WASHINGTON - Orders placed with U.S. manufacturers rose in November for the first time in three months, led by electronics and nondurable goods such as plastics, according to Commerce Department statistics released Wednesday.

Factory orders rose 1.2%, to a seasonally adjusted $365.2 billion, after being unchanged in October. Excluding transportation, orders rose 1.9%; they fell 0.1% in October.

"We have a robust economy here and rising demand overseas," said Astrid Adolfson, an economist at MCM MoneyWatch in New York.

Orders for nondurable goods rose 1.6%, the sixth increase in seven months and a reflection of more demand for plastics, the Commerce Department said. Orders for electronics and components rose 8.4% and demand for durable goods rose 0.9%.

November's rise in factory orders was the first since August's 1.3% increase. Analysts had expected a 0.9% increase in factory orders, which dropped 0.2% in October.

Factory inventories rose 0.5% in November, the third straight increase. Shipments were up 1.2%, after a 0.4% gain in October. Unfilled orders rose 0.1%, the same as in the previous month.

"We guess much of the strength in November construction, public and private, reflects both Hurricane Floyd reconstruction and the effect of warm fall weather," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics Ltd. in Valhalla, N.Y. "Either way, it was another boost" to growth in the fourth quarter.

Separately, the National Association of Purchasing Management said its index of nonmanufacturing business was unchanged at 55.5 in December. Readings above 50 indicate that more businesses reported improved conditions than reported declines. Analysts expected a December reading of 53.1.

- Bloomberg News

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