WASHINGTON — Businesses increased their orders for heavy machinery, computers, autos and steel in March, boosting demand for long-lasting manufactured goods for a third straight month.
Orders for durable goods rose 2.5 percent in March, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. That’s up from a revised 0.7 percent increase the previous month.
A key category considered a proxy for business investment rose 3.7 percent in March after a slight gain in February and a big decline in January.
Orders for durable goods totaled $208.4 billion in March, 29.8 percent above the recession low hit in March 2009. Durable goods are products that are expected to last at least three years.
Manufacturing has been one of the strongest sectors of the economy since the recession ended in June 2009. Factory growth is being fueled by rising domestic demand and a boom in exports. A weaker dollar has made U.S. goods cheaper overseas.
Businesses are also benefiting from a one-year tax break designed to spur investment in capital equipment.
The strength in March came across a wide range of industries. Machinery orders rose 4.2 percent and computer orders increased 10.4 percent. Orders were also up for steel and electrical equipment.
Demand for autos jumped 3.7 percent, the biggest increase in eight months. A brighter outlook for job growth will likely keep orders for autos rising, although concerns about high gasoline prices could slow that growth.
Commercial airlines increased their orders for planes 0.9 percent. The volatile category had shown much bigger gains in previous months.
Total orders for transportation equipment rose 5.9 percent. Excluding transportation, orders increased 1.3 percent following a 0.6 percent rise outside of transportation in February.