WASHINGTON – - New orders for U.S.-made capital goods unexpectedly fell in January after three straight months of strong gains, but did little to change views that
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manufacturing was recovering from a prolonged slump amid rising commodity prices.
The Commerce Department said on Monday that non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, dropped 0.4 percent after an upwardly revised 1.1 percent increase in December.
These so-called core capital goods were previously reported to have increased 0.7 percent in December. There were declines in orders for primary metals and electrical equipment, appliances and components, as well as computers and electronic products. Orders for machinery and fabricated metal products rose.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast core capital goods gaining 0.5 percent last month. January's drop in core capital goods orders likely reflects caution among businesses as they await details of the Trump administration's proposed tax reform.
President Donald Trump has promised a "phenomenal" tax plan that the White House said would include tax cuts for businesses and individuals. Details on the plan remain vague, though Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week that he wanted the tax relief enacted by August.
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Expectations of tax cuts, increased infrastructure spending and a lighter regulatory burden have boosted business confidence in recent months, spilling over into investment on capital goods. Manufacturing, which accounts for 12 percent of the U.S. economy, is recovering after being blindsided by a collapse in crude oil prices as well as a strong dollar.
Shipments of core capital goods fell 0.6 percent last month after jumping 1.6 percent in December. Core capital goods shipments are used to calculate equipment spending in the government's gross domestic product measurement.
A 6.0 percent surge in demand for transportation equipment buoyed overall orders for durable goods, items ranging from toasters to aircraft that are meant to last three years or more, which leapt 1.8 percent last month.
Durable goods orders decreased 0.8 percent in December.
Last month's surged reflected a 69.9 percent jump in civilian aircraft orders. The surge came even as Boeing reported on its website that it had received orders for only 26 aircraft last month.
Economists believe not all of the 290 aircraft ordered in December were reflected in the durable goods orders report for that month. Orders for motor vehicles and parts rose 0.2 percent in January, while bookings for defense aircraft soared 59.9 percent.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)