WASHINGTON - New orders for manufactured goods fell $7.1 billion or 1.5% to $460.5 billion in March, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

The March decrease followed a downwardly revised increase of 1.1% in February, originally reported as a 1.3% gain. The fall in orders, the second decline of the past three months, was in line with the median 1.5% slide estimated by economists polled by Thomson Reuters. It was the largest drop since a 3.0% fall in March 2009.

The overall decline in new orders was mainly due to a drop in orders for transportation equipment, which plummeted 12.6%. Excluding transportation, new orders increased slightly, but by less than 0.1%. Excluding defense, new orders fell 1.6% to $450.5 billion after rising 0.9% in February.

Shipments, up 10 straight months, rose $3.3 billion or 0.7% to $466.2 billion in March, following an unrevised 0.1% increase in February.

Unfilled orders for manufactured durable goods, up 23 of the last 24 months, climbed $500 million or 0.1% to $930.6 billion, following a downwardly revised 1.2% gain in February. The February increase was originally reported as 1.3%.

Inventories, up 29 of the last 30 months, increased $1.9 billion or 0.3% to $618.4 billion in March, after rising 0.3% the previous month. The March inventory level is the highest since the data was first published on an NAICS basis in 1992.

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