The Commerce Department said on Thursday orders excluding transportation fell 0.6 percent last month after increasing 2.0 percent in December. That was below market expectations for a 1.0 percent rise.
However, overall orders jumped 3.0 percent, the biggest gain since July, as aircraft bookings soared. That was well above market expectations for a 1.5 percent rise. Orders increased 1.9 percent in December.
Separately, initial claims for unemployment benefits rose 22,000 to 496,000 last week, the Labor Department said. Analysts had expected jobless claims to fall to 455,000.
We can hope this is a temporary setback but it certainly looks as though in the first quarter...the economy is retrenching, said Chris Low, chief economist at FTN Financial in New York.
U.S. stock index futures extended losses on the data, while Treasury debt prices jumped. The U.S. dollar fell versus the yen.
The data, coming a day after a report showed new home sales plunged to a record low in January, was a reminder that recovery from the worst economic downturn will be painfully slow.
Durable goods orders are a leading indicator of manufacturing activity, which in turn provides a good measure for overall business health. The decline in orders excluding transportation came as orders for machinery saw their biggest decline in a year.
Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending, fell 2.9 percent in January from a 3.3 percent rise the prior month.
Durable goods inventories were flat last month after easing 0.2 percent in December. Shipments, which go into the calculation of gross domestic product, slipped 0.2 percent in January. They rose 2.4 percent in December.
In the weekly claims report, the number of workers who remained on benefit rolls rose in the week ended February 13 to 4.617 million, from 4.611 million the prior week.
Analysts had expected continuing claims to fall to 4.560 million, from 4.563 million previously reported for the week ended February 6.
The labor market is lagging the economic recovery, but hopes are high that payrolls will start growing at least by March. Since the start of the recession in December 2007, payrolls have dropped every month, except in November last year when employers added 64,000 jobs.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani and Doug Palmer; Editing by Andrea Ricci)