Durable Goods Orders Mixed, Jobless Claims Rise
By Lucia Mutikani
WASHINGTON -- Orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods excluding transportation unexpectedly rose last month as did a gauge of business spending plans, but that will probably not change views that factory activity is slowing.
Other data Thursday showed an unexpected increase in the number of Americans filing new applications for unemployment benefits last week. The run-up in claims, however, likely doesn't signal a fundamental shift in labor market conditions.
The Commerce Department said durable goods orders excluding transportation rose 1.1 percent, the largest increase since May, after falling 1.9 percent in December.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected this category to fall 0.3 percent after a previously reported 1.3 percent decline in December. Durable goods are items from toasters to aircraft meant to last three years or more.
U.S. stock index futures turned positive on the data. Prices for U.S. Treasury debt were little changed.
The increase last month reflected a surge in orders for computers and electronic products, fabricated metal products and defense capital goods.
Outside these three components, details of the report were weak, with declines in orders for machinery, primary metals, electrical equipment, appliances and components, and transportation equipment.
Data such as industrial production and regional factory surveys have suggested that manufacturing hit a soft patch in recent months.
Part of the slowdown reflects unusually cold weather that has disrupted activity. %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Manufacturing is also cooling as businesses work through a massive stock of unsold goods that was accumulated in the second half of 2013.
As result, they are placing fewer orders with manufacturers, holding back factory production. In January, shipments of durable goods fell for a second straight month and inventories rose 0.3 percent after increasing 0.9 percent in December.
A plunge in aircraft orders at Boeing and a drop in motor vehicles orders saw orders for transportation equipment falling 5.6 percent in January. It was the second straight month of declines in this volatile component.
Boeing (BA) reported on its website it received orders for only 38 aircraft last month, sharply down from 319 planes in December.
Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, rose 1.7 percent after dropping by a revised 1.8 percent in December.
Economists had expected orders for these so-called core capital goods to slip 0.5 percent last month after a previously reported 0.6 percent fall in December.
Shipments of core capital goods, which are used to calculate equipment spending in the government's measure of gross domestic product, fell 0.8 percent last month.
December's shipments were revised to show a 0.3 percent increase instead of the previously reported 0.6 percent rise.
Economists attributed the gain in December to businesses pushing through spending before the year-end expiration of tax incentives.
In a separate report, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 2,000 fewer applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits slipping to 335,000 in the week ended Feb. 22, which included the Presidents Day holiday.
While last week's increase pushed them to the upper end of their range so far this year, it probably doesn't signal labor market weakness as claims tend to be volatile around federal holidays.
The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of underlying labor market conditions as it irons out week-to-week volatility, was unchanged at 338,250.
An unusually cold winter has clouded the labor market picture, with job growth braking sharply in December and recovering only marginally in January.
A third month of weak hiring is expected after snowstorms slammed the densely populated regions of the country during the survey week for February nonfarm payrolls.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 8,000 to 2.96 million in the week ended Feb. 15.
The so-called continuing claims have been elevated in recent weeks and some economists say the cold weather could be preventing many recipients from going out to search for work and companies to delay hiring.