After three straight months of gains, orders to U.S. factories slipped 0.1 percent in February to $446 billion, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. The government cut demand for military planes and communications equipment while businesses bought fewer computers, turbines and power generators. Still, $446 billion is 26.4 percent above the recession low reached in March 2009, and economists view it as a healthy level, the Associated Press noted. New orders for manufactured durable goods, down four of the last five months, decreased 0.6 percent to nearly $201 billion. Transportation equipment orders fell 1.5 percent to $50.4 billion. New orders for manufactured nondurable goods increased 0.3 percent to $245.2 billion. Excluding transportation, new orders increased 0.1 percent. Shipments, up 0.3 percent to $448.3 billion, increased for the seventh consecutive month. Unfilled orders, up 10 of the last 11 months, increased 0.5 percent to nearly $835 billion. The monthly Factory Orders report tells investors what to expect from the manufacturing sector, a major component of the economy and therefore a major influence on their investments. The orders data show how busy factories will be in coming months as manufacturers work to fill demand for hard goods such as refrigerators and cars as well as nondurables such as cigarettes and apparel. In addition to new orders, analysts monitor unfilled orders, an indicator of the backlog in production. Shipments reveal current sales. Inventories give a handle on the strength of current and future production.