Fresh orders in March fell by $19.5 billion to $467.3 billion, the department's U.S. Census Bureau News said. In the prior month, fresh business for factories was at the highest level since it adopted new accounting methods in 1992.
A lack of orders for big-ticket transportation items -- trucks, ships and airplanes -- pushed the decline. Transportation orders fell by $11.1 billion or 15.1 percent to $62.5 billion.
New orders excluding transportation dropped 2 percent in March.
Inventories rose for the fourth consecutive month, climbing by $200 million to $620.2 billion in March, enough to push the category to an 11-year high.
With shipments down by $5 billion or 1 percent to $481.8 billion, the inventories-to-shipment ratio rose to 1.29 from 1.27 in February.
New orders for durable goods -- including appliances, televisions, electronics, computers and cars -- down for two of the past three months, fell by 5.8 percent to $216 billion. New orders for non-durable items dropped by 2.4 percent to $251.3 billion, the department said.