US factory orders down 4 percent in March

WASHINGTON – Orders to U.S. factories fell in March by the largest amount in seven months, but a key category that signals business investment plans increased.

Factory orders dropped 4 percent in March, reflecting a big plunge in the volatile category of commercial aircraft, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Orders had been up 1.9 percent in February.

Orders in a category considered a proxy for business investment plans rose 0.9 percent, a modest gain but an improvement from a preliminary report last week that had shown a decline.

Weaker economies overseas and the impact of across-the-board government spending cuts have made businesses more cautious, dampening demand for manufactured goods. But even with the March decline, total orders stood at $467.3 billion, 43 percent above the recession low hit in March 2009.