Orders to U.S. factories rose less than forecast in December

Orders placed with U.S. factories increased less than forecast in December, reflecting a drop in non-durable goods that partly countered gains in construction equipment and computers.

Bookings climbed 1.8% after a revised 0.3% drop in November that was initially reported as unchanged, figures from the Commerce Department showed today in Washington. The Bloomberg survey median called for a 2.3% gain. Demand for durable goods increased 4.3%, little changed from a 4.6% gain estimated last week, while non-durables dropped 0.3%  on declines in petroleum and tobacco.

A fourth-quarter pickup in consumer spending is spurring companies including automakers such as Chrysler Group LLC and Ford Motor Co., reviving a manufacturing industry that cooled in the second half of 2012. The acceleration extended into January, according to a gauge last week that showed factories expanded at the strongest pace in nine months.

“Manufacturing’s fine,” said Brian Jones, senior U.S. economist at Societe Generale in New York, who projected a 1.9% gain in orders. “The economy continues to improve.”

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey of 63 economists ranged from a drop of 0.3% to a 3% gain.

Job Prospects

A measure of job prospects fell in January for the first time in four months as more Americans said jobs were harder to get, another report showed. The Conference Board’s Employment Trends Index decreased 0.1% to 109.38 from the prior month’s revised reading of 109.47, the New York-based private research group said. The measure increased 2.7% from January 2012.

Stocks fell, after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index jumped to a five-year high, on concern over increasing political tension in Europe. The S&P 500 dropped 0.6% to 1,503.63 at 10:25 a.m. in New York.

Factory orders excluding the volatile transportation category increased 0.2% in December after falling 0.2% the previous month. Demand minus military hardware advanced 0.3%.

The jump in bookings for durable goods was paced by a 12.2% increase in construction equipment and a 6.4% gain for computers.

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