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Orders for U.S. durable goods rose in February, the fourth monthly gain in the last five, spurred by demand for cars, computers and capital equipment.
Bookings for goods meant to last at least three years advanced 2.2 percent, less than projected after a revised 3.6 percent decline the prior month, data from the Commerce Department showed March 28 in Washington. Economists forecast a 3 percent gain, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey.
Corporate equipment upgrades and consumer purchases of new cars are bolstering production, prompting factories to hire and keeping the industry a source of strength for the expansion. Nonetheless, higher fuel costs and slowdowns in Europe and China may limit the pace of manufacturing this year.
“Business spending will remain a key driver of the U.S. economy, not to the same extent as last year, but still a positive force,” said Sal Guatieri, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto, who accurately forecast the durables figure. “The auto industry looks to be coming back because of stronger demand.”
Estimates of 83 economists surveyed by Bloomberg ranged from a drop of 1.4 percent to an increase of 6.4 percent.
Demand for transportation equipment climbed 3.9 percent, led by a 6 percent advance in civilian aircraft orders. Boeing Co., the largest U.S. aircraft maker, said it received 237 orders in February, up from 150 in January.
Bookings for automobiles and parts increased 1.6 percent, the most since October, after a 1.3 percent rise the previous month.
Cars in February sold at the fastest pace in four years, led by Chrysler Group LLC and a surprise gain from General Motors Co. Light-vehicle sales accelerated to a 15 million annual rate, the strongest since February 2008, according to data from Ward’s Automotive Group.
“Based on what we see in terms of pent-up demand and importantly the strength of the economy, we do not believe that short-term fluctuations in pump prices will curtail industry growth this year,” Don Johnson, vice president of U.S. sales operation for GM, said on a March 1 conference call. “American consumers and the overall economy are in much better shape than they were a year ago.”
Last week’s report showed bookings for nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft – a proxy for business investment in items such as computers, engines and communications gear – increased 1.2 percent.
Orders advanced 11.2 percent for communications equipment, the most since June 2011. •