U.S. durable goods orders fell in September, confirming another weak quarter for business spending, but core capital goods showed some signs of a recovery.
The Commerce Department said orders for items meant to last three years decreased $0.3 billion, or 0.1%, to $227.3 billion last month, following a 0.3% increase in August.
Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, fell 1.2%. It was the steepest drop since February and followed three straight months of strong gains. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a 0.3% increase last month.
Such spending remains 3.9% lower so far this year than in the same period a year ago. But several economists said the bottom for these core capital goods has already been reached, particularly in the oil and gas sector, with more gains ahead.
“The underlying trend is beginning to rise… but we had hoped for a bit better in September,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, told The Wall Street Journal. “The upward trend should re-emerge in the October data.”
As the WSJ reports, a lack of business investment has been a major drag on the U.S. economy’s growth in recent years. “Some of the weakness is tied to low commodity prices, which have curbed demand for drilling and mining equipment, and a strong dollar that has made capital goods more expensive for overseas firms,” it said.
Shipments of core capital goods came in below orders, rising 0.3% last month. Economists at J.P. Morgan Chase said that was another sign that business investment “could turn positive in the fourth quarter.”
New orders for motor vehicles and parts rose for the second month in a row, indicating steady consumer spending, but demand for defense aircraft plunged 44.8% for defense aircraft.
“Machinery orders are just beginning to climb out of the hole created by the collapse of manufacturing activity in response to the strong dollar and oil bust,” said Diane Swonk, an economist at consultancy DS Economics.