* Jan. architecture billings index down 2.9 pts to 42.5
* New project inquiries index lowest since July
* Lenders set stringent equity requirements
NEW YORK, Feb 24 A leading indicator of U.S.
nonresidential construction spending fell in January to its
lowest level since August 2009 as construction projects kept
getting delayed or canceled, an architects' trade group said on
The Architecture Billings Index was down up 2.9 points to
42.5 last month, according to the American Institute of
Architects. The index has remained below 50, indicating
contraction in demand for design services, since January 2008.
Its lowest recent reading was in January 2009, when it reached
a revised 33.9 level.
"Lending institutions are placing unusually stringent
equity requirements on new developments," said AIA Chief
Economist Kermit Baker.
"This serious situation is being compounded by a skittish
bond market, decreased tax revenues for publicly financed
projects and declining property values," he said.
A measure of inquiries for new projects fell more than 7
points to 52.5, its weakest reading since July. This measure
has been higher than the billings index throughout the
downturn, partly reflecting competition among architecture
firms for the same projects.
All four U.S. geographic regions stayed below 50 in
billings in January, as did three of the four construction
sectors. Billings for apartment buildings, however, rose to
50.1 from a revised 49.3 the month before, suggesting that
construction of multifamily dwellings could rebound earlier
than other sectors.
AIA's January data incorporate seasonal adjustments from
the U.S. Commerce Department, so some historical numbers were
revised lower or higher.
Nonresidential construction includes commercial and
industrial buildings such as hotels and offices, as well as
schools, hospitals and other institutions. The AIA's billings
index, begun in 1995, is considered a measure of construction
spending nine to 12 months in the future.
Companies that sell to construction markets include
diversified manufacturer Honeywell International Inc (HON.N),
lighting maker Acuity Brands Inc (AYI.N), electrical components
maker Thomas & Betts Corp TNB.N and heating and cooling
systems makers Ingersoll-Rand Plc (IR.N) and Johnson Controls
Caterpillar Inc (CAT.N), Deere & Co (DE.N), Terex Corp
(TEX.N), Illinois Tool Works Inc (ITW.N), Parker-Hannifin Corp
(PH.N), Manitowoc Co. (MTW.N), Oshkosh Corp (OSK.N) and Eaton
Corp (ETN.N) also derive portions of their revenues from this
(Reporting by Nick Zieminski, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)