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Durable goods orders barely edge up

ORDERS for expensive manufactured goods barely edged up in April, the Commerce Department said yesterday, as demand for new cars weakened.

The slight 0.1 percent rise in April orders for durable goods to a seasonally adjusted $147.05 billion was below Wall Street economists' expectations of a 0.8 percent increase. March orders rose 0.7 percent.

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The smaller-than-expected rise in total orders may signal some leveling off in the manufacturing pace, which would ease price pressures. Durable goods are items like cars and home appliances that generally are intended to last at least three years.

Transportation orders dropped in April by 1.6 percent to $35.69 billion after falling 3.3 percent in March and 9.2 percent in February. Automakers continued trimming assembly rates in the second quarter, so that some of the boost the economy received from big production rises since late last year may wane.

Excluding transportation, durables orders were up last month by 0.6 percent after a 2.1 percent jump in March. The department said weaker orders for new cars and for railroad equipment more than offset higher aircraft and parts orders.

Manufacturing activity began surging upward last year, fueling concern that inflation might be fired up as demand rose for commodities and other materials needed for production. Any indication that the pace is leveling off may allay those fears.

The Federal Reserve Board has raised interest rates four times this year, most recently last week, to slow the economy's pace.

Electronic and electrical goods orders, which include computers, increased by 8.6 percent after a 2.4 percent March rise - the fourth gain in the past five months as demand for computers rose.

Orders for defense goods, which experience wide monthly swings, shot up 23.3 percent last month after a 19.6 percent plunge in March. With defense excluded, overall orders in April fell by 0.7 percent after rising 1.6 percent in March.

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