Durables Deliver 'Mixed' Message

Reversing January's 1.1% decrease, new orders for U.S. manufactured durable goods increased three-tenths of a percentage point in February to $200.8 billion, the U.S. Commerce Department reported March 24. However, the increase was well below the nine-tenths percent that economists generally expected, and excluding orders for transportation equipment, new orders of durables in February were down two-tenths of a percentage point from January.

"The report showed a very mixed manufacturing picture," says Sheryl King, a senior economist at Merrill Lynch & Co., New York. "Notable declines were seen in new orders of vehicles and parts, electrical equipment and fabricated metals, while aircraft orders lifted the headline number, rising by a strong 32%."

The data on sales of new single-family homes was far less ambiguous. Following a January slowdown, sales in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.226 million, the Commerce Department and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development jointly reported on March 24. February's figure was 9.4% above the revised January rate of 1.121 million.

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