Construction spending inches up in March

Associated General Contractors of AmericaConstruction spending inched up in March 2012 to an annualized rate of $808 billion, up 0.1 percent compared to the previous month and is now 6 percent above year ago levels, according to a new analysis of federal data released today by the Associated General Contractors of America. The overall gains mask divergent trends however, as public sector construction activity continues to decline while private sector demand for new construction continues to strengthen.

Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist noted that private construction activity expanded by 11.5 percent between March 2011 and March 2012 and by 0.7 percent compared to February 2012. Nonresidential spending was particularly robust, expanding by 15.2 percent from March 2011 and by 0.7 percent compared to February 2012. He noted that the biggest private nonresidential monthly spending increases were for transportation (up 6.7 percent for the month) and office projects (up 5.4 percent for the month), while manufacturing (up 38.6 percent for the year) and power construction (up 22.1 percent for the year) experienced the largest annual increases.

The economist added that private residential spending increased by 0.7 percent compared to February 2012 and 7.4 percent compared to March 2011. New single-family construction posted a 10.3 percent year-over-year rise and a 3.8 percent increase for the month. New multi-family construction was up 23.3 percent from the previous March but down 3.1 percent from February. Spending on residential improvements moved up 2.6 percent year-over-year and fell 1.9 percent for the month.

Simonson said that public construction spending declined 3.2 percent in March from a year earlier and 1.1 percent from March. The two largest public categories showed similar results. Highway and street construction, the largest public category, was down 0.5 percent year-over-year and fell 0.8 percent for the month. Educational spending declined by 2.7 percent over 12 months after dropping 1.2 percent from February to March.

Association officials warned that the ongoing declines in public construction spending were making it difficult to benefit from the growing private sector construction activity. While Congress appears to finally be making progress on a long-overdue highway and transit bill, the lack of key bills, the winding down of the stimulus and the conclusion of many military base realignment projects were offsetting growth in private sector activity.

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