updated 2/4/2004 10:09:23 AM ET 2004-02-04T15:09:23

America’s factories saw orders rebound in December, rising by a strong 1.1 percent, a fresh sign that the national economy’s recovery was in full stride as it headed into the new year.

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The over-the-month increase reported by the Commerce Department Wednesday came after orders placed with factories dropped by 0.9 percent in November. The latest snapshot of manufacturing activity was better than economists were expecting. They were forecasting a modest 0.3 percent rise in orders for December.

Much of the strength in December reflected stronger demand for “nondurable” goods, such as food products and apparel.

For all of 2003, orders to U.S. factories rose by 3.9 percent — the best showing since 2000, when the economy was still enjoying a record expansion — and a big improvement from the 1.9 percent decline registered in 2002.

Wednesday’s report, along with other recent economic data, suggest that the nation’s manufacturing sector is gaining some ground — good news for the sector’s own recovery as well as for the U.S. economy’s continued health.

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