* December new orders for durable goods up 4.6 percent
* Gauge of business spending plans rises 0.2 percent
* Pending home resales fall 4.3 percent in December
By Jason Lange
WASHINGTON, Jan 28 A gauge of U.S. business
investment plans improved in December, a sign companies were
betting the economy will pick up despite fears over tighter
The Commerce Department said on Monday that non-defense
capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy
for investment plans, edged up 0.2 percent last month.
Many economists expected businesses to invest more timidly
late last year because of uncertainty over government spending
cuts and tax increases, which had been scheduled to kick in this
month. Congress ultimately struck a last-minute deal to avoid or
postpone most of the austerity measures.
Despite the uncertainty, Monday's data pointed to growing
economic momentum as companies sensed improved consumer demand.
"It certainly seems to us that companies are slowly but
surely expanding," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer
at Solaris Group in Bedford Hills, New York.
In a further sign of business confidence, the November
reading on capital spending plans was revised higher to show a 3
percent gain, up from the 2.6 percent rise reported a month ago.
A second report showed a measure of upcoming home resales
took a breather in December, declining 4.3 percent. Still, the
housing sector posted a rebound last year and economists expect
it will add to growth again in 2013.
The business spending data pushed down prices for U.S.
government debt, though stock prices also fell.
New orders for overall durable goods - long lasting factory
goods from toasters to automobiles - jumped 4.6 percent in
December, beating economists expectations of a 1.8 percent gain.
The gains were broad based, with orders for machinery, cars
and primary metals all increasing.
"There's a lot more confidence," said Wayne Kaufman, an
analyst at John Thomas Financial in New York.
Orders for civilian aircraft surged 10.1 percent. However,
they could come under pressure in coming months as Boeing deals
with battery problems in its new flagship passenger plane.
The manufacturer continues to make the 787 Dreamliner jet
but stopped delivering them this month.
The planes list for about $200 million each and Boeing ships
about five per month, so a sustained pause in deliveries could
be a slight drag on overall shipments of durable goods, which
last month totaled $230.6 billion. Lost shipments could also
weigh on U.S. exports.
In December, core shipments of capital goods, which factor
out aircraft and defense, rose 0.3 percent.
Despite the stronger-than-expected demand at the nation's
factories, economists think economic growth cooled in the fourth
quarter as companies slowed the pace at which they re-stocked
Analysts polled by Reuters expect a report on gross domestic
product due on Wednesday will show the economy expanded at a
mere 1.1 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter, down from a
3.1 percent rate in the previous three months.
However, Monday's report on new orders for long-lasting
factory goods suggested businesses are feeling stronger demand
from consumers, and are responding by buying more machines to
meet that demand. TD Securities economist Millan Mulraine said
capital investment likely added to economic growth in the fourth