Factory orders in December offered better economic news than last week's GDP numbers, though not as good as analysts were expecting.

Factory orders rose 1.8%, the third hike in the last three out of four months, following a November decline of 0.3%, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

However, a survey of economists by Bloomberg News showed they were expecting a 2.3% gain. Despite not meeting expectations, the news service reported, Brian Jones, senior U.S. economist at Societe Generale in New York, told Bloomberg, “Manufacturing’s fine. The economy continues to improve.” 

For all of last year, factory orders increased 3%, totaling $5.66 trillion, a pace that was markedly slower than 2011’s hike of 11.8% from the year earlier.

Shipments of factory orders in December also increased from November, adding 0.4%, the fifth gain out of the last six months. Total shipments for 2012 increased 4.3 from 2011, totaling $5.72 trillion.


The report follows a separate one from the federal government late last week showing the nation’s gross domestic product shrank at an annual rate of 0.1% in final quarter of last year. This was the first decline since 2009 and down sharply from increasing at a 3.1% rate in the third quarter of last year.

Many economists, along with the Federal Reserve, do not see this as an indication the U.S. economy was headed toward another recession, according to published reports. Instead, they say, it's due to uncertainty over the “fiscal cliff” late last year, Superstorm Sandy and a big decline in U.S. defense spending. 

Also last week, new unemployment figures from the U.S. Labor Department showed employers added 157,000 jobs last month, thought it did push up the unemployment rate from 7.9% from 7.8% in December.

For-hire trucking added 5,000 jobs during January. Many job gains were also seen in retailing, construction and health care, while governments again lessened their payrolls, causing some to worry about self-inflicted wounds to the economy.

By Evan Lockridge, Senior Contributing Editor