The rate of residential construction spending declined for the 17th straight month in July and hit its lowest level since February 2004, according to a U.S. Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce report released today.

Spending for private residential construction reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about $534 billion in July, down 16.1 percent compared to July 2006. This rate is a projection of a monthly spending total over a 12-month period, adjusted to account for seasonal fluctuations in construction activity.

Residential construction spending peaked at a rate of $696 billion in February 2006 and has declined every month since.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate of spending for all types of construction was estimated at $1.17 trillion in July, down 2 percent compared to July 2006.

Construction spending totaled $657.7 billion in the first seven months of the year, down 3.4 percent compared to $680.9 billion during the same period last year.

The estimated rate of public construction spending was $289 billion in July, up 12.7 percent compared to July 2006. Educational construction spending reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $83 billion, up 14.7 percent compared to July 2006. Highway construction spending was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $74.3 billion, down 0.3 percent compared to July 2006, and the rate of health care construction spending increased 36.6 percent, to $8.58 billion.

The agencies note that month-to-month changes in seasonally adjusted statistics often show irregular movements, and it may take two months to establish an underlying trend for total construction and up to eight months for specific categories of construction.

Statistics are estimated from several sources and surveys and are subject to sampling variability as well as nonsampling error including bias and variance from response, nonreporting and undercoverage.

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