Billings at architectural firms were flat in July com pared to June levels, as firms dug in for the tradition ally slower summer season, according to the Work on the Boards survey conducted by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Washington, D.C.

According to Kermit Baker, AIA's chief economist, inquiries for new work exhibited greater gains, as three in 10 firms reported that inquiries in July had increased from June levels, while almost six in 10 indicated that they had remained stable. Billings slowed from the growth pace of a year ago, while inquiries were accelerating at about the same pace as a year ago.

The Midwest and West remain the strongest regions for project activity, although billings growth is beginning to soften in both regions. Residential firms report healthy gains in billings, whereas both commercial/industrial and institutional firms report a slowdown.

The national economy was surprisingly strong in the second quarter. While most were expecting an easing compared to the first quarter, the GDP instead accelerated to a 5.2% annualized growth rate, up from 4.8% during the first quarter. The growing trade deficit - currently running in excess of $400 billion at an annual rate - was thought to be sufficient to offset most of the other growth engines in the economy. However, other sectors - particularly investment spending by businesses - continue to be unexpectedly strong. Business investment increased almost 20% at an annual rate during the second quarter, on the heels of a 21% gain during the first quarter.