Factory growth rebounds as new orders rise for first time since July

The first growth in factory orders since July points toward economic improvement this spring

Factories heated up in March as new orders rose for the first time since July in a sign economic growth should improve after a weak winter.

New orders for manufactured goods rose 2.1% in March, the Commerce Department said Monday.

The increase, which was in line with economist forecasts, came after a downwardly revised 0.1% drop the previous month.

Orders are a sign of future economic activity in the important manufacturing sector, which had struggled since last summer. Weak growth in Europe and Asia reduced demand for U.S. goods and caused the value of the dollar to soar, making American exports more expensive.

The steep drop in oil prices also has hurt factories that make equipment used in the industry.

But as oil prices have begun rebounding, orders for mining, oil field and gas field machinery rose 4.8% in March after an 18.5% drop the previous month.

But orders for long-lasting durable goods, such as computers and automobiles, rose in March for the second time in three months. Computer orders jumped 27% and transportation equipment orders were up 13.5%.

Excluding volatile transportation equipment, orders were flat in March after a 0.1% increase the previous month.

Factory shipments rose 0.5% in March, the second-straight monthly increase.

The report came after the government reported last week that the economy expanded at just a 0.2% annual growth rate in the first quarter.

Economists said some of that weakness was caused by severe winter weather, and they expected growth to improve in the second quarter.

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