WASHINGTON -- U.S. builders increased their spending on construction projects in October by the largest amount in five months, led by a surge in housing.
The Commerce Department said Monday that construction spending rose 1.4 percent in October. It was the largest gain since a 1.7 percent increase in May.
The increase raised spending to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $872.1 billion. That is nearly 17 percent higher than a 12-year low hit in February 2011.
Still, even with the gain, the level of spending on construction remains only about half of what's considered healthy.
Housing construction spending jumped 3 percent in October. Nonresidential building rose 0.3 percent. The government said Superstorm Sandy, which hit in late October, had only a minimal effect on the figures.
Sales of new homes fell slightly in October, dragged lower by steep declines in the Northeast partly related to Superstorm Sandy. New-home sales were still 17 percent higher in October than the same month a year ago.
Strength in home building has been one of the bright spots for the economy this year. But overall construction is still being offset by weakness in commercial real estate and tight state and local government budgets.
The strong 3 percent increase in housing construction spending in October left the rate of annual spending 19 percent above the level of October 2011.
The housing market appears to be withstanding fears that the economy will go over a "fiscal cliff" next year without a budget deal to prevent tax increases and spending cuts from kicking in, said Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics. Dales noted that residential spending during the past three months has jumped at a 29 percent annual rate.
The pace of spending on nonresidential construction is now 10.7 percent above its level a year ago. Spending on hotel construction and shopping centers both rose in October.