WASHINGTON - Orders to U.S. factories fell in March by the largest amount in seven months but a key category that signals investment plans managed a small increase.
Factory orders dropped 4 percent in March, reflecting a big plunge in the volatile category of commercial aircraft, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Orders had been up 1.9 percent in February.
Orders in a category considered a proxy for business investment plans rose 0.9 percent, a modest gain but an improvement from a preliminary report last week that had shown a decline.
Weaker economies overseas and the impact of across-the-board government spending cuts have made businesses more cautious, dampening demand for manufactured goods. But even with the March decline, total orders stood at $467.3 billion, 43 percent above the recession low hit in March 2009.
Demand for durable goods, items expected to last at least three years, fell 5.8 percent in March, after a 4.3 percent February increase. Orders for nondurable goods, items such as chemicals, petroleum and paper, were down 2.4 percent following a 0.1 percent dip in February. This weakness partly reflects falling prices for energy products.
The 0.9 percent rise in core capital goods, the category watched for business investment, followed a 4.8 percent decline in February and a 6.7 percent surge in January.