Another good sign for the economic recovery: U.S. factories are busily humming along, with manufacturing orders for commercial aircraft, machinery and autos up in December.
New investment in capital goods rose 1.1% to $466.2 billion, according to the Commerce Department. Orders had jumped 2.2% in November.
Transportation equipment alone was responsible for $58.3 billion worth of orders. Overall, orders spiked 12.1% in 2011 after rising 12.9% the year before. The $5.36-trillion total is just under the $5.44-trillion record set in 2008.
Some of the growth stems from investment tax breaks that expired at the end of 2011. Much of the rest is likely a result of companies trying to update or replace aging equipment.
Continuing a seven-month rise, shipments rose 0.7% to $459.4 billion. Unfilled orders rose 1.4% to $911.5 billion – the largest order backlog since 2008.
The Institute of Supply Management’s index of factory activity grew to 54.1 last month from 53.1 in December – the fastest pace in seven months. The measure has been in expansion mode – any reading above 50 – for 2.5 years.
Also promising: new government data Friday showing that job growth soared and the unemployment rate plunged to 8.3% -- its lowest level in nearly three years.