WRAPUP 4-US durable goods orders up but trend, outlook weak

Thu Jun 28, 2012 2:28am IST

* Durable goods orders rise 1.1 percent in May

* Gauge of business spending plans rises 1.6 percent

* Report still shows underlying softness in manufacturing

* Pending home sales surge 5.9 percent in May

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON, June 27 (Reuters) - Demand for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods rebounded more than expected in May and a gauge of planned business spending increased, but a cooling global economy suggests the momentum might not be sustained.

Durable goods orders rose 1.1 percent last month on strong demand for transportation equipment, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday. Economists had expected orders to rise just 0.4 percent.

Still, the report showed underlying softness and analysts said the outlook does not look much better.

"With global and domestic demand continuing to weaken, we believe that this relatively brisk pace of new orders activity is unlikely to be sustained," said Millan Mulraine, senior macro strategist at TD Securities in New York.

A slowdown in China and a looming recession in the euro zone have taken some of the shine off the U.S. manufacturing sector, leaving the economy stuck in a soft patch.

Excluding t ransportation and defense, durable goods orders were down in May.

However, a budding recovery in the housing market should provide a buffer for the economy. The National Association of Realtors said signed contracts for home purchases increased 5.9 percent in May, t he most since October.

Investors took some encouragement from the housing data and bought U.S. stocks. Lingering pessimism over Europe lifted the dollar against the euro for a third straight day, but U.S. Treasury debt prices were little changed after an auction of five-year notes was met with tepid demand.

UNCERTAIN OUTLOOK

Demand for durable goods - items from toasters to aircraft that are meant to last at least three years - tends to be volatile. But a rolling three-month average showed a softening trend and orders in May remained below their December level.

Last month, however, represented a relative bright spot.

Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, increased 1.6 percent in May after dropping 1.4 percent in April. The gain snapped two straight months of declines.

Shipments of non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, used to calculate equipment and software spending for the government's measure of gross domestic pr oduct, ro se 0.4 percent in May after declining 1.5 percent in April.

Regional surveys of factory activity have suggested a weakening in orders this month, a trend that is likely to be highlighted in a report on national manufacturing next week. An early manufacturing gauge last week showed activity in June at its slowest pace in 11 months.

"The underlying trends in orders and shipments of investment goods not only remain weak but point to further deceleration from the already subdued levels," said Harm Bandholz, chief economist at UniCredit Research in New York.

Economists said businesses appeared reluctant to invest, given an uncertain global economic outlook. Europe is struggling with a debt crisis and the United States faces the prospect of a sharp budgetary tightening at the start of next year.

While the U.S. economy is slowing, the housing market is proving to be a bright spot.

The rise in pending home sales in May took them back to a level that matched March as the highest since April 2010, when buyers were rushing to take advantage of an expiring tax credit.

Other data this week showed new home sales at a two-year high in May and house prices rising in April for a third straight month.

The improving tone was captured in homebuilder Lennar Corp's quarterly orders, which soared 40 percent. America's third-largest homebuilder was also able to demand higher prices.

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