Total construction starts for August did indeed fall (9%) as predicted from the lofty highs recorded in July. This is not alarming as you will see why.
Nonres Bldgs construction starts in July, $ as reported by Dodge, increased 75%+ from the previous month and 65%+ from the previous 3mo and 6mo avgs. That is a once in a decade increase. In 2018, starts posted an increase of 60%. The July and August 2022 starts is the only time starts exceeded that of 2018.
Historically, then starts would fall back to the 3mo or 6mo (normal) avg rate within the next two months. Never have starts increased the month after or even within the next several months after reaching such a high level. Until now. After posting a 75% increase in July, Nonres Bldgs starts for August increased 7%.
The total dollar value of Nonres Bldgs starts in July and August exceeded the total for all Nonres Bldgs starts in Jan+Feb+Mar+Apr.
Even assuming the next 4 months starts fall back to less than the avg rate before the extreme highs in July and August, Nonres Bldgs starts are on track to increase 20%+ for the year, an annual rate of growth achieved only once before, in 2014. With that assumption, for the next 4 months starts will fall 45% from the current high and still be enough to post the highest year ever. Don’t be alarmed if over the next 4 months Nonres Bldgs starts decline from the lofty highs in July and August. Those monthly highs seem unsustainable.
Non-bldg starts are on track to increase +14% total for 2022. Year-to-date non-bldg starts are up 21% with the largest increase in Utility/Gas plants. The entire decline in total starts for August was in non-bldg, but the August level, down 36% from July, is still the 2nd highest since Nov 2019 and in fact the 3rd highest ever.
What’s causing these huge gains? Along with moderate strength across many markets, mega-project starts in last 2 months. $25bil in 3 manufacturing plants, $15bil in 2 LNG projects (these are non-bldg) and $10bil for an airport terminal. Most of the spending from these projects, expected at the midpoint of construction, will occur after 2023.
Residential starts are on track to gain +2% in 2022. A 2% gain may not seem like much but is on top of a 23% gain in 2021 starts. The 1st six months of residential starts in 2022 is at an all-time high. Residential construction starts for JJA 3mo avg is down 10% from the peak in the previous 3mo. But that peak qtr, MAM, is up 5% from the total in 2021, which was up 22% from 2020. Residential starts fell a total of 14% over 3 consecutive months from the peak in Apr to Jul. Starts in August are up 1% from Jul. Avg starts for the last 20 months, in current $, are above the former high in 2005. But inflation adjusted constant$ would put recent starts 60% lower than the former 2005 highs.
With 7 mo of data in, here’s a comparison of my forecast for Nonresidential Buildings Spending compared to the various forecasts in the AIA Midyear Consensus
Construction Spending through July for Nonresidential Bldgs is up 4.5% YTD.
YOY range from 4% to 6% so far, averaging near 6% last 3mo, expect 6%-10% for next 5mo. My forecast, total spending expected up 6% for the year.
4 of 8 firms in the AIA Midyear Consensus forecast 10%-18% for the year. Would need 17%-37% yoy for each of the remaining 5 mo to get there. With current yoy gains at 6%, it is highly unlikely that it will increase to between 17%-37% (3x to 6x the current rate) for each of the remaining 5 months.
Here’s one market that stands out.
With 7 mo of data in, Construction Spending for Manufacturing Bldgs is up 22.4% YTD.
YOY has recently been averaging near 23%, down from 25% to most recently 19%, expect next 5mo all yoy growth <15%. My forecast, total spending expected up 15% for the year.
4 of 8 firms in the AIA Midyear Consensus forecast 32%-55% growth for the year. These would need an unrealistic 50%-100% yoy (2.5x to 5x current rate) for each of the remaining 5 mo to finish the year up 32%-55%.
Construction jobs through August 2022 increased to 1.1% above the pre-pandemic high in Q1’20. Factoring in hours worked, we find that is reduced slightly to show jobs x hours worked for August 2022 is 0.4% lower than the peak in Q1 2020. Most anyone would say jobs have returned to the pre-pandemic high.
Construction spending through July is 14.3% higher than the pre-pandemic high in Q1’20. BUT INFLATION through July is 23% higher than pre-pandemic Q1’20. Therefore real construction volume (spending minus inflation) is currently 7% BELOW the pre-pandemic high in Q1 2020.
Jobs are up, but volume is down.
