Total construction starts through the first five months of this year were $187.6 billion, down 3% from the same period of 2012, according to the latest data published by the Dodge division of McGraw Hill Construction Analytics. The May data shows a 29% year-to-date decline in non-building construction coupled with an 8% decline in non-residential building construction outweighing a 32% increase in the dollar value of new home construction.

The year-to-date decline in Dodge starts reflects a steep decline in the dollar amount for new electric-utility projects relative to a strong first half of 2012, says Robert Murray, chief economist for McGraw Hill Construction. "If electric utilities are excluded, total construction starts would be up 10% year-to-date, helped in particular by the strengthened pace for housing," says Murray.

The pace of further market growth was clouded by a decline in the Dodge Momentum Index for June 2013. The index, which measures planning activity for non-residential buildings and is a key growth indicator for that sector, slipped 1.5% in June, following six months of increases. The June decline follows a strong May and indicates that the "non-residential building market is subject to occasional setbacks," says Kim Kennedy, Dodge economist. "The sector is healthier, but improvement is gradual and hesitant."