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US construction spending unexpectedly falls in March

Key Points
  • The Commerce Department said on Wednesday construction spending decreased 0.9%.
  • Data for February was revised to show construction outlays rising 0.7 instead of increasing 1% as previously reported.
  • March's weak construction spending as well as downward revisions to January and February outlays suggest the government's initial estimate of first-quarter gross domestic product published last week could be revised lower.
Contractors haul a slab of concrete onto the framework of an apartment complex under construction in Chicago.
Christopher Dilts | Bloomberg | Getty Images

U.S. construction spending unexpectedly fell in March after three straight monthly gains, pulled down by declines in both private and public construction projects.

The Commerce Department said on Wednesday construction spending decreased 0.9%. Data for February was revised to show construction outlays rising 0.7 instead of increasing 1% as previously reported. Construction spending data for January was also revised lower to account for additional projects identified as eligible for inclusion in the series.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast construction spending edging up 0.1% in March. Construction spending dropped  0.8% on a year-on-year basis in March.

March's weak construction spending as well as downward revisions to January and February outlays suggest the government's initial estimate of first-quarter gross domestic product published last week could be revised lower.

Increased state and local government spending on roads and highways helped to lift GDP growth to a 3.2% annualized rate in the first quarter, according to the advance estimate.

The economy grew at a 2.2% pace in the October-December period.

In March, investment in public construction projects fell 1.3%after rising 3.2% in the prior month.

Spending on state and local government construction projects dropped 1.1% after advancing 3.4% in February.

Outlays on federal government construction projects tumbled 2.7% after increasing 1.4% in February.

Spending on private construction projects dropped 0.7% in March to the lowest level since August 2017, after slipping 0.2% in the prior month. Private construction outlays have now declined for three straight months.

Investment in private residential projects plunged 1.8% to the lowest level since December 2016, after falling 0.4% in February. The housing market has struggled, with spending on homebuilding contracting for five straight quarters.

With mortgage rates declining from last year's lofty levels, the outlook for the housing market is improving, though land and labor shortages remain a challenge.

Spending on private nonresidential structures, which includes manufacturing and power plants, rose 0.5% in March after climbing 0.1% in February.

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Key Points
  • Private payrolls grew by 275,000 last month, the biggest increase since July, when they expanded by 284,000.
  • Services-providing jobs increased by 223,000 in April, led by a gain of 59,000 jobs in professional and business services.
  • "The job market is holding firm, as businesses work hard to fill open positions," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics.