U.S. construction spending falls modestly in February

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. construction spending fell at a slower-than-expected rate in February, a government report on Wednesday, suggesting that the pace of deterioration was start to moderate.

The Commerce Department said spending on construction projects slipped 0.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $967.5 billion, the lowest since March 2004, after falling by a revised 3.5 percent in January.

Analysts polled by Reuters were expecting a 1.8 percent decline in overall construction spending in February. Compared to the same period a year-ago, construction spending dropped 10 percent. Spending in the first two months of 2009 is down 10.9 percent versus the same period last year, the department said.

U.S. stocks trimmed losses after the report, while government bond prices and the U.S. dollar were little changed. Other data on Wednesday showed an increase in pending home sales in February, and the pace of contraction slowed at U.S. factories in March.

Data last month showed an unexpected rise in housing starts and homes sales in February, raising some hope that the housing market downturn could be close to hitting a bottom and with it the 15-month recession.

Private residential construction spending tumbled 4.3 percent in February to $275.1 billion, the lowest since December 1997, after falling 3.7 percent the prior month.

Spending on public construction rose 0.8 percent in February, the biggest gain since October, versus a 2.4 percent decline in January, while spending on private nonresidential structures increased 0.3 percent after falling 4.3 percent the prior month.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Neil Stempleman