- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2002

A big drop in demand for military airplanes pushed factory orders down in November. But a wide range of goods including computers and cars posted gains, suggesting better days may lie ahead for the battered manufacturing sector.
Even though the Commerce Department's report yesterday showed that orders to U.S. factories fell by 3.3 percent in November, economists were encouraged because orders rose for so many other categories, including the hard-hit high-tech sector.
Manufacturers have borne the brunt of the ailing national economy, which slid into a recession in March. To cope, they have cut production, trimmed hours and laid off workers. Last year, factories shed 1.3 million jobs, or about 7 percent of their work force.
But economists said the report, with other recent data, indicate that the worst may be over for the beleaguered industry.
"It's looking to me like the manufacturing sector has hit a bottom," said economist Clifford Waldman of Waldman Associates. "But it is questionable how long manufacturing will be at the bottom. I think we'll see a slow, grudging climb from here."
A more forward-looking report released last week by the Institute for Supply Management, formerly the National Association of Purchasing Management, showed that a rise in new orders to factories helped push a key gauge of manufacturing activity higher in December, suggesting the sector is emerging from a 17-month slump.

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