U.S. factories saw orders jump in March by the largest amount in more than a year and a half, a sign that the nation's manufacturers are getting a firmer grip on their own business recovery.
The Commerce Department reported that orders placed with factories went up 4.3 percent in March from the previous month. That marked the biggest increase since July 2002 and exceeded economists' forecasts for a 2.4-percent advance.
March's orders figure, which followed a 1.1-percent increase in February, reflected stronger demand for a wide variety of goods, including cars, machinery, household appliances, food, clothes, and chemicals.
Hard hit by the 2001 recession, the manufacturing sector has struggled over the last 3 years. However, many believe it is now getting back on solid footing. Still, many plants continue to operate below full throttle and employment remains lackluster.
March was the first time in 44 consecutive months that the manufacturing sector did not lose jobs. But it didn't gain any either, according to the U.S. government's monthly employment report, released in April.
With the national economy building momentum and demand from overseas improving, some economists are hopeful that factories will step up hiring in the coming months.
In the Commerce Department's report, orders placed with factories for durable goods -- costly manufactured products expected to last at least 3 years -- rose by a strong 5 percent in March, on top of a sizable 3.9 percent gain in February.
The strength was broad-based, with orders going up for primary metals, machinery, electrical lighting equipment, household appliances, automobiles, furniture, and other categories. A few weak spots included orders for construction machinery, computers, and ships and boats.
Orders for "nondurable" goods, such as food and clothes, rebounded in March, rising by 3.5 percent, compared with a 1.8 percent decline registered in February. (Associated Press)
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