Companies Are Stocking Up on Durable Goods

American companies ordered more heavy machinery, computers and other long-lasting manufactured goods in September, an encouraging sign for the shaky economy.  The increase in demand for these durable goods suggests businesses are staying with investment plans, despite slow growth and a lack of consumer confidence.

Durable goods are products expected to last a minimum of three years.  Core capital goods are products that have nothing to do with defense or aircraft.  The gains are driven by tax breaks given to businesses for investments made this year, an incentive Congress approved last December to boost the lethargic economy.

“Demand for big ticket items seems to be alive and well,” said John Ryding, an analyst at RDQ Economics.  “Outside of the volatile transportation sector, the gains in durable orders were broad based in September, and point to a manufacturing sector that continues to expand at a solid rate.”

“Despite the understandable concern about economic growth, businesses are still investing,” said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.

Robust demand for core capital goods is a strategic reason why economists expect an annual growth rate of 2.4 percent in the 3rd quarter.  That would be a major improvement from the first six months of the year, when the economy expanded at just 0.9 percent, the worst growth since the recession ended more than two years ago.  A 2.4 percent growth rate could ease fears that the economy is on the verge of sliding back into a recession.  Even so, the growth rate needs to nearly double to make a substantial dent in the unemployment rate, which remained stuck at 9.1 percent in September for the third consecutive month.

“Manufacturing is in pretty decent shape, and this ends the quarter on a high note,” said Brian Jones, a senior U.S. economist at Societe Generale, who accurately forecast demand for non-transportation equipment.  “We’ve got decent momentum going into the 4th quarter.”  Orders for computers and related products jumped as much as six percent.  A Commerce Department report is projected to show the world’s largest economy grew at a 2.5 percent annual pace in the 3rd quarter, an increase of the 1.3 percent rate in the previous three months.  Societe Generale’s Jones said the gain in durable goods demand has the potential to bring GDP growth for last quarter closer to three percent.

Boeing, the largest American aircraft maker, received 59 airplane orders in September, compared with 127 the preceding month.  September’s decline came on the heels of a 25 percent gain in August.  Orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft jumped 17 percent at an annualized rate compared with an 11 percent increase in the previous three months, an indication that business investment is picking up.

Additional indicators show that manufacturing, which accounts for approximately 12 percent of the economy, continues to grow.  The Institute for Supply Management’s factory index rose a full point to 51.6 in September, compared with 50.6 in August.  A level greater than 50 indicates that expansion is taking place.  Industrial production advanced in September on demand for items such as cars and computers, according to the Federal Reserve.

According to Mike Shea, Managing Partner and Trader at Direct Access Partners LLC, “The number wasn’t bad, and having a decent number in durables is far better than having a bad number, since with the overhang of Europe, if we were getting lousy data here, then we wouldn’t have anything to hang our hats on.  If not for what was going on in Europe, this market would be running on all cylinders.  The summit in Europe is the tradable event.  We could have one hundred percent earnings positive surprises today, we could have great economic data come out, all of that could come in rosy domestically, but if the news out of Europe is judged to be bad, none of what happens in the U.S. will matter.  This market will not shrug off a lousy plan coming out of Europe.  It will not shrug off any plan that is not fundamentally based in reality.”