U.S. core capital goods orders rise in boost to business investment

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New orders for key U.S.-made capital goods increased for an eighth straight month in December, pointing to solid growth in business spending on equipment in the fourth quarter and likely helping to underpin the economic recovery.

FILE PHOTO: United Auto Workers union member Carrie Attwood uses an ergonomic-arm to install a front seat in a Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle at General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant in Hamtramck, Michigan July 27, 2011. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, rose 0.6% last month, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday. These so-called core capital goods orders advanced 1.0% in November. Last month’s increase was in line with economists’ expectations.

Core capital goods orders surged 1.8% year-on-year in December. Demand has shifted away from services like travel and hospitality towards goods like motor vehicles, electronics and medical equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. That has contributed to boosting production at factories, though output remains about 2.6% below its pre-pandemic level.

Manufacturing, which accounts for 11.9% of the economy, is also being supported by businesses rebuilding depleted inventories. In December, core capital goods orders were lifted by demand for machinery and primary and fabricated metal products. But orders for computers and electronic products fell while bookings for electrical equipment, appliances and components barely rose.

U.S. stocks were set to open lower as investors kept an eye on corporate earnings. The dollar rose against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were higher.

Shipments of core capital goods increased 0.5% last month. Core capital goods shipments are used to calculate equipment spending in the government’s gross domestic product measurement. They gained 0.5% in November.

The data came ahead of government’s snapshot of fourth-quarter gross domestic product on Thursday. According to a Reuters survey of economists, GDP likely increased at a 4.0% annualized rate last quarter.

The anticipated sharp deceleration in growth from a record 33.4% pace of expansion in the July-September period would reflect the exhaustion of nearly $3 trillion in pandemic relief money from the government and a flare-up of coronavirus infections.

The government provided nearly $900 billion in additional fiscal stimulus at the end of December, which is likely to jolt consumer spending in January after it slowed in the last two months. President Joe Biden has unveiled a recovery plan worth $1.9 trillion, though there is resistance from some lawmakers.

The economy contracted at a 31.4% rate in the second quarter, the deepest since the government started keeping records in 1947. It plunged into recession last February. Business investment on equipment rebounded strongly in the third quarter after five straight quarterly declines.

Orders for durable goods, items ranging from toasters to aircraft that are meant to last three years or more, gained 0.2% in December after rising 1.2% in November.

Durable goods orders were restrained by a 1.0% decline in orders for transportation equipment, which followed a 1.9% increase in November.

Orders for civilian aircraft plunged 51.8%. This was despite Boeing reporting on its website that it had received 90 aircraft orders in December, up from 27 in November.

The government recently lifted a 20-month grounding of Boeing’s best-selling 737 MAX jets that came after two crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Orders for motor vehicles and parts rose 1.4% in December after accelerating 2.8% in November.

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