Orders for U.S. durable goods dropped more than forecast in April, reflecting a slump in aircraft demand and disruptions in supplies of auto parts stemming from the earthquake in Japan.
The 3.6 percent decrease in bookings for goods meant to last at least three years was the biggest since October and followed a 4.4 percent surge in March that was larger than previously estimated, a Commerce Department report showed today in Washington. Economists projected a 2.5 percent April decline, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey.
Bookings for Boeing Co. (BA) aircraft slumped last month and vehicle makers slowed production due to a components shortage that may be short-lived as Japanese factories recover. At the same time, rising overseas sales at manufacturers such as Deere & Co. (DE) and General Electric Co. (GE) indicate the industry will keep driving the U.S. expansion.
“Manufacturing is likely to moderate from the explosive pace of growth in the past few months,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut. At the same time, “consumer demand and investment demand are both doing well right now,” he said.
Orders excluding the volatile transportation equipment category decreased 1.5 percent in April after a 2.5 percent gain. The median projection in the Bloomberg survey was for a 0.5 percent rise, with estimates ranging from a drop of 1.2 percent to an increase of 1.8 percent.
Estimates of total durable goods orders in the Bloomberg survey of 81 economists ranged from a drop of 5.7 percent to a gain of 2 percent.
While manufacturing has spearheaded the economic recovery, housing has struggled. Home prices dropped 2.5 percent in the first quarter from the prior three months, the Washington-based Federal Housing Finance Agency said today.
The measure, based on properties with loans backed by mortgage financiers Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, has declined for 16 straight quarters as lenders seize homes and sell them at cut-rate prices that drag down overall values.
Stocks rose for the first time in four days as shares of commodity producers advanced. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gained 0.3 percent to 1,320.47 at the 4 p.m. close in New York. Treasuries securities were little changed.
Chicago-based Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, said it received two orders last month compared with 98 in March. Industry data may not correlate precisely with the government statistics on a month-to-month basis.
Today’s report showed a 30 percent slump in civilian plane orders and an 8.9 percent drop in military aircraft. Bookings excluding military equipment fell 3.6 percent in April.
A recurring pattern of declines in equipment orders at the start of a quarter probably also helped depress the April figures, economists have said.
Non-defense orders for durable goods excluding aircraft, a proxy for business investment in items such as computers, engines and communications gear, decreased 2.6 percent in April. These orders increased 5.4 percent a month earlier. Since the end of 2005, these bookings have dropped in the first month of a quarter in all but three instances.
Demand fell for machinery, fabricated metals, electrical equipment and computers and related products, today’s report showed.
Shipments of non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, used in calculating gross domestic product, decreased 1.7 percent after rising 3.7 percent in the prior month.
Disruptions related to the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan led to a plunge in U.S. automobile output, causing industrial production to stall in April, a Federal Reserve report showed last week.
Today’s report showed bookings for motor vehicles and parts dropped 4.5 percent in April, the most since August 2010, after a 6.6 percent gain.
Economists at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York yesterday cut their second-quarter U.S. growth projection to 2.5 percent from a previous estimate of 3 percent.
“The main factor behind our revision is weaker output of the auto vehicle sector,” JPMorgan’s chief U.S. economist Michael Feroli wrote in an e-mail. Part of the slowdown in production is due to supply disruptions caused by the disaster in Japan, he said.
Other data showed manufacturing in the Philadelphia region grew in May at the slowest pace in seven months, while a measure of the industry in the Richmond, Virginia, region showed contraction. The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s gauge dropped to minus 6 this month, the lowest since April 2009. Negative figures indicate manufacturing was shrinking.
Still, overseas sales and corporate investment may be a backstop for manufacturers in coming months. Deere, the world’s largest farm-equipment maker, this month raised its fiscal 2011 earnings forecast amid increasing global demand for agriculture and construction equipment.
General Electric’s operating profit growth will accelerate in this year’s second half, and a pickup in sales of energy- efficient products such as gas turbines will help to drive earnings gains next year, according to Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt.
“Our 2011 framework is turning positive and we see when we look at incoming orders and things like that, there’s nothing to derail that on a global basis,” Immelt, who also is chairman of Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE, said at a conference on May 18. “We’re very well positioned for 2012 and beyond.”
Economists project that even with smaller gains, manufacturing will contribute to economic growth this year. Fed officials are discussing strategies to begin tightening policy after completing the purchase of $600 billion in U.S. Treasuries by the end of June.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said that while first-quarter growth was a disappointment, the slow pace isn’t likely to last.
“I think the economy will be reasonably robust in the second quarter and the second half of the year,” he said in a May 23 speech. Manufacturing has been “fairly good” and household spending has “held up well,” he said.
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