So, when you read that jobs are back to pre-pandemic levels, maybe that’s not as great as you might think. Sure more people are back to work, but has the volume of work needed to support those jobs increased sufficiently?
Inflation hides a lot of reality. We now produce 7% less volume of work put-in-place with 1.1% more workers putting in 0.4% less hours than before. That’s a huge construction productivity loss, down 6.6% in the last 30 months. Where does that productivity loss show up in the data?
Here’s the plot of actual and forecast CONSTRUCTION SPENDING. Compare this to the next plot.
Here’s the plot of actual and forecast CONSTRUCTION SPENDING ADJUSTED FOR INLATION.
Notice, Residential volume is up 11% since Q1 2020, but nonresidential buildings volume is still down 23% and non-building volume is down 18%.
Let’s say construction labor is 35% of total construction cost. If wages go up by 5%, then total cost goes up by 5%x35% = 1.75%. Well, if productivity declines by 6.6%, labor cost goes UP by 6.6%x35% = 2.3%.
That’s the inflation cost. Here’s a look Behind the Headlines. These two plots show the number of jobs required to put-in-place $1 billion of volume (inflation adjusted spending) or the inverse, the amount of volume put-in-place by one job in one year.
It’s great that jobs are coming back, but don’t overlook the cost that has added to inflation. Don’t expect to see a lot of improvement over the next 12 months. In fact, if jobs continue to grow at the current rate (or any rate for that matter), this time next year the imbalance is worse.
Construction Spending data updated 8-16-22, actual Year-to-Date through June, Census issued 8-1-22.
Forecast based on starts through July. Residential starts peaked in Feb-May 2022. Residential starts in July are down 15% from the highs reached in the 1st five months of 2022. Nonresidential Bldgs annual rate of starts reached a remarkable new high in July, almost 50% higher than the average of the 1st six months of 2022, and 30% higher than the previous single-month high in 2018. Non-Building starts for July reached 125% higher than the average of the 1st six months of 2022, and 50% higher than the previous high in 2019.
Watch for future revisions in Manufacturing Starts data. Through July, Mnfg starts are up 180% over the same seven months in 2021. It won’t be up 180% at year end. This may not yet be fully reflected here. This will add to spending mostly in 2023 and 2024. Also watch Power/Utilities which posted a 60% gain in the 1st seven months over same period in 2021.
Keep in mind, only time will tell how much of those huge gains in Mnfg and Power starts are a real increase in the amount of new work started or how much of that gain reflects an increase in the share of the market captured in the starts survey. Over the past 10 years, Dodge total starts data captured amounts to only about 40% to 50% of the final spending amount for these two markets.
Construction Starts forecast updated to 8-16-22
Construction Backlog forecast 8-16-22
After a two-year slowdown in backlog growth in 2021 an 2022, growth resumes in 2023 and 2024. Nonresidential Buildings leads in 2023, Nonbuilding leads in 2024.
Watch for this temporary decline in spending over the next few months. Some lower months of residential starts over the past nine months reduces residential spending from May to Sept 2022 before it returns to growth. More moderate declines in Nonres Bldgs and Nonbuilding also contribute to the downturn. Declines generally turn into gains by Q4 2022.
Much of the gains in spending in 2022 and 2023 reflects the very large increases in inflation. Spending after inflation, or volume of work, shown below, declines for all nonresidential in 2022 and declines for Nonbuilding and residential in 2023.
Residential volume peaked in Q1 2022 but will not return to that level until 2025. Both Nonresidential Buildings and Nonbuilding Infrastructure volume peaked in Q1 2020. Neither returns to that level before 2026.
Volume of work (spending minus inflation, or Constant $) has been dropping for several months and will continue to drop for several more months. But jobs have been increasing. Over the long term these two data sets should move in tandem, not in opposition. As greater separation between these two occurs, with jobs over volume, the productivity factor for the amount of work put-in-place per job worsens. That is a hidden factor adding to inflation.
See the PPI post for details on 2022 PPI data.
This month the July update to the Final Demand indices reflects that this index barely moves for two months, then in the third month, when Census performs a contractor survey to update the index, it moves 80% to 90% of the index value for the three months. The same has been true looking back over all recent quarters. Takeaway: the Final Demand indices cannot be used monthly. Essentially, these should be considered a quarterly index. Here I’ve calculated Q2 and Q1xQ2. You can 4x or 2x those results to get an annual rate, but I suspect most of the increase is already in this year, so Q3 and Q4 I’d expect to be lower than Q1 and Q2.
