By John S. McClenahen Economists expected U.S. factory orders to increase by nearly a percentage point in February. But, as if to remind the world that economics is not an exact science, orders fell one-tenth of a percentage point to $323.8 billion, says the U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of the Census. In January orders for manufactured goods had advanced 1.1%. Orders for so-called durable goods -- things such as appliances and aircraft -- increased 1.8% in February to $180.5 billion. Transportation equipment and electrical equipment posted the biggest percentage increases. But orders for manufactured non-durables such as food fell 2.4% to $143.3 billion. Does this mean that recent claims that U.S. manufacturing has made an economic turnaround and is on the road to recovery have been premature? Probably not. More likely it means that the road won't be quite as smooth as the broadcast sound bites. "Manufacturers are finding it difficult to gain a strong footing during the early stages of this recovery," says Jerry J. Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, Washington, D.C. "Following two strong months of positive orders in December and January, new orders remained essentially flat in February, which shows that a robust recovery continues to elude the manufacturing sector."