WASHINGTON — New orders for manufactured durable goods plummeted $30.1 billion or 13.2% to $198.5 billion in August, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

The sharp drop in orders, which followed three consecutive monthly increases, was the largest decline since a 14.3% drop in January 2009. The large decrease followed a revised 3.3% gain in July, originally reported as a 4.2% increase.

Excluding transportation, new orders dropped 1.6%, and excluding defense, orders fell 12.4%. Excluding aircraft, new orders rose 1.1%.

The overall decline in durable goods orders was beyond the median 4.5% decline projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters. The weaker than expected figure was driven by a massive fall in new orders for transportation equipment, which dropped by 34.9% month over month.

The economists projected a 0.3% gain for new orders excluding transportation.

Durable goods shipments decreased $6.8 billion or 3% to $222.5 billion in August. The decline followed a revised 1.9% increase in July, originally reported as a 2.6% gain.

Unfilled orders for durable goods dipped $16.9 billion or 1.7% to $978.7 billion, following a revised 0.7% increase in July.

Inventories, which have risen in 31 of the past 32 months, were up $2.2 billion or 0.6% to $371.6 billion in August, the highest level since the series was published on a NAICS basis in 1992. The gain followed an unrevised 0.7% gain in July.

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