WASHINGTON - New orders for manufactured durable goods rose $9.4 billion or 4.2% to $230.7 billion in July, the largest increase since last December when they were up 5.1%, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

The rise in orders, the third consecutive monthly increase, followed an unrevised 1.6% gain in June.

Excluding transportation, new orders dropped 0.4%, and excluding defense, they rose 5.7%. Excluding aircraft, new orders dropped 3.4%.

The overall increase in durable goods orders far surpassed the median 2.4% gain projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters. The stronger than expected figure was driven by a 14.1% jump to $80.4 billion in transportation equipment orders, which have been up five of the last six months. That increase was the largest since November of last year when they soared 14.2%.

The economists' median projection of a 0.5% gain for new orders excluding transportation contrasted the actual 0.4% decrease.

Durable goods shipments rose $5.9 billion or 2.6% to $231.1 billion in July, the highest level since the series was first published on a NAICS basis. The increase followed a revised 1.0% decline in June, originally reported as a 0.1% gain.

Unfilled orders for durable goods rose $7.8 billion or 0.8% to $996.3 billion, following an unrevised 0.4% increase in June.

Inventories were up $2.7 billion or 0.7% to $369.3 billion in July, the highest level since the series was published on a NAICS basis. The July gain followed an unrevised 0.3% gain in June.

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