I gave two conference presentations in the past month. The most pressing questions from the audience were:
Are we headed into a recession? When will recession start?
What can be done about the labor shortage?
How can we support all the infrastructure work that is about to begin?
There is no question the sizable drop in starts in 2020 lead to a downturn in construction spending, mostly felt in 2021, but extending somewhat into 2022. However, this quickly turned around for residential spending and nonres bldgs spending is now past the low point caused by the pandemic initiated slowdown. With new construction starts to date at all-time highs and the forecast for new construction starts in the pipeline, it’s hard to envision how this would lead to a construction recession.
- In 2021, new starts increased 17%. Residential +21%, Nonres Bldgs +15% and Nonbldg +9%.
- In 2022, new starts are forecast up 11%. Residential +10%, Nonres Bldgs +18% and Nonbldg +4%.
- In 2023, new starts are forecast up 10%. Residential +12%, Nonres Bldgs +7% and Nonbldg +11%.
Total of all starts year-to-date in 2022 are up 6% over Jan-May 2021. Nonres bldgs starts are up 17% year-to-date. For the past 6 months, Dec’21 to May’22, residential construction starts posted 5 of the 6 highest months ever. The 6mo total for residential starts is the highest 6mo total ever recorded, up 4% over the previous 6mo record, posted in 2021.
Residential new starts get spent at a ratio of 70:30. Nonresidential Bldgs spending from new starts, on average, gets spent over the next 3 years in the ratio of 20:50:30. That is, 20% of spending from all starts within the year gets spent within the year started, 50% gets spent in the following year and 30% gets spent in the 3rd and sometimes 4th year. So from this we can say, if new starts are up 10% for the year then spending from that source will increase 10% x 20% or 2% the 1st year, 10% x 50%, 5% the 2nd year and 10% x 30%, 3% the 3rd year. If we get 3 consecutive years of growth in new starts there would be no downward pressure on spending for the next 3 to 4 years.
In the 2nd half of 2021, residential starts, although still strong, posted a few lower monthly totals. Although 2022 spending will still finish the year up, these lower monthly starts from late 2021 will work to cause a slight spending dip in the 2nd half of 2022. Nonresidential Bldgs spending is slowly increasing in 2nd half 2022. Nonbldg spending is flat or very slowly decreasing. The net effect is spending will post a decline in 4 of the next 8 months of 2022, but the total declines may not result in 2 consecutive quarters of declines. By the time we head into 2023, all three major construction sectors are in a growth pattern.
So, we will see a few months of spending declines, but the new starts pool of work is growing, not decreasing. The current forecast model is predicting no recession on the horizon.
This next plot shows labor and volume of work (spending minus inflation) to support that labor growing equally, albeit with short-term peaks and troughs, from 2011 to 2018. In fact, this equal growth extends far back with only few years causing exception to this pattern. This plot, and the extension of this plot to older data, shows that normally, labor increases at the same rate as volume. You can see that 2018 posted a significant drop in volume while jobs continued to increase. This departure had nearly corrected itself by Jan 2020.
The most recent construction spending report, issued July 1, revised unadjusted spending data for 2020 and 2021, both years added $30+bil. That brought volume up those years on this plot. The current spread between jobs and volume of work is still 10%.
In May of 2020, jobs were already on the rebound, but the volume of work was not. Work volume did recover some at the end of 2020 but then fell again, as was predicted, into mid-2021. In May of 2020, jobs and the volume of work were near balance. Since May of 2020, spending increased by 22%, but most of that was inflation. Since May 2020, actual work volume increased by only 1.5%. Jobs increased by 9%.
The last time the normal jobs/volume growth pattern was disrupted like this was 2006, the only other time in the last 25 years this occurred.
Volume, not spending, supports jobs. If volume is down, support for more jobs drops. If jobs increase while volume is declining then productivity is declining and the number of jobs required to put-in-place $1 billion of construction volume increases. At the same time, the inverse, the amount of volume put-in-place per job, decreases. This productivity loss drives up construction labor cost inflation and the need for additional labor to complete the job.
edited/added 8-6-22 Where the construction jobs are:
From Feb 2020 to Jul 2022 Nonres Bldgs and Nonbldg jobs are down 3.5% and 1.5%. Volume of work is down 20%.
