Orders for U.S. durable goods climb 3.4% in January

WASHINGTON — Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket goods shot up 3.4% in January, pulled up by surge in orders for civilian aircraft. A category that tracks business investment posted a more modest gain, the Commerce Department reported today.

Orders for goods meant to last at least three years have now risen nine straight months, another sign that manufacturing has proven resilient in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The January gain — triple what economists had expected — followed upticks of 1.2% in December and 1.3% in November. Orders have now surpassed pre-pandemic levels; they’re up 3.5% from a year earlier.

Orders for civilian aircraft and parts jumped 389.9%. Excluding transportation equipment, which can bounce wildly from month to month, durable goods orders were up a solid 1.4%.

“Durable goods are putting the pandemic in the rearview mirror,” economists Oren Klachkin and Gregory Daco, of Oxford Economics, said in a research note, adding that “factory activity will expand solidly in the near term, driven by hearty consumer demand for goods and inventory restocking.” President Joe Biden’s financial relief package, being debated in Congress, is likely to “pad consumers’ wallets and buoy the near-term outlook.”

A category economists watch for hints at future investment — orders for nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft — rose 0.5%.