Residential construction spending hit its lowest level in five years in March, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate of residential construction spending dropped 19.7 percent compared to the same month last year, to $451.4 billion. This rate is a projection of a monthly spending total over a 12-month period, adjusted to account for typical seasonal fluctuations in construction activity.

The March spending rate on private residential construction projects was the lowest since it dropped to about $442.7 billion in March 2003. This rate had dropped for 23 consecutive months, from February 2006 to January 2008, before rising slightly in February 2008.

The March 2008 rate was about 36.1 percent below the record peak of $696 billion in February 2006.

The total adjusted annual rate of construction spending, including residential and nonresidential projects, fell about 3.4 percent year-over-year in March to $1.12 trillion.

During the first three months of this year, construction spending totaled $241.6 billion, down about 2.4 percent compared to the same period last year.

The rate of public construction spending rose about 7 percent in March compared to March 2007, to $296.2 billion.

Census Bureau officials noted that month-to-month changes in seasonally adjusted statistics often show irregular movements, and it can take two months to establish an underlying trend for total construction and up to eight months for specific categories of construction.

The latest monthly statistics are preliminary estimates that are subject to revision as additional data become available.

April 2008 data will be released at 10 a.m. EDT on June 2.

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