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Jay McIntosh

Furniture factory orders up 11% in March

U.S. furniture factory orders jumped 11% in March from the same month a year ago, rousing the industry after two flat months to start the year, according to Smith Leonard.

The results were up against a strong month in 2010, when orders were up 9% over March 2009, the accounting and consulting firm said. Factory shipments also rose this March, by 7% over the same month a year earlier.

Furniture factory orders, shipments in March 2011While the March results were "very good for a change," they may not signal sustained growth, Ken Smith, managing director of Smith Leonard, wrote in his monthly Furniture Insights newsletter. Orders for the first quarter were up 4% from a year earlier, and only 51% of the participants in the firm's factory survey reported gains in the quarter, he noted.

"We have heard that April and May began to show some signs of slowing down again," Smith said. He said government figures showed that retail sales at furniture and home furnishings stores were up 0.1% in the January-April period, ranking last in growth among 13 retail categories.

Higher gas prices and sluggish home sales apparently are still affecting the economy, he said.

"The good news from what we hear out there is that, while business is not growing at the pace we would like, at least business seems to be bumping along," Smith said.

He added, "If gas prices can settle down, the stock market doesn't fall too far and we can keep moving employment up, maybe consumer confidence will continue to improve. That seems to be the most important factor these days."

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