In the final month of 2019, new orders for high-cost U.S. factory goods tumbled — a sign that businesses remained reluctant to make significant investments. A big reason was likely persistent uncertainty surrounding President Donald Trump’s mercurial trade policy. The sluggish pace of business spending is a key reason, in turn, why the economy is expanding at only a modest pace. Orders for large equipment fell 0.9% in December from November, the government said, the sharpest monthly decline since April. The drop was led by lower orders for computers, machinery and
metals. Trump’s trade war with Beijing led many companies to suspend plans to expand. Investment spending fell in July from a year earlier and remained in negative territory through October. On an annual basis, orders have since edged back into positive territory but are still weak. Many economists say they hope the preliminary U.S.-China deal reached last month will remove some of the uncertainty for businesses and spur more investment. Others worry, though, that companies remain cautious because most of the tariffs on Chinese goods are still in place, and the presidential election is approaching.