After two months of declining demand for design services, the nation's architects reported a slight improvement in business in January.
Architectural contracts are a leading indicator of construction activity, with a lag time of about nine months to a year between the awarding of contracts and construction spending.
The American Institute of Architects, the leading trade group for the profession, said its index of "work on the boards" reported by architects was 50.4, up from a mark of 48.5 in December. Any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings.
"There is enough optimism in the marketplace that business conditions should return to steady growth as the year progresses," said said Kermit Baker, the institute's chief economist.
"The suspension of the debt ceiling should ease some anxiety around projects for the federal government, at least for the time being," Baker said. "However, private-sector spending should lead the construction upturn this year, which will depend more on employment growth and continued improvement in the overall economy."