The latest data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau confirms what most industry participants already know about a year they would rather leave behind: Construction spending was down. In December, overall construction spending dropped to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $787.9 billion dollars—down 2.5% from November and 6.4% lower than the previous year—to hit the lowest level recorded in a decade.

“Bad weather played a role in keeping the numbers down,” Patrick Newport, U.S. Economist at IHS Global Insight, said in a press release today. “December 2010 was one of the coldest Decembers on record in the South, one of the wettest in the West, and one of the snowiest in the Northeast and Midwest,” according to the National Climatic Data Center.

The year as a whole didn’t fare well either, as the total value of construction in 2010 clocked in at $814.2 billion, a dismal 10.3% below 2009.  

New single-family units, at an annual rate of $107.4 billion in December, provided a small uptick of 0.5% above the previous month, but remained 4.3% below December 2009. Multifamily came in at an annual rate of $13.4 billion in December—27.7% below where it stood the year before. Private construction overall, a number that includes home improvements, reported a rate of $486.9 billion, 2.2% below November and down 9.8% from the previous year.

Public construction reported an estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate of $301.0 billion, 2.8% below November. Power-focused public construction offered a bright spot, finishing with a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $95.7 billion, up 7% from the previous month and 6.3% higher on an annual basis. The Associated General Contractors of America, in a press release today, attributed the growth "to a mix of oil and gas-fired power plants, renewable power projects such as solar and wind generation, and transmission lines," which the association expects to remain strong during 2011.

Claire Easley is senior editor, online, at Builder.

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