WASHINGTON — A key category of orders to U.S. businesses that tracks investment posted a small gain in June after two months of declines.
But overall factory orders fell, reflecting a drop in the volatile category of commercial aircraft, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.
Orders that cover business investment plans rose 0.4 percent in June following declines of 0.6 percent in May and 0.9 percent in April. Overall orders dropped 1.5 percent following a 1.2 percent fall in May. It was the biggest setback for total factory orders since a 1.9 percent decline in February.
Manufacturing has struggled over the past year as weakness in the global economy and a strong dollar have hurt export sales and business investment has been crimped by the big drop in energy prices.
The small 0.4 percent rise in the investment category, which covers nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft, was the first positive gain in this closely watched category since a 0.3 percent rise in March and it was the strongest showing since an increase of 2.4 percent in January.
Business investment has been hurt over the past year by sharp cutbacks by energy companies in the wake of steep declines in oil prices. Orders for mining, oil field and gas equipment surged 208 percent in June but even this big gain left demand in this category down 62 percent for the first six months of this year, compared to the same period a year ago.
Orders for durable goods, everything from airplanes to appliances, fell 3.9 percent, only slightly changed from an advance report a week ago which estimated durable goods fell 4 percent in June. Orders for nondurable goods such as chemicals, paper and food rose 1 percent in June following gains of 0.6 percent in May and 0.4 percent in April.
Orders for commercial aircraft fell 58.8 percent in June while demand for autos and auto parts was up 3.2 percent. Orders for primary metals were down, reflecting a big drop in orders for iron and steel. Demand for computers fell 9.1 percent while orders for household appliances rose 8.4 percent.
The Institute for Supply Management reported earlier this week that its closely watched gauge of manufacturing activity expanded for a fifth straight month in July but the reading of 52.6 was down slightly from June’s 53.2. Any reading higher than 50 signals growth in manufacturing.