WASHINGTON -- Spending on U.S. construction projects rose at a solid pace in August, helped by further gains in residential building. Overall construction activity climbed to the highest level in more than four years.
Construction spending increased 0.6 percent in August compared with July when spending increased a strong 1.4 percent, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. The July gain was revised to show an increase that was more than double the initial estimate.
Total construction rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $916.1 billion, the fastest pace since April 2009. The strength in construction should help the overall economy, which has been struggling this year with the adverse effects of government tax increases and spending reductions.
The August gain reflected a solid rise in housing activity, which was up 1.2 percent. The housing increase included a 1.6 percent rise in single-family construction and a 3.2 percent increase in the smaller apartment sector.
Non-residential construction rose a slight 0.1 percent in August after a much stronger 3.7 percent July advance. In August, there were solid gains in office building and motel and hotel construction but the category that includes shopping centers fell.
Spending on government projects rose 0.4 percent, reflecting a 0.8 percent increase in state and local government activity.
The construction report had been scheduled to be released on Oct. 1 but was delayed because of the 16-day partial government shutdown.
Total construction is 7.1 percent higher than a year ago with residential activity up 18.7 percent, nonresidential up 4.3 percent and government construction activity down 1.8 percent from a year ago.
The housing rebound that began in 2012 has helped drive economic growth and create jobs in construction. But mortgage rates are nearly a full percentage point higher than the spring, an increase that began in May when the Federal Reserve first signaled that it might slow its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases.
However, at its Sept. 18 meeting, the central bank decided to keep its pace of bond purchases unchanged after lowering its outlook for economic growth. Mortgage rates have retreated a bit since that announcement. Economists are hoping that the housing recovery will keep moving forward given that even with the summer increase in rates, mortgages still remain near historic lows.
Sales of new homes rose in August by 7.9 percent, rebounding after a 14.1 percent drop in July. August also marked the best month for sales of previously occupied homes in more than six years, an annual level of 5.5 million homes. And homebuilders remain more confident in the market than they have been in eight years.
The housing market has been one of the strongest performers this year in an otherwise sluggish economy.