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Construction figures show the long-awaited building boom did not materialise in the last quarter.
AAP Construction figures show the long-awaited building boom did not materialise in the last quarter.

The building industry may be galloping to the economy's rescue, but it hasn't actually arrived yet.

The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday confirm that.

The volume of construction work done in the final quarter of 2013 was down by one per cent compared with the third quarter.

Work done on both residential and non-residential building like shops and offices fell, and so did engineering construction - mines, roads, pipelines and so on.

Not only was construction a drag on growth in the quarter, but it added virtually nothing to growth through the year, with the volume of work done in the quarter up by a scant 0.2 per cent from a year earlier.

Despite that, the economy most likely put in a solid increase in gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic activity, in the quarter.

The GDP estimates will be published by the bureau in the national accounts next Wednesday.

On the plus side, retail trade figures already released suggest household spending notched up a hefty gain, while strong exports growth in the quarter should give GDP a boost as well.

But not building, particularly housing construction which has been put forward as one of the sectors the economy will depend on as the mining investment boom fizzles out.

There have been some promising signs from housing finance data, where the value of lending approvals jumped in September then inched high through the rest of the year.

But, with apartments taking a bigger slice of the building market these days, new lending and building approvals are less likely to be translated fully into actual building work, because developers are more likely to shelve their plans than owner-occupiers.

So it's a bit early to break out the champagne to celebrate the new building boom.

Building will pick up.

But it didn't in the final quarter of last year and may not pick up much in the early part of this year either.