WASHINGTON — Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods edged up slightly in January, but the strength came from a big increase in the volatile aircraft category. In encouraging news for future growth, a key category that tracks business investment plans posted its biggest gain in six months.

Orders for durable goods rose 0.4% in January, led by a 15.9% rise in orders for commercial aircraft, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. The category that serves as a proxy for business investment rose 0.8% after two months of declines. It was the biggest gain since a 1.5% July bump.

The weakness in business investment has puzzled economists who expected to see strength in this area as companies boosted investment spending to take advantage of new tax breaks.

Orders in the business investment category did show strength at the beginning of last year, immediately after passage in December of President Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut program. But investment orders weakened in the second half of last year.

For January, the 0.4% increase in orders for durable goods, followed a much bigger 1.3% jump in December.

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