Construction spending slips, manufacturing grows

Construction spending in February slipped from January. The manufacturing sector seems to be in better shape, with an index showing continued growth. (Kevork Djansezian / AP Photo / April 2, 2012)

The economic recovery is happening at a very slow and not especially steady pace, according to new indicators that include construction spending sliding to a 7-month low and ever-so-slight improvement in the manufacturing sector.

Construction spending in February fell 1.1% to an annual rate of $808.9 billion – the lowest amount since October, according to the Commerce Department.

That makes for the second straight monthly decline after the 0.8% dip in January, even though February’s rate is up 5.8% compared with the same month in 2011.

But last month, spending for private and government projects was down in 0.8% and 1.7% tumbles, respectively. Residential spending remained flat while nonresidential construction expenditures shrank 1.6%, including a 3.9% month-over-month plunge for amusement and recreation sites.

The factory outlook was more optimistic, though not by much. An index on the manufacturing sector from the Institute for Supply Management was up to 53.4 in March from 52.4 in February.

Any level above 50 – which production facilities have managed to maintain for more than two and a half years – represents growth. Fifteen of the 18 industries in the survey, including apparel, machinery and transportation equipment, reported overall expansion.

The group’s employment index increased 2.9 points to 56.1. But the new orders index, which helps forecast future performance, was lowered to 54.5 from 54.9.

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