Durable goods orders fall for second month in a row

Call this unexpected, because that’s the word around which Reuters dances with today’s durable-goods report from September. For the second month in a row, durable goods orders fell, indicating that the growth expected by the Obama administration this year will likely not materialize. Outside of defense spending, the drop was even more significant:

New orders for manufactured durable goods in September decreased $3.2 billion or 1.3 percent to $241.6 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This decrease, down two consecutive months, followed an 18.3 percent August decrease. Excluding transportation, new orders decreased 0.2 percent. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 1.5 percent.

Transportation equipment, also down two consecutive months, led the decrease, $2.8 billion or 3.7 percent to $73.4 billion.

Businesses seem to be making that bet with their investment choices:

Nondefense new orders for capital goods in September decreased $4.6 billion or 5.4 percent to $82.0 billion. Shipments increased $0.4 billion or 0.5 percent to $80.2 billion. Unfilled orders increased $1.8 billion or 0.2 percent to $733.3 billion. Inventories increased $1.1 billion or 0.6 percent to $184.9 billion.

That caught the attention of Reuters:

A key gauge of capital goods orders by U.S. businesses recorded its biggest drop in eight months in September, but the surprise decline was likely to be temporary as business sentiment has been upbeat in recent months.

The Commerce Department said on Tuesday non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, fell 1.7 percent last month.

That was the largest decline in the so-called core capital goods since January of this year, and it followed a 0.3 percent increase in August.

The drop last month confounded Wall Street’s expectations for a 0.6 percent gain and was at odds with business surveys that have showed increased business appetite for capital investment.

To a certain extent, that’s right. This could very well be a momentary correction in business investment, although the second slow month in overall orders will raise eyebrows. Blips like this happen even in expansions, but it was just a couple of quarters ago that the US economy contracted, too. The Obama administration predicted breakout growth in 2014, on which its budget projections rest. If this ends up being a 2% growth year, those calculations will go out the window, along with the notion that the policies of this presidency have finally begun to pay dividends.

Besides, this may not just be a transitory blip. Last week’s report on manufacturing activity in October showed signs of a slowing economy:

The U.S. manufacturing sector slowed in October to its lowest rate of growth since July, while a gauge of new orders hit its lowest level since January, an industry report showed on Thursday.

Financial data firm Markit said its preliminary or “flash” U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index fell to 56.2 from September’s final reading of 57.5. Economists polled by Reuters had expected it to drop to 57.0.

A reading above 50 signals expansion in economic activity.

The new orders subindex dropped to its lowest level since January, falling to 57.1 from a final reading of 59.8 in September. Output fell to 58.0, the lowest since March, from 59.6 in September.

In today’s WaPo/ABC poll, 72% of all respondents had a negative view of the current economy, and 71% thought it would stay the same or get worse. The White House and Democrats keep insisting that the pessimists aren’t paying attention. Perhaps they pay better attention than the White House. There aren’t any other big economic reports coming out between now and the election, and Obama and his team have to hope voters aren’t paying attention to this one.

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