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Construction spending rebounds broadly in February

Construction spending rebounded in February with gains from depressed January levels in residential, private nonresidential, and public investment, according to an analysis of new Census Bureau data by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials cautioned that the rise in public investment was likely to be short-lived and urged policy makers in Washington DC to make infrastructure investment a priority.

“It is encouraging to see growth in both monthly and year-over-year totals in private residential and nonresidential construction spending,” says Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. “There are increasing signs that 2013 will be a good year for a wide variety of project types.”

Construction put in place totaled $885 billion in February, up 1.2% from the downwardly revised January level. The February 2013 total was 7.9% higher than in February 2012. Private residential construction jumped 2.2% for the month and 20% year-over-year. Private nonresidential spending rose 0.4% for the month and 6.1% year-over-year. Public construction spending increased 0.9% for the month but slipped 1.5% over 12 months.

“There is little doubt that construction of new houses and apartments will continue to boom in the next several months, based on data covering recent housing starts and building permits, as well as reports of rising rents, occupancy rates and new-home sales in many markets,” Simonson says. “On the nonresidential side, there should be a lot of activity involving pipelines, manufacturing, railroads and trucking, and warehouses.”

New single-family construction rose 4.3% from January’s level and 34% from a year ago. New multifamily construction fell 2.2% for the month but was 52% above the February 2012 mark.

The largest private nonresidential category, power construction—which includes oil and gas fields and pipelines as well as power plants, alternative energy and transmission lines—increased 0.7% for the month and 4.0% over 12 months. Manufacturing construction rose 0.3% and 9.9%, respectively. Private transportation construction slumped 2.4% in February but climbed 17% year-over-year. Warehouse construction soared 8.3% and 19%. New and remodeled private office construction rose 0.3% and 25.

Association officials said federal infrastructure investment has been plunging even as several states have passed funding increases for projects. Federal investment in construction dropped 1.1% in February and 10% from a year ago, while state and local investment rose 1.1% for the month and was nearly level—down 0.5%—year-over-year. They urged the federal government to fund vitally needed investments in infrastructure projects.

“The nation has been underinvesting in infrastructure for years,” says Stephen E Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “With funding set through September, it is time for Washington (DC) to work on finding adequate funding in the next budget.”

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