Led by a surge in military spending for aircraft, orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting, high-cost goods rose 1.4 percent in March. It was the first advance in three months.
But when the aircraft and military components were stripped out, orders for durable goods declined, reflecting a soft economy.
A majority of business economists surveyed in late March and earlier this month also predicted sluggish economic growth over the next six months.
The National Association of Business Economists said Wednesday that 61.8 percent of the 110 survey participants expected subpar growth.
The association said 34.5 percent predicted average growth and just 2.7 percent anticipated strong growth. But the survey found only 0.9 percent feared a recession.
Orders totaled a seasonally adjusted $167.6 billion, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, up from $165.3 billion in February.
The advance was the first since a 3.1 percent jump in December, after which orders fell 0.6 percent and 2.3 percent in the next two months.