Builders step up spending for fifth straight month

WASHINGTON (AP) ? Builders increased their spending in December for the fifth consecutive month, offering more evidence of a turnaround in the battered construction industry. Housing, nonresidential construction and government projects all showed gains.

The Commerce Department says spending on construction projects rose 1.5 percent in December after a revised 0.4 percent gain in November. That pushed spending to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $816.4 billion, the highest level in 20 months.

Even with the gains, spending is barely half the level that economists consider healthy. Analysts say it could be four years before the industry returns to full health.

Residential construction rose 0.8 percent on the strength of single-family homes. Nonresidential building jumped 3.3 percent, led by factory construction. Government spending rose 0.5 percent.