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WASHINGTON — Orders to American factories for big-ticket goods rebounded last month from a disastrous April and March as the U.S. economy began to slowly reopen.

The Commerce Department said that orders for manufactured goods meant to last at least three years shot up 15.8% in May after plunging 18.1% in April and 16.7% in March. Economists expected a rebound, but the May increase was stronger than expected.

A category that tracks business investment — orders for nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft — rose 2.3% after dropping 6.5% in April.

Excluding the transportation sector, which bounces around from month to month, durable goods orders rose a more modest 4%. New orders for cars and auto parts surged 27.5% last month after falling 53.7% in April and 19.5% in March.

The lockdowns, travel restrictions and social distancing measures meant to contain COVID-19 brought economic activity to a near standstill across the United States in March and April. As states have gradually reopened, some measures of economic activity have posted sharp increases, though the economy remains much weaker than it was a year ago.

"We had extreme lows," said Matt Orton, portfolio specialist at the investment firm Carillon Tower Advisers. "It's only natural that we bounce back from that and have extreme highs."

 

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NEW YORK — Long-term U.S. mortgage were unchanged this week as the benchmark 30-year home loan remains at its lowest rate in nearly 50 years.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average rate on the key 30-year loan stood at 3.13%, the same as last week. It is the lowest level since Freddie began tracking average rates in 1971. A year ago, the rate stood at 3.73%.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage rose slightly to 2.59% from 2.58% last week, but it is down from 3.16% a year ago.

The historically low rates coincide with a housing market that is showing signs of recovery. Sales of new homes rose a surprisingly strong 16.6% in May with the reopening of major parts of the country. Sales of existing homes, though, are still struggling, with a 9.7% plunge in May. And, there is still a tight supply of homes available for sale, running up against high demand.

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