Construction spending saw little action in September, according to data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. Overall, spending increased slightly with a 0.2% improvement. However, once residential improvements (a poorly measured category) are taken out, total spending was flat.

Private single-family home construction improved 0.5%, "but like new-home sales and single-family housing starts, it is stuck at the bottom and headed nowhere soon," Patrick Newport, U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, wrote in an email to clients today. Year-over-year, the category remained mostly flat, with a decline of 0.1%.

While private multifamily spending reported a smaller improvement in September, only 0.2%, that sector has shown more promise as being on a recovery track. On an annual basis, the sector was up 6.5%.

Spending on private, nonresidential construction projects was up 0.3% for the month, but has improved nearly 12% since the beginning of the year. "The anecdotal evidence is that much of the recent growth comes from companies improving and retrofitting existing facilities, not new projects," Newport wrote. "The recent upsurge could therefore turn around quickly should the economy falter. Indeed, the gains over the past three months have been paltry, and, with architectural billings declining, nonresidential construction is probably in for some rough times soon."

Public construction is not likely to fare much better. The category fell 0.6% in September, and with state and local government budget cuts on the way, more pain is likely.

Claire Easley is a senior editor at Builder.

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