Orders to U.S. factories for "big-ticket" durable goods dropped 0.8 percent in August, continuing the flat performance that has gone on for 18 months, the government said Wednesday.

The Commerce Department reported that orders for durable goods - items expected to last more than three years - totaled a seasonally adjusted $127 billion following a revised 2.7 percent gain in July.But excluding defense and transportation, overall orders would have fallen even steeper. Without either category, orders would have dropped 1.6 percent, the department said.

Many analysts had expected the overall decline in orders, which have zigzagged throughout the year - up during three months and down for four including a 10.5 percent plunge in January.

Durable goods orders are a key economic barometer of manufacturing industry plans for production. A decrease in orders could result in a slump in that sector and subsequent layoffs.