Indications on the factory sector have been mixed as is April’s durable goods report. The headline came in at a stronger-than-expected gain of 3.4 percent with March revised higher to a gain of 1.9 percent. Vehicles orders gave an important boost to April, up 2.9 percent as did the always volatile commercial aircraft component which swung 65 percent higher. But the ex-transportation reading, which excludes vehicles and commercial aircraft, rose a more modest and as-expected 0.4 percent.
A negative in the report is a sizable 0.8 percent decline in core capital goods orders which ominously is the third straight decline for this reading and the fifth out of the last six reports. Year-on-year, orders are noticeably in the negative column at minus 5.0 percent. These readings point squarely to stubborn weakness in business investment and uncertainty in the general business outlook.
There are, however, solid points of strength in the report including 0.6 percent gains for both total shipments and total unfilled orders. The gain for unfilled orders is the largest since July 2014. Another plus is a 0.2 percent decline in inventories which pulls down the inventory-to-shipments ratio to a leaner 1.65 from 1.67.
Vehicle strength is an important foundation for the factory sector, one tied to domestic consumer demand and a strength that highlights this otherwise mixed report.