New orders for manufactured goods rose in December and a gauge of future business investment rebounded, while new claims for jobless benefits rose only moderately last week, suggesting the labor market was still healing.
Durable goods orders climbed 3.0 percent, the Commerce Department said on Thursday. Economists had forecast orders rising 2.0 percent.
Durable goods range from toasters to big-ticket items like aircraft which are meant to last three years and more.
Orders last month were buoyed by 5.5 percent increase in bookings for transportation equipment as orders for civilian aircraft surged 18.9 percent. Boeing received 287 orders for aircraft during the month, according to the plane maker's website, up from 96 in November.
Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, advanced 2.9 percent.
Business spending, which has helped the economy to recover from the 2007-09 recession, had been showing signs of cooling but December's rebound in new orders suggested corporations might be growing more willing to invest.
What it does tell you about going into the new year is that there's some momentum here, said Jacob Oubina, an economist at RBC Capital Markets in New York.
Also, shipments of non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, which go into the calculation of gross domestic product, rose 2.9 percent after declining 1.0 percent in November.
Graphic on jobless claims:
Investors in U.S. stock futures appeared to take little notice of the data, with prices slightly higher. U.S. Treasury debt prices pared gains modestly.
Increased consumer spending and efforts by companies to restock their shelves likely led the U.S. economy to accelerate at the end of 2011 although many economists expect some of that strength to wane early this year.
A report due Friday is expected to show the economy grew at a 3.0 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter, up from 1.8 percent in the previous period.
The proxy for business spending plans had dropped 1.2 percent in November and 0.9 percent in October. Economists' had expected a 1.0 percent gain last month.
Orders for motor vehicles edged up 0.6 percent. Excluding transportation, orders rose 2.1 percent.
In a separate report, Labor Department data showed new U.S. claims for unemployment benefits rising last week but the underlying trend continued to point to improving labor market conditions.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 377,000, the Labor Department said. The prior week's figure was revised up to 356,000 from the previously reported 352,000.
On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the U.S. central bank could do more to help growth if the economy falters, after policymakers said interest rates would remain near zero until late 2014.
Among the darker clouds looming over the U.S. economy, Europe is still racing to contain a sovereign debt crisis that is widely seen triggering a recession in the euro zone.
Greece resumes tortuous negotiations on a debt swap with private creditors in Athens on Thursday, with the European Central Bank thrown into the mix after IMF chief Christine Lagarde said public sector holders of Greek debt may need to take losses too.
(Reporting by Jason Lange; Additional reporting by Lucia Mutikani in Washington and Emily Flitter in New York; Editing by Andrea Ricci)