By Lucia Mutikani
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New orders for U.S.-made goods recorded their biggest drop in nearly three years in July, but orders for capital goods were stronger than previously reported, pointing to a faster pace of business spending at the start of the third quarter.
Factory goods orders tumbled 3.3 percent amid a slump in demand for transportation equipment, the Commerce Department said on Tuesday. That was the biggest drop since August 2014. June’s data was revised to show orders rising 3.2 percent instead of the previously reported 3.0 percent surge.
July’s drop in factory orders was in line with economists’ expectations. Manufacturing, which makes up about 12 percent of the U.S. economy, is strengthening even as motor vehicle production has declined and the boost from oil and gas drilling is starting to fade as ample supplies restrain crude oil prices.
The dollar was trading lower versus a basket of currencies, while prices for U.S. Treasuries rose slightly. Tuesday’s report also showed orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft – seen as a measure of business spending plans – increased 1.0 percent in July instead of gaining 0.4 percent as reported last month.
Orders for these so-called core capital goods slipped 0.1 percent in June. Shipments of core capital goods, which are used to calculate business equipment spending in the gross domestic product report, jumped 1.2 percent in July instead of the previously reported 1.0 percent rise.
The surge in shipments suggests that business spending on equipment strengthened further early in the third quarter. Business investment on equipment increased at an 8.8 percent annualized rate in the April-June quarter, the fastest pace since the third quarter of 2015.
In July, orders for computers and electronic products increased 2.1 percent, the biggest gain in a year. Orders for electrical equipment, appliances and components vaulted 2.6 percent, also the largest increase in a year.
Machinery orders, however, fell 0.9 percent. That was the largest drop in nine months and followed a 0.5 percent gain in June. Orders for industrial machinery fell 0.8 percent.
Mining, oil field and gas field machinery orders rose 1.7 percent after climbing 2.5 percent in June. Demand is slowing as oil prices have dipped below $50 per barrel. Oil rigs in operation are hovering near a two-month low.
Orders for transportation equipment sagged 19.2 percent, the biggest drop since August 2014. That reflected a 70.8 percent dive in civilian aircraft orders. Boeing (N:BA) has reported on its website that it received only 22 aircraft orders in July, sharply down from 184 in the prior month.
Motor vehicle orders fell 0.9 percent after being unchanged in June. Auto sales peaked last December, leading to a slump in motor vehicle production as manufacturers work to reduce an inventory overhang.
Production could get a boost from an anticipated spike in demand for automobiles as residents in storm-ravaged Texas replace flood-damaged vehicles.
In July, unfilled orders at factories fell 0.3 percent after increasing 1.3 percent in June. Manufacturing inventories gained 0.2 percent while shipments increased 0.3 percent.
As a result, the inventories-to-shipments ratio fell to 1.37 from 1.38 in June.