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U.S. architecture billings index up in April--AIA

* April architecture billings index up 2.4 pts

* New project inquiries edge up

* Construction nearing ‘recovery phase’

NEW YORK, May 19 (Reuters) - A leading indicator of U.S. nonresidential construction spending rose for the third consecutive month in April, approaching a level that indicates expansion in the sector as the economy recovers, according to an architects’ trade group.

The Architecture Billings Index was up 2.4 points to 48.5 last month, its highest since January 2008, according to the American Institute of Architects. A measure of inquiries for new projects rose 1 point to 59.6, after a 6 point increase in March.

Readings above 50 indicate expansion, while those below 50 to declining demand.

“The design and construction industry may be nearing an actual recovery phase,” AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker said in a statement.

Of four U.S. geographic regions, only the Northeast was above 50 in April, while all four construction sectors remained below that mark. Categories include institutional architecture, commercial and industrial space and the mixed-practice category, which often combines retail with other uses.

The AIA’s billings index, begun in 1995, is a measure of construction spending nine to 12 months in the future. It is often cited by companies that sell to the construction sector as a gauge of that market.

Companies generating revenue from construction include diversified manufacturer Honeywell International Inc HON.N, lighting maker Acuity Brands Inc AYI.N, electrical components maker Thomas & Betts Corp TNB.N, security and fire safety products maker Tyco International Ltd TYC.N, and heating and cooling systems makers Ingersoll-Rand Plc IR.N and Johnson Controls Inc JCI.N.

Among other companies that get sales from the sector are 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, ITT Corp ITT.N and Eaton Corp ETN.N. (Reporting by Nick Zieminski; editing by Andre Grenon)