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Associated Press
Spending on U.S. construction projects, such as this bridge work in Wilmington, N.C., rebounded in February, fueled by a sharp rise in home construction.

Home construction orders ignite 1.2% spending surge

– Spending on U.S. construction projects rebounded in February, helped by a surge in home construction, which rose to the highest level in more than four years.

Construction spending rose 1.2 percent overall in February compared with January, when construction had dropped 2.1 percent, the Commerce Department reported Monday.

Spending rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $885.1 billion, 7.9 percent higher than a year ago.

The advance was led by a 2.2 percent rise in private residential construction, which climbed to an annual rate of $303.4 billion, the best showing since November 2008. Private non-residential construction was up 0.4 percent while public construction rose 0.9 percent.

Construction spending is expected to keep growing this year, fueled by more homebuilding and an improving economy.

For all of 2012, construction spending increased 9.8 percent, marking the first annual gain after five straight years of declines. Construction spending is still well below healthy levels. But it is slowly coming back, led by a recovery in housing that looks to be strengthening this year.

Steady hiring and nearly record-low mortgage rates have encouraged more Americans to buy homes. More people are also moving out on their own after living with friends and relatives in the recession. That’s driving a big gain in apartment construction and also pushing up rents.

In February, spending on single-family construction rose 4.3 percent, helping to offset a 2.2 percent drop in apartment construction. Residential activity is now 20.1 percent above where it was a year ago.

The small 0.4 percent rise in non-residential construction in February followed a 5.9 percent plunge in January. The February gains were led by a 4.8 percent rise in office construction and a 3.1 percent increase in health care, a category that covers hospitals and doctors’ clinics.

The 0.9 percent rise in public construction reflected a 1.1 percent increase in state and local government building. Federal construction dropped by 1.1 percent following a 2.1 percent decline in January.

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