Residential jobs are up 6.5%. Rsdn volume is up 14%.
It’s not quite that bad in either sector because some workers classified and counted as nonresidential perform work in the residential sector.
Total jobs up 1%. Total volume down 7%. That’s a slip of 8% in productivity. If labor is only 30% of total construction cost, an 8% slip in productivity is a 2.4% increase in inflation. That’s in addition to changes in wages.
The current administration has approved an infrastructure spending bill that earmarks approximately $500 billion for construction spending. It will take several years to start all this work.
The infrastructure spending bill may fund construction for a variety of buildings and non-building types of construction, for example, highway, water and sewer, educational, healthcare, etc. Rather than strictly classified as infrastructure, or as commonly referred to as nonbuilding construction, this bill will fund some forms of buildings and non-building construction in the public construction sector.
The total of all public construction is only 25% of all construction. This subset of construction totals about $360 billion in annual construction spending. It has never increased by more than $37 billion in spending ($35 billion in volume) in a year. Average growth is closer to $10-$15 billion/year. This public sector of construction does not have the capacity to increase by $100 billion/year.
As you can see in the plot above, it takes about 5000 jobs to support $1 billion of volume for 1 year. So, increasing volume by $35 billion in one year would require 35 x 5000 = 175,000 new jobs for that year. Keep in mind, this is to support a subset of construction that is only 25% of all construction.
Jobs have never increased by more than 400,000 in one year for all construction. Even taking out the 13 years when jobs dropped, the average jobs growth for the past 50 years is only 220,000/year for all construction. That would seem to indicate the average growth for the public sector, at 25% of all construction, averages only 55,000 jobs/year.
Total all construction for the three years 2022-2023-2024 is forecast to increase $140 billion, $117 billion and $116 billion. The remaining 75% of the construction industry still adds a lot of demand for growth and jobs beyond just that of the public sector that gets a boost from the infrastructure bill. But after adjusting for inflation, the growth in volume over this three-year period is only about $120 billion. That would generate a need to create 600,000 new jobs over the next three years. About 25% of those jobs support the infrastructure funded growth.
If the infrastructure spending bill adds $35-$40 billion/year in spending, $30-$35 billion/year in volume, the need would be 150,000 to 175,000 jobs/year to support that 25% of the construction industry. Since it is unlikely the public sector of construction could add that many jobs, it is more likely the amount of construction spending added yearly will be somewhat lower.
Infrastructure has a slower spending curve than the 20:50:30 for nonres bldgs, roughly more like 15:40:30:15. If $100 bil of new contract awards start in 2022 then spending would be $15 bil in 2022, $40 bil in 2023, etc.. At $100 bil of new starts per year, the highest one-year growth would be $40 bil, probably double the pace the sector can grow.
Construction Spending is up +12% year-to-date for the 1st three months of 2022, again mostly driven by residential which is up 18.6% ytd. Total spending is up 11.7% year over year (Mar’22 vs Mar’21).
See end of post for downloadable pdf.
Total construction spending for the 1st quarter 2022 vs the 4th quarter 2021 is up +6.5%. I expect this rate of spending growth to flatten over the next six months.
Residential is about half of all construction spending. For the past 6 months, residential construction starts ($ by Dodge) posted the highest 6mo total ever recorded. Dec, Jan and Mar are all near Feb, the highest monthly total on record. This implies no slowdown in residential spending at least for the next 6 months although I expect by year end, residential (annual rate of) spending will be down about 2-3%.
Spending up year-to-date: Manufacturing up 34%, Commercial/Retail up 18% and Highway up 9%.
Spending down year-to-date: Public Safety (80% of Other) -31%, Lodging -27%.
Now 2 yrs since the onset of the pandemic, total construction spending in March 2022 is up 15%. Residential spending is 42% higher than March 2020, Nonresidential Bldgs is down 5%, Nonbuilding Infrastructure is down 6%.
