WASHINGTON -- Durable goods orders gained slightly in August after July's sharp fall, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

New orders for durable goods rose 0.1% to $224.9 billion for the month, with machinery, fabricated metal products and computers driving the gain.

That followed an 8.1% fall in July over June, showing continuing weakness in the economy, aside from the aircraft business.

With transport equipment excluded, new durable goods orders fell 0.1%. Capital goods orders, goods used in production, fell 0.8%.

“Non-transportation new orders are up by a muted 2.9% year to date over 2012,” noted Cliff Waldman, senior economist for the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, “Mixed sector data reinforce the sluggish impression left by the top-line numbers.  Orders declined in the primary metals sector but were positive in fabricated metals and machinery.

“New orders for nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft, a proxy for business equipment spending, rose by 1.5% after a 3.3% decline in July and were up by a modest 4% year to date over 2012,” he added. “Capital spending signals from the durable goods and gross domestic product reports reflect a basically positive trend that arises from continued economic growth.  But, at the same time, business investment data highlight a hesitant mentality on the part of decision makers as they confront the persistently sluggish performance of the U.S. economy and wide-ranging uncertainties about fiscal, regulatory, and monetary policies. 

“The modest improvement in global economic fortunes will allow for moderate U.S. manufacturing growth over the balance of this year, with some strengthening into 2014,” Waldman concluded. “Unfortunately, the nagging sense that U.S. economic fortunes lack meaningful forward momentum is preventing the aggressive, entrepreneurial capital investment that is needed to generate strong factory sector performance.”