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Manufactured goods leading recovery? Orders improve in February

April 03, 2012|By Tiffany Hsu
  • Factory orders are up in February after sliding in January, suggesting that manufacturing may be helping the tenuous economic recovery
Factory orders are up in February after sliding in January, suggesting… (Ariana Lindquist / Bloomberg )

The government had its own reassuring economic news in tandem with strong sales data from automakers such as Ford, GM and Chrysler: U.S. factories saw more orders in February after demand dropped the month before.

Orders for manufactured goods rose 1.3% in February after sliding 1.1% in January, resulting in the third increase in four months, according to the Commerce Department.

Durable goods, which are meant to last at least three years, remain some of the main muscle behind the delicate recovery and have seen new orders rise during four of the past five months. In February, they jumped 2.4% to $212.5 billion after diving 3.5% in January.

On Tuesday, Chrysler said its U.S. sales were up 34% in March; Ford landed its best March sales in five years while General Motors said its sales were up 12%.  

But even removing the 3.9% boost in demand for all transportation items, orders were up 0.9% after dipping 0.5%.

And a gauge of future business performance – capital goods orders without counting volatile aircraft and military equipment – jumped 1.7% after plunging 3.4% in January.

Total orders reached $468.4 billion, rising $6 billion over the month.

The new numbers mirror the optimism shown in a report released Monday from the Institute for Supply Management, whose factory index rose to 53.4 from 52.4, representing continued growth in manufacturing.

Overall hope in the economy seems to be tentatively mounting. On Tuesday, Gallup said its economic confidence index was at -20 last month, up from -22 in February and the highest point since the pollster began tracking the measure in early 2008.

The index, which averages Americans’ ratings of current economic conditions and their perceptions of whether the economy is improving or deteriorating, has increased for seven straight months since tumbling to -52 during the U.S. debt crisis in August.

Recent mood-boosters include the stabilizing job market and strong manufacturing reports, though gas prices continue to approach $4 a gallon nationwide. The government will release unemployment numbers Friday.


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