New construction starts in February retreated 2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $488.2 billion, as reported by the F.W. Dodge Division of the McGraw-Hill Companies. The slight decline for total construction was the result of a divergent pattern for the three main industry sectors - residential building fell back from its January pace, nonresidential building held steady, and nonbuilding construction registered considerable improvement.

The latest month's data produced a 147 reading for the Dodge Index (1996 = 100), down from a revised 150 for January. The dodge index averaged 141 for the full year 2000.

"While showing a slight loss of momentum during February, construction contracting still came in 4 percent above the average for last year," stated Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for F.W. Dodge. "So far in 2001, the construction industry has weathered the slowdown for the general economy in comparatively good shape. The public works market has continued to strengthen, offsetting some loss of momentum for single family housing. In addition, commercial building has yet to see much dampening from tighter bank lending standards, although this may become more apparent as the year proceeds."