By Lorraine Woellert
WASHINGTON – Orders for U.S. durable goods fell in March by the most in seven months as demand slumped for commercial aircraft and business investment cooled.
Bookings for goods meant to last at least three years decreased 5.7 percent after a revised 4.3 percent gain the prior month that was smaller than previously estimated, the Commerce Department reported today in Washington. The median forecast of 78 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 3 percent decline. Orders excluding transportation equipment, which is volatile month to month, unexpectedly fell for a second month.
Weakness in overseas markets and lower commodities prices have restrained demand at some companies such as Caterpillar Inc., showing manufacturing slowed as the first quarter drew to a close. At the same time, sustained motor vehicle sales and a pickup in the housing market may help keep production from faltering.
“Manufacturing ended the quarter on a very weak note,” said, Brian Jones, senior U.S. economist at Societe Generale in New York, who projected a 6 percent decrease in March orders. “Not only was the March number weak but we lost on the prior revision.”
Orders declined in March for metals, machinery and electrical equipment, today’s figures showed. Estimates for durable goods in the Bloomberg survey ranged from a drop of 6 percent to a 1 percent gain after a previously reported February gain of 5.6 percent.
Stock-index futures erased gains after the figures, with the contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index expiring in June declining less than 0.1 percent to 1,573.3 at 8:45 a.m. in New York.
Today’s figures showed bookings for commercial aircraft declined 48.2 percent. Boeing Co., the Chicago-based aerospace company, said it received orders for 39 aircraft in March, down from 179 placed in February.
Orders for automobiles increased 0.2 percent after a 4.7 percent jump in February. Cars and light trucks sold at a 15.2 million annual rate in March after 15.3 million the prior month, according to Ward’s Automotive Group data.
Bookings excluding demand for transportation equipment decreased in March after a 1.7 percent decline the prior month. Those orders were projected to rise 0.5 percent, according to the Bloomberg survey median.