Overall nondefense capital goods orders are still running at an 8% growth rate year on year; this in my view is more indicative than the volatile month-to-month data. It is an improvement but hardly a boom, and it suggests that the Trump tax cuts will mainly return money to shareholders rather than foster an investment boom.

Boom in oilfield-construction

The sector breakdown of industrial orders is only available through Dec. 31, a month behind the headline data, but there is a clear pattern: Oilfield and construction equipment are surging. Industrial equipment, though, is up about 8% year on year, and materials handling equipment did the same. After a substandard recovery characterized by low CapEx, this is a lopsided and disappointing result: Like the 2012-2014 investment boom in oil, when about 30% of S&P 500 CapEx went into energy, industrial orders appear to be dominated by energy. That is not an encouraging sign for productivity growth. The data are shown graphically as a three-month rolling average.

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