Factory orders are bright spot for economy

WASHINGTON — U.S. factories saw a surprisingly hefty increase in their orders for big-ticket products in July, reflecting continued strength in export sales and a boost to business investment from the government’s tax stimulus package.

Demand for commercial aircraft shot up 28 percent that month. Economists cautioned against reading too much into that one-month surge since it followed a 21.3 percent decline in June in what is a very volatile category. While there is concern that airplane makers will be hurt by soaring jet fuel prices that has forced airlines to cancel or delay contracts for new planes, other analysts said such weakness could be offset by increased orders by many booming Asian countries.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. wrapped up the huge Farnborough, England, international air show last month with orders for 197 planes, including a headline-grabbing deal with Air China for 45 planes. European rival Airbus did even better, signing orders for 247 planes.

Despite the good export news, however, economists remain worried that spreading economic weakness overseas and a rebound in the value of the dollar could spell an end to the trade boom later this year.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that orders for durable goods rose 1.3 percent last month, far above the slight 0.1 percent increase Wall Street had been expecting.

The July increase matched a 1.3 percent rise in June, which was revised up from an earlier reading of 0.8 percent. The matching gains were the strongest since orders for durable goods, items expected to last at least three years, jumped by 4.1 percent in December.

A huge rebound in orders for commercial aircraft, which had fallen sharply in June, led last month’s strength. But even outside the volatile aircraft category, there was widespread growth, indicating that American companies are continuing to benefit from a boom in exports attributed mainly to the decline in the value of the dollar earlier this year.

“These upbeat capital goods numbers amid a downtrodden U.S. consumer sector indicates how helpful a weak dollar is in the current cycle,” said Daniel J. Meckstroth, chief economist for the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI, an industry trade group.

But some economists expressed concerns over how much longer the export boom can last, given spreading economic weakness in Europe, Japan and other major overseas markets. They noted that the dollar, which had been on a long slide, has come off its recent lows, which could translate into less of a price advantage for U.S. exporters.

“The recent downturn in growth abroad and stabilization of the dollar could put pressure on capital goods spending in the months ahead,” said Zach Pandi, an economist at Lehman Brothers.

Other analysts were impressed with the staying-power demonstrated in the new orders figures for June and July, and some said it showed the boost manufacturers are getting from increased demand by businesses hiking their investment spending to take advantage of $51 billion in business tax breaks included in the $168 billion economic stimulus package passed by Congress in February.

The government will release its revised estimate for economic growth in the April-June quarter on Thursday, and economists said they were revising upward their estimates for both second quarter and third quarter gross domestic product growth based on the better-than-expected orders numbers. GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced within the U.S. and is the broadest barometer of the country’s economic health.

David Wyss, chief economist at Standard &Poor’s in New York, said he believed the current estimate of 1.9 percent GDP growth for the second quarter will be boosted to between 2.5 percent and 3 percent, while growth in the current quarter will be around 1.7 percent.

“Exports are holding up a lot better than we thought they would with the weakness in Europe and Japan, and we are seeing the impact of the stimulus package on business investment decisions,” he said.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Members of Gravitics' team and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen stand in front of a mockup of a space module interior on Thursday, August 17, 2023 at Gravitics' Marysville facility. Left to right: Mark Tiner, government affairs representative; Jiral Shah, business development; U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen; Mike DeRosa, marketing; Scott Macklin, lead engineer. (Gravitics.)
Marysville startup prepares for space — the financial frontier

Gravitics is building space station module prototypes to one day house space travelers and researchers.

Orca Mobility designer Mike Lowell, left, and CEO Bill Messing at their office on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Could a Granite Falls startup’s three-wheeler revolutionize delivery?

Orca Mobility’s battery-powered, three-wheel truck is built on a motorcycle frame. Now, they aim to make it self-driving.

Catherine Robinweiler leads the class during a lab session at Edmonds College on April 29, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Grant aids apprenticeship program in Mukilteo and elsewhere

A $5.6 million U.S. Department of Labor grant will boost apprenticeships for special education teachers and nurses.

Peoples Bank is placing piggy banks with $30 around Washington starting Aug. 1.
(Peoples Bank)
Peoples Bank grant program seeks proposals from nonprofits

Peoples Bank offers up to $35,000 in Impact Grants aimed at helping communities. Applications due Sept. 15.

Workers build the first all-electric commuter plane, the Eviation Alice, at Eviation's plant on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Arlington’s Eviation selects Seattle firm to configure production plane

TLG Aerospace chosen to configure Eviation Aircraft’s all-electric commuter plane for mass production.

Jim Simpson leans on Blue Ray III, one of his designs, in his shop on Friday, August 25, 2023, in Clinton, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Whidbey Island master mechanic building dream car from “Speed Racer”

Jim Simpson, 68, of Clinton, is using his knowledge of sports cars to assemble his own Mach Five.

Inside the new Boeing 737 simulator at Simulation Flight in Mukilteo, Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
New Boeing 737 simulator takes ‘flight’ in Mukilteo

Pilots can test their flying skills or up their game at Simulation Flight in Mukilteo.

An Amazon worker transfers and organizes items at the new PAE2 Amazon Fulfillment Center on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amazon cuts ribbon on colossal $355M fulfillment center in Arlington

At 2.8 million square feet, the facility is the largest of its kind in Washington. It can hold 40 million “units” of inventory.

A computer rendering of the North Creek Commerce Center industrial park in development at 18712 Bothell-Everett Highway. (Kidder Mathews)
Developer breaks ground on new Bothell industrial park

The North Creek Commerce Center on Bothell Everett Highway will provide warehouse and office space in three buildings.

Dan Bates / The Herald
Funko president, Brian Mariotti is excited about the growth that has led his company to need a 62,000 square foot facility in Lynnwood.
Photo Taken: 102312
Former Funko CEO resigns from the Everett company

Brian Mariotti resigned Sept. 1, six weeks after announcing he was taking a six-month sabbatical from the company.

Cash is used for a purchase at Molly Moon's Ice Cream in Edmonds, Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Paper or plastic? Snohomish County may require businesses to take cash

County Council member Nate Nehring proposed an ordinance to ban cashless sales under $200. He hopes cities will follow suit.

A crowd begins to form before a large reception for the opening of Fisherman Jack’s at the Port of Everett on Wednesday, August 30, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Seafood with a view: Fisherman Jack’s opens at Port of Everett

“The port is booming!” The new restaurant is the first to open on “restaurant row” at the port’s Waterfront Place.