WASHINGTON - Orders for big-ticket manufactured goods rose for a third consecutive month in February, bolstered by strong demand for commercial aircraft and machinery. The hope is that continued strength in manufacturing will help sustain the economic recovery.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that orders for durable goods advanced 0.5 percent last month, slightly lower than the 0.7 percent gain that economists had expected.

The increase was led by the second huge jump in demand for commercial aircraft, an increase of 32.7 percent, which followed a 134.9 percent rise in this volatile category in January. Excluding transportation, orders posted a 0.9 percent increase, much better than the 0.6 percent decline in January.

The big jump in demand for commercial aircraft was offset by a 1.9 percent drop in demand for motor vehicles, which followed an even bigger 2.3 percent fall in the category in January. Automakers are still struggling to emerge from a steep recession, which has depressed sales and forced General Motors and Chrysler briefly into bankruptcy last year. Total transportation orders fell by 0.7 percent in February following a 19.4 percent rise in January.

Outside of transportation, orders for machinery rose 4.7 percent, the biggest gain since December, while demand for primary metals such as steel rose 1.5 percent. Demand for computers was up 0.4 percent, but orders for communications equipment fell 1.7 percent. - AP

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