A gauge of US 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.
The data released on Monday by the Commerce Department also gave some positive signals, with a big jump in defense industry orders pointing to a reversal in some of the surprise fall in US economic output late last year.
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.
Signs of any blow to confidence have been difficult to discern from economic data, but Monday's report on factory orders gave a hint of weakness in sentiment during December.
New orders for capital goods outside of the defense and aircraft industries declined 0.3 per cent during the month, according to revised data. That breaks some of the momentum from two prior months of strong gains in the reading, which is seen as a proxy for investment plans.
"The pace of investment growth will likely improve only modestly," economists at Well Fargo said in a note to clients, citing the data.
Previously, the government had estimated the proxy for investment plans had gained 0.2 per cent in December.
The factory orders report helped push US stock prices lower on Monday. Yields on US government debt also declined.
Under a last-minute deal, Congress avoided or postponed many of the austerity measures that were due to begin in January, which would likely have sent the US economy into recession.
The economy still faces the threat of across-the-board spending cuts scheduled for March, as well as the possibility the government might default later this later year.
Overall factory orders rose 1.8 per cent in December. That was below the median forecast of 2.2 per cent by analysts polled by Reuters.
Outside of the transportation industry, new orders rose a meager 0.2 per cent, with new orders for consumer goods down 0.1 per cent.
More volatile components helped make up for that softness, with civilian aircraft orders up 10.1 per cent.
Military aircraft orders surged by 56.4 per cent, a sign defence spending could rebound after declining sharply in the fourth quarter. New orders for military capital goods - a relatively small category - rocketed up 110.3 per cent.
Outside of the defence industry, new factory orders rose a modest 0.3 per cent.
Data last week showed a drop in defence spending dragged heavily on the economy in the fourth quarter. An advance estimate showed gross domestic product posted a surprise contraction, although that report showed consumer spending was providing underlying strength to the economy.