December Construction Spending 6.4% Below 2009

Construction spending fell 2.5% from November to lowest level since July 2000

The U.S. Census Bureau reported last week construction spending in December was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $788 billion, 2.5% below the revised November estimate, 6.4% below the December 2010 level and the lowest since July 2000. The $814 billion for the year was 10% below the 2009 total and lowest full year since 2000, according to Associate General Contractors Chief Economist Ken Simonson.

Of the three major Census spending categories, public construction dropped 2.8% from November and 0.3% from December 2010; private nonresidential, -0.5% and -12%, respectively; and private residential, -2.2% and -9.8%.

In descending order of current size, the leading public components were highways and streets, -1.6% in December but +7.5% for the year; educational, -3.7% and -11%, respectively; public transportation facilities, 0.8% and 0.4%; and sewage and waste disposal, -2.3% and 3.2%. Federal stimulus spending gave a major boost to all of these except educational.

The largest private nonresidential category, power (new and retrofitted power plants, renewable-power facilities, and transmission) rose 0.7% from November and 5.8% over December 2009. Commercial (retail, wholesale and farm) fell 1.0% and 19%, respectively; manufacturing, -1.3% and -25%; private healthcare, -1.1% and -2.9%; and private offices, 0.2% and -27%.

Of the three residential components, new single-family climbed 0.5% for the month but fell 4.3% from December 2010; improvements to existing single- and multifamily, -8.3% and -6.0%; and new multifamily, -5.3% and -28%.

Read Ken Simonson's January construction employment analysis.