Orders to U.S. factories for "big-ticket" durable goods rebounded 4.4 percent last month, reflecting the Persian Gulf military buildup and sales of commercial aircraft, the government said. Nevertheless, orders for all of 1990 fell for the first time since 1982 during the last recession.

The Commerce Department reported that December orders for durable goods - items like cars and computers expected to last more than three years - totaled a seasonally adjusted $121.6 billion.But excluding the defense capital goods and aircraft categories, orders fell 3.4 percent.

New orders for defense equipment jumped 57 percent to $8.3 billion after declining 26.9 percent in November to $5.3 billion, the lowest level since $5.2 billion in July 1982. Excluding the defense category, orders increased 1.9 percent.

Transportation orders jumped 13.6 percent to $32.0 billion following a 25.2 percent drop a month earlier.

"Large increases in defense shipbuilding and commercial aircraft and parts more than offset a decline in motor vehicles and parts," the report said.

Excluding the transportation category, orders rose just 1.5 percent.

Orders fell in six of the 12 months last year, including a record 10.7 percent plunge in November. For the year, orders totaled $1.49 trillion, down 1.6 percent from 1989 and the first decline since a 6.4 percent drop in 1982.

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.

Indeed, the Labor Department reported earlier that factory payrolls fell by 33,000 last month, bringing manufacturing job losses since December 1989 to nearly 600,000.