Billings at U.S. architecture firms were positive for the 17th consecutive month in February, according to new seasonally adjusted figures from the American Institute of Architects.

The Architecture Billings Index, a leading economic indicator of nonresidential construction activity, had a February rating of 55.5 (any score above 50 indicates an increase), unchanged from January.

“The fact that we are seeing consistently strong numbers at architecture firms over such a prolonged period without any dips is especially encouraging for the nonresidential construction outlook,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. “These figures are following along a similar path as the conditions that led to a very healthy construction sector in the late 1990s.”

By region, the Midwest led the nation with an ABI rating of 60.3, followed by the South (59), the Northeast (58), and the West (46.2).

This positive news for the nonresidential construction industry comes on the heels of the index of U.S. home-builder sentiment falling to its lowest level in three years in March, with rising interest rates and weakening demand for new homes cited as the reasons for the drop. Nonresidential construction can offset some of the emerging weakness in the residential market as existing-home sales fell for the fifth straight month in January and the reported slowdown of housing starts in February.

The Architecture Billings Index is derived from a monthly “Work-on-the-Boards” survey and produced by the AIA Economics & Market Research Group. Based on a comparison of data compiled since the survey’s inception in 1995 with figures from the Department of Commerce on construction put in place, the findings amount to a leading economic indicator that provides an approximately six-month glimpse into the future of nonresidential construction activity.

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