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Mixed message in durables report

WASHINGTON — US demand for long-lasting manufactured goods rose sharply in December on strong gains in volatile aircraft orders. But companies slowed their orders of goods that signal investment plans, indicating manufacturing could stay choppy.

The Commerce Department said Monday that overall orders for durable goods increased 4.6 percent in December compared with November. The gains were led by a 56.4 percent increase in military aircraft orders and a 10.1 percent increase in commercial aircraft orders.

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A more closely watched gauge of business investment plans increased just 0.2 percent. Economists were encouraged that orders for so-called capital goods kept rising in December after gains of 3 percent in November and October.

Still, the increases followed a weak stretch in demand for those goods that had raised concerns about companies’ confidence in the economy. And with Americans paying higher Social Security payroll taxes this year without much gain in their wages, most economists predict consumer spending to suffer.

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