New orders for US manufactured durable goods such as cars, planes and computers rose in March, the second gain of the year in a row.

Durable goods orders rose by 2.6% to $234.8 billion, after a 2.2% rise in February, the Commerce Department said.

The March increase came in well above the consensus estimate of 2%, thanks to commercial aircraft, communications equipment, primary metals and computers.

Transportation equipment, also up two consecutive months, led the increase, leaping 4% to $74.1 billion. Commercial airplane orders jumped 8.6%.

Excluding transportation, which tends to be volatile month-over-month, so-called "core" durable goods orders increased 2%, solidly beating analysts' expectations of a 0.5% rise.

Gains were broadbased, with only orders for defence aircraft declining.

Year-over-year, US durable goods orders in March were up 3.% and excluding transportation orders were up 2.3%.

Meanwhile, new claims for US unemployment insurance benefits jumped last week after hovering close to a seven-year low for the first half of April, the Labor Department said today. 

Initial jobless claims, an indicator of the pace of layoffs, totaled 329,000 in the week to April 19, up from 305,000 the previous week and 301,000 two weeks earlier.

The four-week moving average picked up slightly to 316,750, still well below the average of 354,750 a year ago.

Layoffs have held below the 350,000 level since April 2013 as the job market firms. But US unemployment remains high at 6.7% as hiring has grown slowly.