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Latest United States Department of Commerce figures continue to show a steady increase in the value of construction orders placed this year.The June results reveal that US$36,200 million (£21,300 million) worth of orders were placed - the highest monthly total since January.It compares to May's $34,500 million (£20,295 million) and the $32,400 million (£19,058 million) worth of contracts awarded in April.However, despite the continued rise in orders - about $187,200 million (£110,117 million) worth of contracts were placed up to the end of June - it is still down 12 per cent compared to the same period last year.Using the June figures as a base, the commerce department estimates the American construction market is worth $400,300 million (£235,471 million) a year.This compares to the May estimate of 399,200 million (£234,823 million).The June increase is largely attributable to the slightly growth in private housing - up from $13,600 million (£8,000 million) in May to $14,900 million (£8,765 million) - and public spending on highways.Separate housing figures released by the commerce department show the number of housing starts increased to 1,040,000 in June - the first time it passed the million mark this year. But this is still 12 per cent below the 1,187,000 homes started in June 1990.