WASHINGTON (AP) -- Orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods rose in February by the largest amount in three months, helped by solid gains in demand for airplanes and autos.
Orders for durable goods increased 2.2 percent last month following a 1.3 percent drop in January, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. The February rebound was led by a 13.6 percent surge in orders for commercial aircraft. Orders for motor vehicles and parts rose 3.6 percent, recovering from a January decline.
But a category that serves as a proxy for business investment plans fell 1.3 percent in February, the biggest drop since a 1.6 percent December decline. Orders in this category had been up 0.8 percent in January.
Economists are looking for a sustained rebound in manufacturing as the economy improves this year.
The big rise in demand for commercial aircraft followed a 22.1 percent plunge in the previous month in this traditionally volatile category.
Demand rose for primary metals such as steel by 1.6 percent but orders for machinery fell 1.5 percent. Demand for computers was down 0.5 percent and orders for communications equipment dropped 2.7 percent.
Economists expect manufacturing output to strengthen in coming months reflecting better weather after a series of winter storms which disrupted production at some factories.
The Institute for Supply Management said that its gauge of manufacturing activity expanded more quickly in February as companies received more orders and boosted their stockpiles.
The institute's manufacturing index rose to 53.2 in February, up from 51.3 in January. That only partially reversed a five-point drop in January. Any reading above 50 indicates that manufacturing is expanding.
The ISM index had risen for six straight months until falling slightly in December and taking a big tumble in January as heavy snow caused factories to close.
The bad weather depressed purchases of homes and autos, causing factories to trim their production schedules for autos, furniture and appliances in January. However, the Federal Reserve reported that factory output rebounded strongly in February. The February gain was the largest in six months.
Economists hope that manufacturing and the broader economy are emerging from a winter slump. They expect the overall economy slowed to growth of less than 2 percent in the January-March period. But they are forecasting growth will rebound to around 3 percent for the rest of the year. If that occurs, it would be the fastest annual economic growth since 2005.