ARLINGTON, VA — Construction spending tumbled in February by $11.6 billion, or 1.3%, to $846 billion, a low last recorded in 2002, according to an analysis of new federal figures by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA). Declines occurred relative to both the month before and February 2009 in most categories of private residential and nonresidential construction, as well as public construction, the association’s chief economist Ken Simonson noted.

“Most of the economy seems to be improving, but construction is falling into an even deeper hole,” Simonson commented. “Bad weather may account for a small part of February’s downturn, but most of the contraction reflects ongoing lack of demand, tight credit conditions and shrinking state and local budgets.”

Simonson pointed out that the February decrease might prove to be even worse once the government has more complete data. The report included downward revisions of $27 billion (3%) in the January total and $20 billion (2%) in the December figure. The December number had already been cut by $13 billion (1%) in last month’s release.

Simonson remarked that new single-family construction spending remained essentially flat in February, dipping by 0.1% after eight consecutive monthly increases, and was 3.9% above the February 2009 total. Improvements to existing single- and multi-family construction were down 4.3% for the month but 4.3% higher than a year earlier, he said. “These numbers suggest that single-family construction will rebound in 2010, even as multi-family continues to sink.” New multi-family construction spending was level in February but 52% below the year-ago number.

“Among private nonresidential categories, the only bright light is power construction — power plants, renewables such as wind and solar, and transmission lines — where spending rose 1.3% in February and 9% compared to a year before,” Simonson stated. “I expect this good news to continue, but I also anticipate further double-digit annual declines in other categories,” Simonson cited spending on lodging (-6.7% for the month, -53% year-over-year); commercial, including retail, warehouse and farm (-3.5% and -38%); private offices (-2% and -38%); and manufacturing (+3.4% and -35%).

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.