U.S. construction spending barely up as homebuilding tumbles

WASHINGTON, April 1 Tue Apr 1, 2014 10:00am EDT

WASHINGTON, April 1 (Reuters) - U.S. construction spending barely rose in February as outlays on private residential construction projects recorded their biggest decline in seven months, a sign that severe weather continues to hobble the economy.

Construction spending edged up 0.1 percent to an annual rate of $945.7 billion, the Commerce Department said on Tuesday.

Construction spending in January was revised to show a 0.2 percent drop instead of the previously reported 0.1 percent gain. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast construction outlays to be flat in February.

An unusually cold and snowy winter disrupted economic activity early in the year. Growth in the first three months of this year is expected to have slowed to an annualized pace below 2 percent after the economy expanded at a 2.6 percent rate in the fourth quarter.

Activity, however, is showing signs of accelerating as temperatures warm up, with employment growth, industrial production and retail sales gaining momentum in February.

Construction spending in February was curbed by a 0.8 percent drop in private residential construction projects, which was the largest fall since last July.

However, a 1.2 percent surge in spending on nonresidential construction projects, which include factories and gas pipelines, lifted overall private outlays to their highest level since December 2008.

The decline in private residential construction was led by a 1.1 percent drop in single-family home building.

Public construction spending nudged up 0.1 percent in February, with a 5.8 percent jump in federal government outlays offsetting a 0.5 percent fall in state and local government spending. (Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)