(Inman News Features) - The value of new construction starts in December dropped 1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $479.9 billion, according to the F.W. Dodge Division of the McGraw-Hill Cos. Nonresidential building fell back after its improved pace in November, while gains were reported for housing and public works.

For all of 2001, total construction advanced 3 percent to $485.2 billion, marking the 10th straight year of expansion. The 3 percent increase followed growth of 5 percent in 2000 and 11 percent in 1999.

December?s data lowered the Dodge Index to 145 (1996=100), compared to a revised reading of 146 for November. The Dodge Index began 2001 at 153, retreated to 143 during July and August, and then stabilized around the 146 level as the year came to a close.

"The construction industry slipped back during the first half of 2001, but then proved to be one of the more resilient sectors of the economy as the year progressed," said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for F.W. Dodge. "The relatively modest deceleration for total construction was the result of a varied performance by sector."

Murray pointed out that commercial building lost considerable momentum during the first half of 2001, and then experienced some additional weakening after Sept. 11. However, single-family housing had a very strong 2001, helped by low mortgage rates, and school construction reached a new record high, according to Murray.