A surge in U.S. durable goods orders in July was enough to fuel hopes that business investment is picking up, but some economists cautioned against reading too much into the increase in demand.
The Commerce Department said orders for items meant to last three years rose 4.4% to $228.9 billion last month, the largest monthly jump since October and the first increase in three months. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected a 3.6% increase after June’s revised 4.2% drop.
Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, increased 1.6% in July, the largest gain since January and the first back-to-increase for so-called core capital goods since January 2015.
“The data come as an upbeat sign for the U.S. economy that has been weighed down by a decline in investment among companies that has caused concern among some economists that corporate executives are losing faith in the economic expansion,” The Financial Times said.
According to Reuters, the core capital goods increase reflects a recent pickup in oil and gas drilling activity. Many economists believe the worst is over for the oil industry and that should help manufacturers in the months ahead.
“The details of the report provide tentative evidence that business-equipment investment may be set for a gradual recovery in the third quarter,” Andrew Hunter, U.S. economist at Capital Economics, told MarketWatch.
But over the first seven months of the year, core capital goods orders are still down 4.3% compared to the year-ago period. “I am looking for business equipment spending to continue declining for the rest of this year, reflecting election uncertainty as well as the longstanding soft backdrop,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities, told The Wall Street Journal.
As the WSJ also noted, core capital goods have been in negative territory on a year-over-year basis since last October.
“The anemic pace of capital spending saw some respite in July,” Lindsey Group managing director Peter Boockvar said. “This total though is still well below the year-ago level and is also at a pace of spending that was seen in 2006.”