WASHINGTON — Orders for long-lasting manufactured goods rose 2.6 percent in March, but a key category that tracks business investment spending fell.

The big rise in orders for durable goods, which followed an even bigger 3.5 percent advance in February, was driven by a surge in demand for commercial aircraft, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Airplane orders shot up 44.5 percent last month. Excluding the volatile transportation category, orders would have been flat last month after a modest 0.9 percent rise in February.

American industry has benefited from stronger global growth and a drop in the dollar that makes U.S. products less expensive overseas. But a rebound in demand in the key investment category seems to have stalled so far this year.

The category that follows business investment plans edged down 0.1 percent in March after a 0.9 percent increase in February. It was also down in January and December, raising concerns about this important driver of economic growth.

Analysts said the drop in investment orders was a bit surprising, given that Congress in December passed a $1.5 trillion tax cut that was aimed in part at giving businesses incentives to boost spending to expand and modernize their operations.

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