New orders for durable goods in the United States surged 5.7 percent in February to $232.1 billion, driven by a sharp rise in civilian aircraft sales, the Commerce Department said on Tuesday. But excluding often-volatile transport equipment sales, durable goods orders fell 0.5 percent on a seasonally-adjusted basis, compared to a 2.9 percent gain in January. Computer orders were relatively strong, adding 4.9 percent to $2.4 billion, while communications equipment fell 7.6 percent to $3.5 billion. Meanwhile inventories mounted, rising 0.4 percent in the month to $376.9 billion, the highest level since data on them was first published in 1992. For the first two months of the year, new durable goods orders hit $432.2 billion on an unadjusted basis, up just 0.6 percent from the same period a year earlier. The Commerce Department release was "another report suggesting that the economy is not as strong as the labour market data implies," said Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho Securities.