By John S. McClenahen December 2001's $3.4 billion advance in manufactures' new orders to $176.4 billion, a 2% increase from November, suggests the U.S. is likely to post "modest" economic growth in this year's first calendar quarter, says Jerry J. Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, Washington. This is "the first credible evidence that the investment-led recession may be behind us," states Jasinowski. "New orders for nondefense capital goods . . . increased for the third month in a row -- a reliable sign that a break from the year-long decline in business investment is at hand." Nondefense capital goods new orders rose to $57.2 billion in December 2001, up $0.7 billion (1.3%) from November, reports the U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of the Census. However, notes Stan Shipley, a senior economist at Merrill Lynch & Co., New York, all of the gain in nondefense capital goods order came from a 26% increase in orders for civilian aircraft and parts. "Excluding aircraft orders, nondefense capital goods orders dropped 1.2%," figures Shipley.