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Orders for durable goods fizzle in December

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch)
Orders for durable goods posted the largest drop in December since midsummer as demand for big-ticket items fell almost across the board, raising questions about whether businesses are really ready to ramp up investment after a down year in 2013
Durable-goods orders sank 4.3% last month, the Commerce Department said, while November’s strong gain was marked down to 2.6% from 3.4%                                        
Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected a 1.8% increase in orders                                        
The surprising decline appeared to stem from a quirk in how commercial-aircraft orders are calculated, economists say. Boeing reported a huge bump in contracts for new jets — to 319 from 110 in November — but the government’s numbers were seasonally adjusted to show a plunge in orders                                         
“We had expected the overall value of commercial aircraft orders to be unchanged, but it turns out the adjusted figures show a 17.5% decline,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics                                       
Another big drop in orders occurred in the auto industry, as expected
Automakers offered sweet deals at the start of the holiday season in November to drum up sales, leading to fewer purchases in December
Orders for autos dropped 5.8%                                        
Even if autos and aircraft are factored out, however, orders still slumped 1.6% in December and demand was particularly weak for high-tech goods                                         
And orders for core capital goods — a stand-in for general business investment — declined 1.3% to mark the fourth reversal in the past six months                                        
The softness in orders casts doubt on whether businesses will boost investment in 2014, a key ingredient for faster economic growth. Many economists predict this will be the year U.S. reaches or exceeds 3% GDP for the first time since 2005, the longest stretch of subpar growth since the Great Recession in the 1930s                                        
More reassuring was the relatively small drop in shipments of core capital godos 
They fell just 0.2% after a 2.3% surge in November
While orders can be canceled, shipments reflect actual goods produced and delivered to customers    

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