New orders for long-lasting factory goods rose less than expected in February and a gauge of future business investment also fell short of forecasts, casting a shadow on the manufacturing sector's support of the recovery.

Durable goods orders rose 2.2 percent last month, only partially reversing January's revised 3.6 percent decline, Commerce Department data showed on Wednesday.

The economy is slowly improving, but it is definitely a halting recovery where we're not accelerating to any great degree, said Liam Dalton, president of Axiom Capital Management Inc in New York.

Economists had forecast orders rising 3.0 percent last month.

Manufacturing has been a key support for the U.S. recovery from the 2007-2009 recession, and a recent acceleration in job growth has boosted hopes the extra income will create a virtuous cycle that leads to more spending, faster growth and further hiring.

But Wednesday's data suggested the factory sector might not be growing as fast as analysts have expected, and U.S. stock index futures pared gains after the data's release. Prices for U.S. government debt trimmed losses.

Durable goods range from toasters to big-ticket items like aircraft which are meant to last three years and more.

Excluding transportation, orders climbed 1.6 percent. Economists had expected that reading to increase 1.7 percent. Machinery orders increased 5.7 percent.

Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for future business investment, edged 1.2 percent higher, missing analysts' expectations of a 2.0 percent gain.

A 3.9 percent increase in bookings for transportation equipment - including a 6.0 percent increase in civilian aircraft orders - helped drive the overall increase in durable goods orders.

Boeing received 237 orders for aircraft during the month, according to the plane maker's website, up from 150 in January.

Orders for motor vehicles edged up 1.6 percent.

Shipments of non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, which go into the calculation of gross domestic product, rose 1.4 percent in February.

(Additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelica in New York; Editing by Andrea Ricci)