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Construction spending falls 1.8 per cent in June, biggest decline in more than 3 years

WASHINGTON - U.S. construction spending fell in June by the largest amount in more than three years as housing, non-residential construction and government spending all weakened.

Construction spending dropped 1.8 per cent in June on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising by a revised 0.8 per cent in May, the Commerce Department reported Friday. It was the biggest setback since a 2.8 per cent fall in January 2011.

The weakness was widespread with spending on housing down for a second straight month, falling 0.3 per cent, while non-residential building activity fell 1.6 per cent, the biggest decrease since January. Spending on government projects dropped 4 per cent, the biggest decline in more than a decade.

The June performance represented a setback to hopes stronger construction activity will help support overall economic growth.

The decline in housing reflected a 1.4 per cent fall in spending on single-family construction which offset a 2.5 per cent rise in the smaller apartment sector. Even with the two months of declines, housing construction is still 7.4 per cent above the level of a year ago.

The drop in non-residential activity reflected weakness in hotel construction and the category that includes shopping malls. Non-residential building is 11.2 per cent higher than a year ago.

The 4 per cent fall in government projects was the biggest one-month setback since government building tumbled by 6 per cent in March 2002. The June weakness reflected a 5.2 per cent decline in state and local government projects which offset a 10.4 per cent rise in spending on federal building projects.

Government building activity has been constrained in recent years by the fall in tax revenue as a result of the Great Recession and efforts at the federal level to get soaring budget deficits under control.

A slump in construction in the winter contributed to the economy shrinking at an annual rate of 2.1 per cent in the January-March quarter, the biggest decline since the first quarter of 2009 during the depths of the Great Recession.

Economists say a rebound to a 4 per cent growth rate in the second quarter will be followed by solid growth of around 3 per cent in the overall economy in the second half of this year.

The Canadian Press

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