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Aircraft Sales Push Factory Orders Up 2.1%

March 04, 1994|From Times Wire Services

A big increase in aircraft sales spurred a sixth consecutive rise in U.S. factory orders in January, sustaining the manufacturing strength that closed out 1993.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that orders rose 2.1% as the new year began, following a revised 1.4% gain in December.

The string of advances is the longest since one that ran from September, 1987, to June, 1988.

But the rise was due to highly volatile orders for aircraft and parts, and economists said manufacturing sales are unlikely to continue growing at the same pace.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department said the number of Americans filing first-time claims for jobless benefits fell by 57,000 last week to the lowest level since Christmas. It was the steepest decline since August, 1992.

Economists said the weather and other seasonal factors were major influences.

Also, the nation's big retailers reported generally good sales during February despite continuing harsh weather that kept many shoppers out of the stores.

The Salomon Bros. retail index rose 6.4% last month after a 3.5% gain in January. The February advance was the biggest jump in the index since December, 1992.

Transportation orders rose 14%, or $5 billion, to a total of $40.7 billion. Manufacturing orders excluding transportation increased a modest 0.3%; excluding defense orders, they were up 1.6%.

Meanwhile, the red-hot auto industry continued to defy the elements last month, car makers reported, with sales of cars and light trucks surging 20%.

Detroit's Big Three and their Japanese and European counterparts sold a total of 1,150,106 cars and trucks in February, up from 958,651 a year ago.

Truck sales, which have been leading the industry's recovery for more than a year, raced out in front again, rising almost 24% while passenger car sales gained 17.6%.

Auto analysts and executives attributed the performance to a variety of factors, including rising consumer confidence, the need to replace aging vehicles and relatively low interest rates.

Among Detroit's Big Three, GM reported the biggest gains in February, with total car and light truck sales rising 26.6% to 397,064. Ford sold 289,794 cars and light trucks, up 13%, while Chrysler's sales jumped 22.9% to 176,550.

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