LOS ANGELES A falloff in public works projects helped push U.S. construction starts down 1.6 percent in July vs. the previous month, according to McGraw Hill Construction, a division of McGraw Hill Financial Inc., New York.
The value of new starts slipped to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $479.1 billion compared with $486.8 billion in June. The value of construction starts in the first seven months of this year totaled $281.7 billion, up 1 percent from the same period in 2012.
The July decline was due primarily to fewer public works projects, which can be volatile from month to month, said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs at McGraw Hill Construction. Nonbuilding construction, which includes public works and electric utilities, fell 18 percent in July after rising in June due to the impact of some large projects.
Residential building activity grew 3 percent in July compared with the previous month, while nonresidential construction, viewed as critical to demand for structural steel products, rose 8 percent to $161.3 billion. However, the value of commercial construction starts in July was down 2 percent from June while the value of manufacturing plant starts fell 31 percent.
Murray said that despite the drop in public works construction, the data for July showed "evidence that the hesitant expansion for construction is proceeding."
Separately, the American Institute of Architects said its architecture billings index rose more than a full point in July, "indicating acceleration in the growth of design activity nationally."