Durable goods orders rose past analysts' expectations in April, driven by the biggest rise in auto demand in more than three years, the government said today. The report also showed a pickup in crucial business spending, another sign the economy is recovering. Orders for durable goods rose 1.1% to $176.6 billion, well above the expectations for a 0.4% increase. That compared to an upwardly revised climb of 0.2% for the previous month. Orders for computer equipment and machinery made solid gains, indicating that businesses are starting to make new investments, a development regarded by economists as critical to a sustained economic recovery. Sales of motor vehicles and parts jumped 12.0%, the largest increase since a 17.2% rise in August 1998. Computers and electronic products rose 2.5%, the largest gain since October. Machinery orders climbed 4.0%.