CHICAGO Shipments and new orders of primary and fabricated metals fell in February, which had two fewer days of operation than January, while inventories inched slightly higher.
Primary metal shipments were valued at $27.89 billion last month, putting the year-to-date total at $56.61 billion, according to not-seasonally-adjusted Census Bureau data, while fabricated metal shipments of $25.91 billion in February put the two-month total at $52.1 billion.
Primary metal producers new orders reached $29.12 billion last month, down 1.4 percent from January, but year-to-date orders of $58.65 billion were 0.4 percent higher than a year earlier. Metal fabricators new orders slid 3.4 percent to $27.92 billion month on month but climbed 4.1 percent to $56.83 billion for the year so far.
Primary metal producers inventories at the end of February were up 0.4 percent from a month earlier, while metal fabricators inventories were 0.8 percent higher.
New orders for all manufactured durable goods rose 5.7 percent to $232.1 billion month on month, according to seasonally adjusted Census figures. Excluding transportation, new orders slipped by 0.5 percent. New orders for transportation equipment were concentrated on commercial aircraft and parts.
Michael Montgomery, U.S. economist for Lexington, Mass.-based IHS Global Insight, warned that the latest report contained a lot of distortion. "There is massive noise and faint signal in the durable goods orders," he said. "Aircraft and defense orders sag and spike on chance. Boeing (Co.) garnered orders for only two aircraft in January and 179 in February. The raw unadjusted difference in dollar value between the months totals $19 billion, or 1.5 times the swing in final durables orders. Defense just adds more noise."
So what is the early 2013 signal? A 1.2-percent net gain for year-to-date non-transportation orders and shipments is a "baby step in the right direction," Montgomery said, and any gains at all "beat the virtual stagnation of most of 2012."