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Durable Goods Report: Planes Ascend, Bombs Boom and Cars Go From Zero to 60

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Wednesday morning's durable-goods report doesn't point to an economy humming on all cylinders. But the above-consensus number does point toward a spring recovery built around -- apologies to Steve Martin here -- planes, bombs and automobiles.

The top-line number was a 2.2% gain in orders in February, when we thought the weather might be tying up the manufacturing economy. Apparently not. The blip in auto sales during parts of the month didn't show up in orders for motor vehicles and parts, which went up 3.6%.  Since cars account for about one of every five dollars of durable-goods spending, a resumption of the auto recovery translates quickly into the rest of the economy.

That's the automobiles.

Orders for aircraft rose more than 13%, and defense aircraft rose 21%. This category is usually volatile, spiking when orders that customers and vendors have long been negotiating happen to be finalized.

Those are the planes.

And defense capital goods rose 13.5% to $8 billion.

Those dollars may not have been spent on bombs, per se, but close enough. The terms are a little loose, but you get what happened in the economy last month.

There were weak spots: telecom equipment, computers and machinery all dropped.

The gain in core capital goods, excluding transportation, was 0.2%. That is the same gain as in January.

Add it up, and it's all very consistent. The economy is moving ahead, with the auto sector in the lead. And at least for this month, the relative strength in defense spending illustrates an important point economists have been making for at least a year now.

Specifically, the private economy is looking pretty good. And when the government's spending cuts get smaller, as they are expected to do, the overall short-term picture should get pretty strong by mid-year as well.

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.