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Consumer Confidence Surges

The Conference Board's consumer confidence index jumped to 110.2 in March from 95.0 in February, far above the consensus estimate of 96.5. The rise was the biggest jump in confidence in 25 years. Both the expectations and the current conditions components of the index rose sharply, by 15.1 and 15.3 points, respectively.

The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index showed a smaller rise in early March; the full month will be available Thursday. The jump suggests consumers are still happy to spend all their income.

AIRCRAFT ORDERS JUMP. Durable orders rose 1.5% in February, a bit more than expected by the market, but entirely because of a jump in aircraft orders. Excluding defense, durable orders fell 0.2%, breaking a 4-month winning streak. Excluding transportation, orders fell 1.3%.

Among the components in the report, transportation jumped 8.6%, led by a 47% jump in new civilian aircraft orders. Defense orders jumped 78.6%. Nondefense capital goods orders, the key indicator for future investment, rose 4.9% on the strong aircraft orders, but shipments fell 0.8%.

Durable shipments plunged 3.2%, casting some doubt on first quater growth. Shipments are down 8.5% from a year ago. Inventories fell for the 13th consecutive month, down 0.5%, which also moderates S&P's view of a first quarter inventory rebound. Business inventories rose 0.2% in January.

The data suggest that the manufacturing sector recovery is not yet solidly established outside of defense, and should suggest to the Fed that interest rate hikes must wait until it is.

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