Volatile aircraft sales lift US durable goods in August

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Washington (AFP)

Sales of US-made aircraft rebounded in August to a six-month high, giving a surprise boost to orders for American durable goods at the end of the second quarter, the government reported Thursday.

But the highly volatile aircraft segment masked weakness in other closely watched measures of sales activity for big-ticket, US-manufactured items, which slowed or fell.

Total orders jumped $11.1 billion, or 4.5 percent, to $259.6 billion for the month, well above economists' expectations, boosted by a 69 percent increase in sales of civilian aircraft.

Meanwhile, the prior month was revised upwards by but still showed a decline of 1.2 percent.

Orders so far this year are now up 9.2 percent over the same period in 2017.

In August, auto sales fell a tenth of a percentage point after increases in June and July.

Excluding the transportation sector, which sees big swings from month to month, orders rose only 0.1 percent, below a consensus forecast calling for 0.4 percent gain.

Sales of computers fell 0.8 percent. So-called core capital goods orders -- which excludes aircraft and defense items -- fell 0.1 percent after a strong 1.5 percent gain in July.

That measure can track recovering oil prices and business investments, the latter of which President Donald Trump says is being boosted by December's sweeping corporate tax cuts.

Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said the aircraft bounce was largely expected.

"The core picture is much weaker, but we aren't unduly disturbed," he said in a research note, adding that September would likely see a reversal, with weaker aircraft sales and higher capital spending.