The Economy

Key Investment Measure Gains 0.8% in January

Core capital goods orders rebounded from a sharp drop in December, suggesting the slowdown in business investment may be shallow.
Matthew HellerMarch 13, 2019
Key Investment Measure Gains 0.8% in January

U.S. core capital goods orders rose by the most in six months in January, rebounding from a sharp slowdown the previous month.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft — a key measure of business investment — increased 0.8% in January amid strong demand for machinery and electrical equipment, appliances, and components.

Drive Business Strategy and Growth

Drive Business Strategy and Growth

Learn how NetSuite Financial Management allows you to quickly and easily model what-if scenarios and generate reports.

The January gain followed the 0.7% drop in December that suggested a slowdown in business spending on equipment. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast core capital goods orders edging up 0.1% last month.

Core capital goods orders increased 3.1% on a year-on-year basis.

“The rebound in underlying capital goods orders is still consistent with a slowdown in business equipment investment growth,” Michael Pearce, a senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, told Reuters, noting that producer price data also released Wednesday “show few signs of a pick-up in inflation in the pipeline.”

Overall orders for long-lasting goods rose 0.4% in January, the third straight monthly gain. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had forecast a 0.1% decline.

Excluding transportation, orders fell 0.1% due in part to a 1.3% drop in orders for computers and electronic products, the biggest decline since March 2017. Orders for autos and parts dipped 1%.

As MarketWatch reports, “Companies pared investment toward the end of the year as interest rates rose and ongoing trade dispute with China disrupted supply chains and business planning.” But the strong core capital goods shipments in January prompted some economists to raise slightly their estimates for first-quarter business equipment spending.

“The bounce in January capital goods orders and shipments is consistent with our view that strong investment spending will continue into 2019,” said economist Andrew Hollenhorst of Citibank. “We continue to believe that a slowdown early in the year will be shallow.”

Shipments of core capital goods jumped 0.8% in January after increasing 0.1% in the prior month. Core capital goods shipments are used to calculate equipment spending in the government’s gross domestic product measurement.

Before January, orders for core capital goods had fallen in five of the prior six months.