The American Institute of Architects' (AIA) Architecture Billings Index (ABI) for May 2009, released June 24, showed no significant improvement over the previous month's rating, suggesting a possible stumbling block on the road to economic recovery.

Since hitting an all-time low of 33.3 reached in January 2009, the index has revealed more moderate drop-offs in billings for design services. And yet May's ABI rating of 42.9—up a mere tenth of a point from April—does two things, AIA says: one, it reflects an ongoing decline in demand for design services, and two, it indicates a lull in the recovery of the housing industry and the economy in general. Inquiries for new projects maintained their relatively high levels in May, scoring 55.2 (down from 56.6 in April), but they have not resulted in increased billings.

According to Kermit Baker, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, AIA's chief economist, the high rate of inquiries is due to prospective clients requesting bids from multiple firms for the same projects. "[This] is why the high level of inquiries is not necessarily translating into additional billings for work at many firms," Baker says.

May's ABI regional averages were as follows: 48.3 in the Northeast; 41.5 in the Midwest; 41.3 in the South; and 39.4 in the West.