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WASHINGTON – Orders to U.S. factories rose in February after two months of declines, but a critical category that signals business investment plans fell.

Factory orders rose 1.6 percent in February, the most in five months, following declines of 1 percent in January and 2 percent in December, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. The February gain reflected a rebound in orders for commercial aircraft and autos. Orders in both categories had fallen for two consecutive months before rebounding in February.

But demand for core capital goods, considered a good guide to business investment plans, fell 1.4 percent in February, the second decline in three months.

Many economists say that was due in part to the severe winter, which caused businesses to postpone plans to expand or modernize their operations.

In February, demand for durable goods, items expected to last at least three years, rose 2.2 percent, matching a preliminary estimate last week. Orders for nondurable goods such as chemicals, paper and food rose 1 percent following a 0.7 percent drop in January.

Demand for commercial aircraft rose 13.4 percent while orders for motor vehicles and parts increase 3 percent. Orders for primary metals such as steel increased 1.7 percent while orders for computers soared 64.2 percent, rebounding from a 48.2 percent drop in January.

Orders for machinery fell 1.2 percent, with demand for construction equipment and mining and oil field equipment both down.