MODEST GAIN: Orders to U.S. factories rose 0.2 percent in October, helped by a 2.9 percent gain in demand for equipment that reflects business investment plans. The overall October rise slowed from a 4.5 percent jump in September.

THE DETAILS: The big rise in orders for core capital goods, the category viewed as a good proxy for business investment plans, was the biggest increase in eight months.

THE BACKGROUND: Businesses have been holding back on investment plans because they are worried about the "fiscal cliff," the combination of sharp tax increases and federal spending cuts that will take effect in January if Congress and the Obama administration fail to agree on a budget deal. Slower growth overseas and Europe's debt crisis have hurt U.S. exports.