Why is spending coming in well above any forecast prepared at the beginning of the year? Since October, new starts have come in much stronger than predicted, 8% higher than the previous high 6mo period which immediately preceded. But some markets increased way above average, residential and manufacturing. This most recent 6 month period for nonresidential buildings includes two months in which starts came in 30% higher than average. You can’t predict that. Residential construction starts posted the highest 6 month total ever recorded and Q1 2022 is the highest quarter ever. Not only are starts stronger than expected, but also the very high rates of inflation are inflating the spending data. Original forecasts for spending did not anticipate all types of work would experience such high inflation.
Construction buildings cost inflation over the last 4 years is up 21%. Labor cost is two parts, wages up 15% & productivity down 7%, for a net cost up 22%.
Labor is 35% of total building cost so 35% of cost that is up 22% = labor is 8% of that total 21% building cost inflation. Therefore, 8% out of 21% or fully 1/3 of construction inflation over last 4 years went into workers pockets.
Take out inflation and we get construction volume. In 2 yrs since the onset of the pandemic total construction volume (spending minus inflation) is down 2.5%. Residential construction volume is up 15%. Nonresidential Bldgs volume is down 16% Nonbuilding Infrastructure volume is down 15%.
Volume, not spending, supports jobs. If volume is down, support for jobs drops. If jobs increase while volume declines, then productivity drops and labor cost inflation increases.
Since Feb 2020, the last 2 years
Volume: Residential is up 10%; Nonres Bldgs down 17%; Nonbldg Infra down 15%.
Jobs: Rsdn up 5.75% (+171k), Nonres Bldgs down 4.5%(-159k), Nonbldg down 2.3% (-30k).
In 2021, jobs increased +2.3%. Volume was down -1.1%.
Post-pandemic recovery volume of construction may have temporarily peaked in the 1st quarter 2022 at 3.3% below Feb 2020. Over the next few months, spending mostly holds level, but inflation eats away at growth and volume declines by year end. This should hold jobs down.
In January, I wrote Construction Forecast 2022 – Jan22 a full length post and article on the Outlook for 2022. Below I’ve updated the complete article to include all data up to May 6, 2022
Construction Jobs report for Mar 2022 shows total jobs up 19,000 from Feb
Rsdn jobs +7,600, Nonres Bldgs +6,300, Civil +5,000
Although construction jobs increased by 19,000 in March, total hours worked dropped by 1.8% from Feb, so total workforce output is down.
It’s real hard to compare construction jobs growth by sector. If you work for a concrete firm or structural steel firm, with firm doing primarily nonresidential work, but you are out there putting in concrete or steel for a high-rise multifamily buildings, your job is still classified as nonresidential.
Jobs are up 82,000 year-to-date, 1.1% from Dec, but that’s also up 3.5% from ytd 2021. With the latest quarter at +1.1%, jobs are increasing at a rate of 4%/year. But inflation adjusted spending, building activity, is expected up only 2.5% in 2022, after dropping -2% in 2021. Jobs increased 2.5% in 2021.
2022 spending started the year at the highpoint. I expect a slow decline in monthly spending in all sectors of 2% over the 2nd half. That provides no support for jobs growth.
Construction jobs have nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels. The problem with construction jobs having returned to pre-pandemic levels is the level of inflation adjusted construction volume of activity that is needed to support those jobs is still 5% below Feb 2020 and 13% below the 2006 peak. So since Feb 2020, jobs are back to that level, but volume is not so productivity has dropped by 5%.
Construction Spending is up +10.4% year-to-date (in 2 months!) mostly driven by +15.5% ytd Residential.
A plot of residential construction spending inflation adjusted. Taking out inflation shows volume of building activity. Perhaps the trend in residential is strong enough to keep going.
Total spending is up +4% in 3mo since Nov 2021 (and 10% ytd-2mo), but I don’t expect this rate of growth to hold. However, this and any other changed data inputs revises my 2022 spending forecast.
Examples of big changes since initial forecast:
Manufacturing spending has increased so much in Jan-Feb, (up 35% ytd) that even if the next 10 months finish flat year/year, Mnfg will still finish up 5% for 2022.
Residential new starts for the latest 3 mo, Dec-Jan-Feb, avg is as high as any quarter last year. Nearly all of this spending occurs in 2022.
Construction buildings cost inflation over the last 4 years is up 25%. Labor cost, wages up 15% & productivity down 7%, is up 22%. But labor is 35% of total building cost so 22% x 35% = labor is 8% of that total 25% building cost inflation. Fully 1/3 of construction inflation over last 4 years went into workers pockets.
