U.S. factory orders fell sharply in March

In this May 24, 2011, file photo, an assemblyman works on the line building Chrysler 200 vehicles at the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant in Sterling Heights, Mich. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

WASHINGTON Orders to U.S. factories fell in March by the largest amount in seven months but a key category that signals business investment plans managed a small increase.

The Commerce Department says factory orders dropped 4 percent following 1.9 percent rise in February, reflecting a big plunge in the volatile category of commercial aircraft. Orders in a category considered a proxy for business investment plans rose 0.9 percent, a modest gain but an improvement from a preliminary report last week that had shown a decline.

Weaker economies overseas and the impact of across-the-board government spending cuts have made businesses more cautious, dampening demand for manufactured goods. But even with the March decline, total orders stood at $467.3 billion, 43 percent above the recession low hit in March 2009.

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