New orders were up by 1.8 percent, increasing by $8.6 billion to $484.8 billion. Economists, however, had expected a rise of 2.2 percent.
The increase exceeded the 0.8 percent improvement in October and the 0.3 percent decline in November, a figure revised from a month earlier, when November's new orders were reported as a slight gain.
Excluding transportation, new manufacturing orders rose by 0.2 percent.
As that implies, new orders for transportation items, which include planes, trains and ships, included the bulk of the new business. Of the $8.6 billion overall increase, transportation items made up $7.9 billion of that. Transportation orders were up 11.7 percent to $75.6 billion.
In December, new orders for non-durable goods fell by 0.3 percent or $800 million to $254.8 billion.