New orders for U.S. durable goods plunged in March amid a sharp drop in commercial aircraft orders, said government data released Wednesday.
New orders of durable goods, defined as products designed to last at least three years, tumbled 4.2% from February, the Commerce Department reported. The decline was much bigger than analysts' average forecast of a 1.7% drop.
A massive 47.6% drop in civilian aircraft orders, a highly volatile segment month-to-month, drove the weak performance.
"This looks horrible" but the headline number was dragged down by aircraft orders in March, said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, noting that aircraft orders "are trending strongly upwards but were unsustainably strong in February."
Excluding transportation orders, durable goods orders fell 1.1% in March, instead of the 0.5% increase predicted by most analysts.
The fall-off in orders in March was broad-based. Apart from transportation orders, which fell 12.5%, their steepest plunge since November 2010, the worst-performing segment was machinery orders, down 2.6%.
The disappointing March reading capped a wobbly first quarter for the manufacturing sector, a key pillar of the U.S. economic recovery from a deep recession.
Durable goods orders fell sharply in January, by 3.5%, but rose a revised 1.9% in February.
The first quarter, however, marked an improvement from a year ago, with durable-goods orders up 9.1%.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012