WASHINGTON - New orders for manufactured durable goods jumped $6.2 billion or 3.0% to $214.5 billion in December, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

The gain came after a 4.3% increase in November.

Excluding transportation, new orders rose 2.1% and excluding defense they gained 3.5%.

Economists polled by Thomson Reuters had projected a median 2.0% increase in new orders for durable goods and a 0.7% gain in durable goods excluding transportation.

Durable goods shipments, up two of the last three months, rose $4.3 billion or 2.1% to $207.3 billion in December, following a revised 0.3% decrease in November.

Unfilled orders for durable goods, up 20 of the last 21 months, rose $13.1 billion or 1.5% to $912.3 billion, following a revised 1.4% increase in November. The December gain was the largest since March 2008 when unfilled orders were also up 1.5%.

Inventories, up 24 consecutive months, increased $1.2 billion or 0.3% to $370.1 billion, the highest level since the series was first published on a NAICS basis. The gain followed a revised 0.6% increase in November.

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