WASHINGTON – Orders to U.S. factories increased at a healthy pace in October, and third-quarter productivity shot up by the largest amount in two years.
The two government reports Tuesday provided fresh evidence that the economy is bouncing back from the devastating Gulf Coast hurricanes and the late summer spike in energy prices.
The Commerce Department reported that orders for manufactured goods rose by 2.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted $399.8 billion in October following a 1.4 percent September decline that was blamed on disruptions from the hurricanes and a strike at aircraft giant Boeing.
Meanwhile, the Labor Department said the productivity of American workers, the biggest factor determining future living standards, raced up at an annual rate of 4.7 percent in the July-September quarter, the best showing in two years.
The stronger increase in productivity, which was revised upward from an initial estimate of 4.1 percent, helped to push down labor costs, which fell by 1 percent in the third quarter, double the 0.5 percent decline initially reported.
The improved productivity and falling labor costs should ease fears at the Federal Reserve that wage pressures will make inflation worse. Fed policy-makers, who meet next week, are expected to nudge interest rates up by a quarter-point, the 13th such move since June 2004.
Rising productivity means that companies can pay their workers more because of increased output rather than having to increase the price of their products.