In January, new construction starts increased 2 percent over December to an annual rate of $433.1 billion, according to the F.W. Dodge Division of the McGraw-Hill Cos.

The Dodge Index was 172, vs. December's 168. Analysts say this slight increase indicates that construction is stabilizing at what is still a very healthy volume. Also, construction activity in 2000 will be supported by strengths in the public works and institutional building sectors. It remains to be seen how higher interest will affect housing and commercial building.

Residential building in January rose 3 percent to $197 billion, with single family housing advancing 7 percent.

Multifamily housing dropped 18 percent from a strong December. Sources site strong income growth and high levels of consumer confidence as the reason homebuyer demand remains steady.

Nonbuilding construction advanced 6 percent over December to $80.4 billion. Highway and bridge construction jumped 11 percent. There was also a 9 percent increase in water supply systems, and a 7 percent increase for river/harbor development work. Sewer construction fell 1 percent, though.

Nonresidential building also fell 1 percent in January to $155.6 billion. School construction, the largest institutional structure type, fell 13 percent. The healthcare and amusement-related projects also saw significant decreases. On theplus side, church construction grew 17 percent.

Hotel construction increased 34 percent in January, and both offices and warehouses rose 11 percent from a sluggish December.

Compared to the previous year, however, total construction in January dropped 12 percent, but the comparison is against an unusually robust amount of construction that reached the start stage in January 1999.