New orders for key U.S.-made capital goods rose less than expected in March, but a second straight monthly increase in shipments suggested business investment accelerated in the first quarter amid a recovering energy sector.
The Commerce Department said on Thursday non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, increased 0.2 percent last month after an upwardly revised 0.1 percent gain in February.
Shipments of these so-called core capital goods rose 0.4 percent after jumping 1.1 percent in February. Core capital goods shipments are used to calculate equipment spending in the government's gross domestic product measurement.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast core capital goods orders rising 0.5 percent last month after a previously reported 0.1 percent dip. March's modest increase suggests some loss of momentum in the manufacturing sector after recent strong growth.
Manufacturing, which accounts for about 12 percent of the U.S. economy, is being underpinned by the energy sector revival.
Energy services firm Baker Hughes said last Friday that U.S. oil rigs totaled 688 in the week ending April 21, the most in two years. U.S. drillers have added oil rigs for 14 straight weeks and shale production in May was set for its biggest monthly increase in more than two years.
Business spending on equipment is expected to have accelerated from the fourth quarter's annualized 1.9 percent growth pace and will likely be one of the few bright spots when the government publishes its advance first-quarter GDP estimate on Friday.
Manufacturing could get a lift from President Donald Trump's proposed tax plan, announced on Wednesday, that includes cutting the corporate income tax rate to 15 percent from 35 percent.
Last month, orders for machinery slipped 0.2 percent, but shipments increased 0.7 percent. Orders for primary metals rose in March as did shipments of these products. Electrical equipment, appliances and components orders and shipments also increased last month.
There were, however, declines in orders for fabricated metal products and computers and electronic products.
Last month overall orders for durable goods, items ranging from toasters to aircraft that are meant to last three years or more, increased 0.7 percent after surging 2.3 percent in February. Civilian aircraft orders increased 7.0 percent.
Orders for long-lasting factory goods were forecast to increase 1.2 percent in March, after rising 1.7 percent a month earlier.