New orders at U.S. factories reported a fourth consecutive increase in December, though it was the steepest gain since July, hinting that business spending on new equipment is growing, the Commerce Department reported Monday.

Orders for durable goods, items made to last three years or longer, rose 5 percent, marking the biggest gain since July, while civilian aircraft orders surged 11.7 percent, the Commerce Department reported. Orders for durable goods were revised down from the 5.2 percent gain originally reported last week.

Meanwhile, orders for manufactured goods increased 2.3 percent following a revised 1.7 percent growth in November. Originally, factory orders were reported 1.5 percent higher in November. Factory orders rose 0.7 percent in October and 0.3 percent during September.

The shipments of factory goods dropped 0.3 percent in December, along with a 0.2 percent drop in durable-goods shipments. Shipments rose 1.1 percent in 2007.

Inventories rose 0.8 percent in December, making it the biggest increase since July 2006.

Orders for nondurable goods fell 0.4 percent caused by a 2.5 percent drop in petroleum refineries as the price of gasoline balanced out. Earlier in October and November, nondurable orders noted stronger gains as a result of higher petroleum prices.

Orders for machinery rose 7.3 percent while orders for electronics grew 4.1 percent.

Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, which is considered a gauge of business spending, climbed 4.5 percent, the largest growth since March. That was more than the 4.4 percent rise previously reported.

Orders for machinery and computers and electronic products grew, while orders for primary metals and electrical equipment dropped.