What Are Durable Goods Orders?

Durable goods orders is a broad-based monthly survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau that measures current industrial activity and is used as an economic indicator by investors.

Key Takeaways

  • Durable goods orders is a broad-based monthly survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau that measures current industrial activity and is used as an economic indicator by investors.
  • Durable goods orders provide more insight into the supply chain than most indicators and can be especially useful in helping investors understand the earnings in industries such as machinery, technology manufacturing, and transportation.
  • A high durable goods number indicates an economy on the upswing while a low number indicates a downward trajectory.

Understanding Durable Goods Orders

Durable goods orders reflect new orders placed with domestic manufacturers for delivery of long-lasting manufactured goods (durable goods) in the near term or future. The change in the total value of new orders is measured and shared with the public in two releases per month: the advance report on durable goods and the manufacturers' shipments, inventories, and orders.

Durable goods are expensive items that last three years or more. As a result, companies purchase them infrequently. Examples include machinery and equipment, such as computer equipment, industrial machinery, and raw steel, as well as more expensive items, such as steam shovels, tanks, and airplanes—commercial planes make up a significant component of durable goods for the U.S. economy

If a large order for some of these items comes through one month, it can skew the month-to-month results. For that reason, many analysts will look at durable goods orders, excluding the defense and transportation sectors.

How Durable Goods Orders Data Is Used

Durable goods orders are a key economic indicator for investors and others monitoring the health of economies. Because investment prices react to economic growth, it is important for investors to be able to recognize these trends. Orders for durable goods, for example, can provide information on how busy factories may be in the future and whether they'll likely need to employ more or less staff to get through current workloads.

Businesses and consumers generally buy durable goods when they are confident the economy is improving, so an increase in these orders signifies an economy trending upwards. It can also be an indicator of future increases in stock prices

Durable goods orders tell investors what to expect from the manufacturing sector, a major component of the economy, and provide more insight into the supply chain than most indicators. This can be especially useful in helping investors understand the earnings in industries such as machinery, technology manufacturing, and transportation.

It's worth bearing in mind that the manufacturing lead time on capital goods takes longer on average, so new orders are often used by investors to gauge the long-term potential for sales and earnings by the companies who make them.

Durable goods orders data can often be volatile and revisions are not uncommon, so investors and analysts typically use several months of averages instead of relying too heavily on the data of a single month.

Special Considerations

Given the global scale of manufacturing, trade wars between countries can also lead to businesses and consumers retrenching their spending on new equipment and appliances.

For example, several American manufacturers source raw materials from China or assemble their products there. The imposition of tariffs or even the threat of such a measure can have a psychological effect on businesses and lead to lower spending.

Example of Durable Goods Orders

Propelled by tax cuts and a loose monetary policy, the numbers of durable goods orders peaked in December 2007. They then subsequently fell by 38% between December 2007 and March 2009.

This sharp fall in durable goods orders was attributed to the Great Recession that engulfed the American economy. During this period, businesses cut back on investment in new equipment and technologies in response to lower demand from cash-strapped consumers.