aircraft orders. Even without the transportation sector, however, new orders were still up 1.1 percent.

While new orders signal stronger factory activity in the future, the data for current shipments of durable goods was dismal. Shipments fell 2.1 percent from April to May, a record 10 consecutive months of declines since at least 1992, when the Commerce Department changed the way it reported the data. At $169.9 billion, it was the lowest level in 12 years.

Factories made more progress trimming their inventories, down 0.8 percent in May from April's total. Total inventories are now down to their lowest levels in more than a year, but the crucial ratio of inventory to shipments is still far above normal levels.

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