April 20, 2011 / 4:03 AM / 9 years ago

US architecture billings index flat in March -AIA

* March ABI 50.5, down 0.1 pt

* New projects inquiries index up 2.3 pts to 58.7

* Architects ‘swimming upstream’ amid flat demand

NEW YORK, April 20 (Reuters) - A leading indicator of U.S. nonresidential construction activity barely budged last month, suggesting recovery remains elusive, an architects’ trade group said on Wednesday.

The Architecture Billings Index slipped 0.1 point to 50.5 in March, according to the American institute of Architects.

Any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings and the index is widely tracked as a predictor of construction conditions nine to 12 months in the future.

The trade group, which last month described its industry as “treading water,” this month said architects are “swimming upstream.”

A recovery cannot take root until financing improves, the AIA said. Large lenders remain reluctant to finance construction projects.

“Demand is not falling back into the negative territory, but also not exhibiting the same pace of increases seen at the end of 2010,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker.

The AIA’s separate index of inquiries about new projects rose 2.3 points to 58.7. This index is typically higher than the headline billings index, as multiple design firms compete for the same project.

Of the four regions tracked by the AIA, only the U.S. South was below 50. The Midwest was strongest.

Most diversified industrial companies get revenue from nonresidential construction, selling machinery used for erecting buildings or components such as elevators or electrical and cooling systems.

A partial list includes Honeywell International (HON.N), Tyco International TYC.N, Johnson Controls (JCI.N), Eaton (ETN.N), Caterpillar Inc (CAT.N), Deere & Co (DE.N) and Terex Corp. (TEX.N)

European companies such as Philips (PHG.AS), Siemens (SIEGn.DE), Schneider Electric (SCHN.PA) and lock maker Assa Abloy (ASSAb.ST) also participate in the sector. (Reporting by Nick Zieminski, editing by Matthew Lewis)

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