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US factory orders fall for fourth straight month

[WASHINGTON] New orders for US factory goods fell for a fourth straight month in November, pointing to a slowdown in manufacturing activity and overall economic growth.

The Commerce Department said on Tuesday new orders for manufactured goods dropped 0.7 per cent after an unrevised 0.7 per cent fall in October.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast new orders received by factories falling 0.5 per cent.

Manufacturing is cooling after robust growth in the third quarter, in part because of a sluggish global economy. Slowing growth in China and the eurozone, as well as a recession in Japan are crimping demand for U.S. manufactured goods.

Factory activity has also been hampered by a labor dispute at the nation's West Coast ports, which has hit deliveries and curbed inventory accumulation. A survey last Friday showed a manufacturing sector gauge hit a six-month low in December.

But with domestic demand picking up, any slowdown in manufacturing is likely to be temporary.

In November, factory orders excluding the volatile transportation category fell 0.6 per cent as demand declined almost across the board. That followed a 1.5 per cent drop in October.

Inventories edged up 0.1 per cent in November, while shipments fell 0.6 per cent, likely reflecting delays moving goods at the West Coast ports. The inventories-to-shipments ratio was 1.32, unchanged from October.

Unfilled orders at factories rose 0.4 per cent. Order backlogs have increased in 19 of the last 20 months, showing underlying strength in manufacturing.

The Commerce Department also said orders for durable goods, manufactured products expected to last three years or more, fell 0.9 per cent instead of the 0.7 per cent drop reported last month.

Another big drop in the value of shipped petroleum products, reflecting declining crude oil prices, saw non-durable goods orders falling 0.5 per cent in November after dropping 1.6 per cent in October.

Orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft - seen as a measure of business confidence and spending plans - fell 0.5 per cent instead of being flat as previously reported.