PPI tables show input costs and final costs monthly to nonresidential buildings and residential. Here I use that information to track year-to-date (ytd). For more line items information see also Producer Price Index tables published by AGC
January Inputs PPI is up 2.6% in nonresidential and 3.3% for residential. Most of the inputs reported here are up less than 2% YTD, but Lumber/Plywood is up 15%. Final costs of contractors is up 1% to 5% and final cost of buildings is up 3% to 6%. SEE also Construction Inflation 2022
3-23-22 update Input Costs through February 2022 to nonresidential buildings up 4.5% year-to-date, residential up 6.4%. Inputs to residential went up 3.0% in Feb. In a typical year of 4% inflation, costs would increase only 0.25% to 0.50% per month. Residential is up 6%+ after the first two months! Most of the inputs reported here are up less than 2% for February, except Lumber/Plywood up 4.1% and Aluminum up 6.2%. Year-to-date, for two months, Lumber/Plywood is up 20% and aluminum is up 12.1%. Watch copper, up 4.9% ytd, for potential world situation interfering with supply. Final costs of contractors and final cost of buildings changed very little in February. Range is mostly up 2% to 4% ytd, but up to 6% year-to-date. 4-12-22 edited, corrections.
4-13-22 update > Input Costs through March 2022 to nonresidential buildings up 7.5% year-to-date, to residential up 9.5% ytd. In a typical year of 4%-5% inflation, costs would increase only 0.25% to 0.50% per month. Residential is now up 9% after the first 3 months of 2022! Keep in mind when reading these year-to-date (YTD) results, these are cumulative for 1st quarter 2022. That’s not a guess at year end results.
The only inputs reported here up more than 2% for March are Lumber/Plywood, up 5.1%, and Aluminum, up 6.2%. Year-to-date, for 3 months, Lumber/Plywood is up 26% and aluminum is up 19.1%. Watch copper, up 7.2% ytd, for potential world situation interfering with supply. Final costs of contractors and final cost of buildings changed very little in February or March. The final cost average of 5 building types is up 5.2% ytd in the first 3 months of 2022.
The PPI inputs through the 1st quarter is putting pressure on the nonres bldgs index for 2022 to move higher than forecast.
5-8-22 Correction to 2020 and 2021 Totals
I had taken the 2020 and 2021 totals from the AGC PPI reports. However, all analysis by Construction Analytics reports inflation as the annual average. AGC reports the annual growth as the December value, so compares Dec to previous Dec. That does not represent annual growth. For example, some costs in 2021 maintained a level 3% annual growth rate for 9 months then rapidly increased to 9% in the final 3 months. AGC reports the annual growth at 9%, whereas the annual average is 4%. Inflation rate reporting must be consistent, you cannot mix Dec/Dec and annual average. Therefore, all PPI data has been edited using the original source data from Bureau of Labor Statistics.
5-12-22 Construction PPI for April Construction Inputs post slowest monthly gains so far this year.
Nonresidential Inputs up 0.9% in Apr, up 10.0% YTD. Residential Inputs up 0.8% in Apr, up 15.6% YTD
Final Demand (Selling Price) Nonres Bldgs post strong gains in 1st 4 months, up 4.1% in April, up 9.0% ytd. Warehouses up 12% ytd.
6-14-22 Construction PPI for MAY Construction Inputs to residential post, for second consecutive month, slowest monthly gains so far this year.
May PPI data for construction > Big gainers from 2021 have slowed in 2022, Lumber, Steel, Sheet Metal, Rubber/Plastics, Copper. New gainers in 2022 are Ready Mix Conc, Conc Pipe, Paving Mixtures, Gypsum. We could see the same levels of inflation as last year, just from different products.
Final Demand pricing is updated every 3-4 months. Just had a major revision in April, some items increased by 50-75%. May increases look low, but the next revision month could change that, as did April. Better to look at this indicator quarterly, after the revision month.
7-14-22 Construction PPI for JUNE Construction Inputs to residential down for thrid consecutive month.
June PPI data for construction > Biggest gain in June is Deisel Fuel, up 14.1%, up 93.8% year-to-date. Biggest decline is Lumber/Plywood, down 14.7% in June, now down 1.9% ytd.
Final Demand (Selling Price) of nonresidential buildings and trades continues to climb, buildings on average up 0.5% in June, up 9.5% ytd, trades up 1.0% for June, up 8.1% ytd.
