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Dodge reports slowing of industry momentum

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The value of new construction starts dropped 5 percent in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $329.3 billion, according to a recent report from the F.W. Dodge Division of the McGraw-Hill Companies.

The month's decline was the result of reduced contracting for residential and nonresidential building, while nonbuilding construction, such as public works and utilities projects, rebounded from its weak performance in February.

The March data lowered the Dodge Index to 131 (1992=100), down from a revised 138 for February. "A good sense of (the) current condition of the construction industry comes from looking at the first-quarter average for the Dodge Index," stated Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for F.W. Dodge, in a news release.

"The first three months of 1998 produced an index reading of 136, down 3 percent from the previous quarter. This depicts an industry which has lost some momentum from last year's brisk pace, but not to an excessive degree," Murray added.

Residential building, at $152 billion, retreated 11 percent in March. Single-family housing registered a 10 percent drop, while multifamily housing decreased 15 percent, the release said.

All five major regions witnessed slower residential activity in March, with both the Northeast and West down 5 percent; the South Atlantic down 6 percent; the South Central down 17 percent; and the Midwest down 20 percent.

"The residential numbers in February had been helped by warm winter weather in many parts of the nation, so the March decline is less a sign of weakness than a return to a more sustainable pace for the housing market," Murray said in the release.

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