WASHINGTON – Orders to U.S. factories rose for a third consecutive month in April, adding to evidence that manufacturing is regaining momentum after a harsh winter.
Orders increased 0.7 percent in April, pushed higher by a surge in demand for military hardware, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. That followed a 1.5 percent increase in March and a 1.7 percent climb in February.
The improvements followed two big declines in January and December, which partly reflected a harsh winter. A key category viewed as a proxy for business investment plans fell by 1.2 percent in April, though that drop came after a 4.7 percent March surge.
The three solid monthly gains in factory orders is expected to bolster the overall economy, which is expected to stage a robust rebound in the April-June quarter.
The economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, shrank at an annual rate of 1 percent in the January-March quarter, reflecting winter storms that disrupted business activity. But in the current quarter, analysts estimate GDP will advance at an annual rate as high as 3.8 percent.
The report on factory orders showed that demand for durable goods, items expected to last at least three years, increased 0.6 percent in April. Orders for nondurable goods rose 0.7 percent in April after a drop of 0.5 percent in March.
The overall increase reflected a rise in demand for defense products, including airplanes and communications equipment. Excluding defense, orders fell 0.1 percent in April.
Transportation orders grew 1.4 percent despite the fact that orders for commercial aircraft, a volatile category, dropped 7.9 percent and demand for autos and auto parts slipped 0.2 percent. Demand for machinery fell 2.8 percent, with orders for construction equipment down 7.2 percent. Orders for computers dropped 13.2 percent, while demand for electrical appliances and other electrical products rose 1.3 percent.