--Orders for durable goods grew by 1.1% in May to a seasonally adjusted $217.15 billion
--Machinery and defense orders drove overall increase
--Realtors index for pending sales of existing homes increased 5.9% in May
(Update combines durable goods and pending home sales reports. Adds comments from analysts starting in sixth paragraph.)
By Eric Morath and Alan Zibel
WASHINGTON--Orders for long-lasting goods posted their first gain in three months in May and activity in the housing market matched the highest level of the year, suggesting that two previously sputtering sectors are stabilizing.
Manufacturers' orders for durable goods, items such as airplanes and televisions designed to last at least three years, grew by 1.1% to a seasonally adjusted $217.15 billion, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. The improvement topped economists surveyed by Dow Jones forecast for a 0.4% increase.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors said its seasonally adjusted index for pending sales of existing homes increased 5.9% on a monthly basis to 101.1. The results equaled March's reading, which was the highest since April 2010, when buyers were scrambling to qualify for federal tax credits. A reading of 100 is equal to the average level of activity in 2001. May's monthly gain topped economists' expectation for a 2.3% improvement from April's figures.
The gains in durable goods orders were mainly driven by robust demand from machinery, up 4.1% from the prior month, and a big rebound in defense capital goods orders, up 7.8% in May after a 24.1% drop the prior month.
Increases in those two categories accounted for 91% of the total growth in May orders, said Paul Edelstein, director of financial economics for IHS Global Insight. Otherwise gains were milder.
"May was not as strong as the headlines numbers suggest, but probably not a bad month either," he said. "Manufacturing activity is more in line with overall GDP growth, which is positive but muted."
In April, durable orders were revised down to $214.83 billion, a 0.2% decline from the prior month.
A key barometer of business investment grew in May. Orders for nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft increased by 1.6% after falling the prior two months, suggesting renewed confidence about the economic recovery.
Wednesday's report showed transportation-related orders increased 2.7% in May, as both automotive and aircraft demand rose. Outside transportation, orders for other durables increased 0.4% in May, after a 0.6% fall in April. Excluding orders related to defense, durables were 0.7% higher in May after rising 0.9% in April.
Wednesday's Realtors report showed the number of U.S. home buyers who signed contracts to purchase previously owned homes rose in May was up 13.3% from a year earlier. The Realtors' index tracks agreements to purchase homes. A sale is considered pending when the contract has been signed but the transaction hasn't closed. Pending sales typically close within one or two months of signing.
"It points to a decent pop in existing home sales activity in June," said Millan Mulraine, an analyst with TD Securities USA. "This improvement adds to the recent flow of good news on the housing sector, reinforcing our view that this beleaguered sector is finally on the mend."
Write to Eric Morath at firstname.lastname@example.org and Alan Zibel at email@example.com
--Sarah Portlock contributed to this article.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 27, 2012 11:50 ET (15:50 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.