New construction fell 0.3 percent from February to March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $413.5 billion, the Commerce Department said.

After declines of 0.8 percent in February and 0.7 percent in January, the March downturn capped the first three-month decrease since 1981, when declines occurred from February through June.The February decline was the biggest drop since a 1.8 percent downturn in April 1988.

Spending on new residential housing units fell 1.4 percent in March to a rate of $143.3 billion. Non-residential private construction rose 4.1 percent to $101.9 billion in March.