WASHINGTON - New orders for manufactured durable goods decreased $8.8 billion or 4.2% to $202.6 billion in March, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

The fall in orders came after a downwardly revised 1.9% increase in February, originally reported as a 2.2% gain. The decline represented the second decrease in orders in the past three months and the largest month-over-month decline since a 13.2% dive in January 2009.

Excluding transportation, new orders fell 1.1%, after a 1.9% jump in February, and excluding defense, they dropped 4.6%, after gaining 1.5% the prior month.

The decline in durable goods orders exceeded the estimate of economists polled by Thomson Reuters, who had projected a median 1.5% decrease. They had estimated that durable goods excluding transportation would rise 0.5% from February to March.

Durable goods shipments edged up $2.0 billion or 1.0% to $208.8 billion in March, following a revised 0.3% drop in February, originally reported as a 0.4% decrease. Shipments have risen in three of the past four months.

Unfilled orders for durable goods, up 23 of the last 24 months, rose very slightly to $930.14 billion, from $930.12 billion, following a revised 1.2% gain in February. It was originally reported as a 1.3% increase.

Inventories, up 27 consecutive months, increased $1.7 billion or 0.4% to $375.1 billion, the highest level since the series was first published on a NAICS basis in 1992. The gain followed a downwardly revised 0.3% increase in February, originally reported as a 0.4% gain.

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