In this June report, there are many instances where FRED has revised number in previous 2022 months, mostly in the prior two months, but in some cases back to January. So, the year-to-date change from May to June will not match the May ytd previously reported x the June change.
8-12-22 Construction PPI for JULY Construction Inputs to residential down for third consecutive month.
July PPI data for construction > Biggest gainers in July – Ready Mix Concrete posts largest monthly gain of the year, up 2.7%. Now up 9% in 7 months, also up 9.3% compared to same 7 mo 2021. Biggest decliner – Diesel Fuel, down 16% for the month. Now up 62% for first 7mo of 2022, but up 77% compared to same 7mo in 2021.
Final Demand (Selling Price) of nonresidential buildings and trades continues to climb, buildings on average up 6.2% for 2nd quarter (M,J,J), up 12% ytd. Trades up 5.7% for Q2, up 12.5% ytd.
Material Inputs PPI represents change in cost of producing those materials. Average material cost is about 50% of final bldg cost. But with several margins tacked on before install, PPI $ represents less than half of final bldg cost, perhaps 40%.
Final Demand PPI, or Selling Price, represents contractors bid price to client. Includes labor, mtrl, equip, overhead and profit. Labor includes change in wages and productivity. Every three months (Jan, Apr, Jul, Oct) BLS performs an update survey to correct these Final Demand indices. For the past three quarterly updates about 80% to 90% of the change in the index was posted in the update month. Therefore, they should not be referenced monthly. These are quarterly indices.
9-14-22 Construction PPI for AUGUST
Construction Inputs to nonresidential buildings dropped for the second consecutive month after posting only a 0.4% increase in June, now down -2.4% for the past three months, but still up 9.8% year-to-date. Residential inputs are down for the fourth consecutive month, down -4.4% since April, up 10.1% ytd. Costs are still high, but are moving in the right direction after 1st quarter costs that averaged +10% to +15%. Historically, most cost increases are posted in the 1st quarter and the least in the 4th quarter.
Average of all inputs for nonresidential buildings is up 18.6% for eight months 2022 compared to the same months 2021. Avg inputs for residential compared to 2021 is up 14.9%
- Ready Mix Concrete, up 7 of 8 months, ytd is up10.2%
- Lumber/Plywood, down 4 of the last 5 months a total 28%, ytd down -6.7%
- Fab Str Steel, down -2.1% the last two months, up 11.5% ytd
- Diesel Fuel, down -28% in last 2mo, up 43% ytd
PPI $ represents less than half of final bldg cost, perhaps 40%.
It will take two more months before we see the effect these changes have on Final Demand PPI, which is updated every three months. Next update is to October data released mid-Nov. Every three months (Jan, Apr, Jul, Oct data) BLS performs an update survey to correct these Final Demand indices. For the past three quarterly updates about 80% to 90% of the change in the index was posted in the update month. Therefore, they should not be referenced monthly. These are acting like quarterly indices.
PPI TRENDS HELP TO INTERPRET THE DATA
A few years back I looked at PPI historical data. This is what I found.
- 60% of the time, the highest increase of the year in the PPI is in the first quarter.
- 75% of the time, two-thirds of the annual increase occured in the first six months.
- In 25 years, the highest increase for the year has never been in Q4.
- 60% of the time, the lowest increase of the year in the PPI is in Q4.
- 50% of the time, Q4 is negative, yet in 25 years the PPI was negative only four times.
So far, of the 15 items I track in the materials tables, with eight months of data, more than 50% have the highest increase of the year in the 1st quarter.
The most watched indicators of the rate of inflation are the costs of various construction materials and the labor needed to install them. However, the level of construction activity has a direct influence on labor and material demand and margins and therefore on construction inflation.
One of the best predictors of construction inflation is the level of activity in an area. When the activity level is low, contractors are all competing for a smaller amount of work and therefore they may reduce margins in bids. When activity is high, there is a greater opportunity to submit bids on more work and bid margins may be higher. The level of activity has a direct impact on inflation.
This analysis is national level data.
