Last month, the market was disappointed by a 2.5% decline in durable goods orders for December. Analysts had been looking for a 1.5% increase, so this was very much a letdown. But, last month's terrible shock notwithstanding, the Econoday-surveyed analysts are still optimistic. They are calling for 3.0% growth for January 2011.
And why are they looking for growth? Why do they care? Because this represents manufacturing orders for real, physical products. Positive results mean that the manufacturing sector is doing well, which can point the way towards positive GDP growth.
But, is the optimism justified? Or are the hopes and dreams of the markets about to be shattered by the cold, hard blow of stark reality? Turning to the US Census Bureau, we find that durable goods orders increased 2.7% in January. Interestingly enough, December's durable goods orders have also been revised upwards from a 2.5% decline to only a 0.4% decline. How that works, I don't know. I just report this.
Ex-transportation, January durable goods orders actually declined 3.6%, implying quite strongly that transportation orders drove quite a lot of the durable goods activity for the month. In addition, ex-defense durable goods orders were up only 1.9%. Obviously, a reasonable chunk of those transportation orders were military vehicles (whether ordered by the DoD or by foreign nations, we don't know from the report)..In fact, transportation equipment as a category was up 27.6% and the "defense aircraft and parts" component of that category was up 20.6%. The worst performance for a category came from machinery, which was down 13.0%, and the worst performance for a category component was communications equipment (down 14.4%).
 Yes, we do sell tanks and HMMWVs and fighter jets to other countries. Also, assault rifles, anti-armor and anti-aircraft missiles, ammunition, uniforms, and so on and so forth. The Taliban was a great customer of ours, back in the 80's.