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Orders for durable goods plunged a surprising 0.3 percent in February for the third decline in the past four months, the Commerce Department reported March 26. Accurate dollar figures for the change were not available due to a data release error, a department spokesman said.

Most private economists had expected a smaller decrease of 0.1 percent due to stepped-up orders for military hardware used in Operation Desert Storm.

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February's decline in orders for durable goods - expensive items made to last three or more years - followed a revised dip of 1.5 percent in January.

Orders increased 1.4 percent in December, following a 10.1 percent slip in November.

The weak demand for new orders for durable goods was across the board in February, with orders for industrial machinery and equipment down 10. 6 percent, offsetting a 10.5 percent gain in January, and fabricated metals down 5.9 percent.

Electronics gained 12.6 percent, however, with primary metals up 1.8 percent.

Transportation edged up 0.1 percent, with an increase in orders for aircraft and parts, offset by declines in motor vehicles and parts and defense shipbuilding.

Not counting defense, total orders were down 0.4 percent, the department said.

Shipments of durable goods remained unchanged in February, with decreases in most major industries offsetting a 3.5 percent gain in transportation shipments, most of that due to gains in aircraft and parts.

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Motor vehicle and parts shipments, meanwhile, dropped for the third time in four months.

Unfilled orders edged down 0.1 percent in February, but the decreases were spread throughout the industry.

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