Updated March 29 at 2:29pm

Orders for U.S. goods drop by most in three years


WASHINGTON - Orders for U.S. durable goods fell in March by the most in three years, indicating manufacturing will contribute less to growth this year.

Bookings for goods meant to last at least three years dropped 4.2 percent, the biggest decrease since January 2009, after a revised 1.9 percent gain the prior month, data from the Commerce Department showed today in Washington.

Economists forecast a 1.7 percent decline, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey.

Slowdowns in Europe and China may limit exports, while business investment cools after the strongest 10-quarter performance in a decade, leading to a slowdown in manufacturing.

Improving sales in the U.S., led by pent-up demand for automobiles, are supporting companies from 3M Co. to Texas Instruments Inc.

“There’s perhaps a modest reassessment taking place,” said Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets LLC in New York.

“There’s probably a healthy amount of skepticism with regard to how activity will unfold. There’s some caution looking ahead,” he added

Stock-index futures trimmed earlier gains after the report. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in June climbed 0.6 percent to 1,377.9 at 8:45 a.m. in New York after Apple Inc. reported better-than-forecast earnings.

Survey Results

Estimates of 81 economists surveyed by Bloomberg ranged from a drop of 4 percent to a gain of 2.2 percent.

Orders for durables excluding transportation equipment decreased 1.1 percent after a 1.9 percent advance. They were projected to rise 0.5 percent, according to the Bloomberg survey.

Demand for transportation equipment dropped 12.5 percent, the most since November 2010, led by a 48 percent plunge in civilian aircraft bookings.

Boeing Co., the largest U.S. aircraft maker, said it received orders for 53 planes last month, down from 237 in February.

Bookings for automobiles and parts increased 0.1 percent after a 2 percent rise the previous month.

Auto manufacturing has been bolstering factory growth. Cars last quarter sold at the fastest pace in four years, according to industry data.

3M, the maker of fuel system tuneup kits and Post-it Notes, yesterday jumped the most since January after posting a first- quarter profit that beat analysts’ estimates because of rising U.S. auto and industrial demand.

The St. Paul, Minnesota-based company’s industrial and transportation unit posted sales of $2.66 billion, an 8.6 percent increase.

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