Gauge of U.S. business investment plans edges lower

WASHINGTON, Mon Feb 4, 2013 — A gauge of U.S. business investment plans dropped in December, a possible sign companies were losing confidence in the economy’s strength due to fears over tighter fiscal policy, government data showed on Monday.

The data from the Commerce Department also gave some positive signals, with a big jump in defense industry orders suggesting some of the surprise fall in U.S. economic output late last year was poised to reverse.

Many economists have expected businesses to invest more timidly because of uncertainty over government spending cuts and tax increases, which had been scheduled to kick in last month. Congress ultimately struck a last-minute deal to avoid or postpone many of the austerity measures.

Signs of any blow to confidence have been difficult to discern from economic data, but Monday’s data provided a hint of weakness in December.

The government issued a revised estimate for capital goods orders outside of the defense and aircraft industries, showing they edged 0.3 percent lower in December.