Manufacturers receive two positive signs

A pair of recent reports offer fresh evidence that the manufacturing industry is ready to climb out of its hiring slump.

Orders for durable goods -- big-ticket items such as cars and computers that are expected to last longer than three years -- rose 3.4% in March, much higher than the 0.7% increase that economists expected. In February, orders for durable goods rose an even more robust 3.8%.

Also, the Manufacturers Alliance reported that its business outlook index reached an all-time high in March. The index, which increased to 78, is the highest in the survey's 32-year history and surpasses the previous high of 77 in December 2003.

The previous report also showed strength for the manufacturing index.

"This adds confidence to expectations that manufacturing sector activity will expand in 2004," said Donald Norman, the survey coordinator.

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