2-10-22 See the bottom of this post to download a PDF of the complete article.
update 5-3-22 This article AND the attached PDF downloadable document have been updated to include 1st qtr 2022 inflation updates.
update 5-8-22 This article AND the attached PDF downloadable document have been updated to include changes in inflation in PPI factors.
update 8-12-22 See Summary. Revisions to 2022 inflation.
update 9-19-22 SEE INDEX TABLES AND PLOTS updated to Q2 2022. Note these tables and plots are updated here in the blog post only. Original article attached IS NOT updated.
End of updates
The construction data leading into 2022 is unlike anything we have ever seen. Construction starts were up in 2021, but backlog leading into 2022 is down. That is not normal. Backlog is rarely down and then usually when starts have been down the previous year. In this case the starts declined in 2020, but that 2020 decline was so broad and so deep, even with an increase in starts in 2021, backlog to start 2022 has not yet recovered (to the start of 2020). Spending for 2021 was up 8%, but after adjusting for inflation, real volume after inflation was down. Last time that happened was 2006 and 2002, the only two other times that happened in the last 35 years.
A significant impact of the pandemic on construction is the loss of spending due to the massive reduction in nonresidential construction starts in 2020. Those lower starts reduced nonresidential construction spending in 2020, but more-so in 2021, and in some markets will extend lower spending into 2022 and 2023. The most unexpected change was that residential spending continues a strong increase.
- 2020 new starts declined -7%. Res +6%, Nonres Bldgs -18%, Nonbuilding -15%.
- 2021 new starts increased +18%. Res +22%, Nonres Bldgs +18%, Nonbuilding +8%.
- Forecast 2022 starts are up +11%. Res +10%, Nonres Bldgs +18%, Nonbuilding +2%.
Nonresidential construction volume appears now will experience only slight dip mid-2022, the maximum downward pressure from the pandemic is past. Total All Volume, spending minus inflation, is expected to again reach the same bottom in mid-2022 as in 2021. That should impact jobs, but we haven’t seen jobs react to volume losses as would be expected. Jobs growth without volume growth to support those jobs is a productivity decline, increasing inflation.
Spending for 2021 is up 8%, but nonresidential buildings spending is down 4%. Almost all gains in 2021 spending are due to the 23% gain in residential.
Deflation is not likely. Only twice in 50 years have we experienced construction cost deflation, the recession years of 2009 and 2010. That was at a time when business volume dropped 33% and jobs fell 30%. During two years of the pandemic recession, volume reached a low down 8% and jobs dropped a total 14%. But we gained back far more jobs than volume. That means it now takes more jobs to put-in-pace volume of work. That increases inflation.
No one predicted 2021 construction inflation. In Jan 2021, I predicted Inflation for nonresidential buildings near 4% and Residential inflation at 5% to 6%. Looking back, we now see nonresidential buildings inflation is 7%, the highest since 2006-2007 and residential inflation is 13%, the highest since 1977-1979, in part driven by the highest rates of increase in materials on record.
- 2020 Rsdn Inflation 4.5%, Nonres Bldgs 2.6%, Non-bldg Infra Avg -0.3%
- 2021 Rsdn Inflation 13.2%, Nonres Bldgs 6.7%, Non-bldg Infra Avg 7.5%
- 2022 Rsdn Inflation 11.7%, Nonres Bldgs 6.3%, Non-bldg Infra Avg 5.5%
edit 8-12-22 Much more information from a number of reliable sources is now available regarding recent inflation. Among several inputs, there is a recent BLS update to the Final Demand indices. See latest PPI tables. 2022 Residential Inflation 12.8%, Nonres Bldgs 9.4%, Non-bldg Infra Avg 5.6%.
edit update 9-19-22 inputs revise 2022 construction inflation as shown here. See Tables below:
- 2020 Rsdn Inflation 4.6%, Nonres Bldgs 2.7%, Non-bldg Infra Avg -0.3%
- 2021 Rsdn Inflation 13.4%, Nonres Bldgs 6.8%, Non-bldg Infra Avg 7.8%
- 2022 Rsdn Inflation 14.6%, Nonres Bldgs 9.9%, Non-bldg Infra Avg 12.0%
General construction cost indices and Input price indices that do not track whole building final cost do not capture the full cost of inflation on construction projects.
Selling Price is whole building actual final cost. Selling price indices track the final cost of construction, which includes, in addition to costs of labor and materials and sales/use taxes, general contractor and sub-contractor margins or overhead and profit.
When construction activity is increasing, total construction costs typically increase more rapidly than the net cost of labor and materials. In active markets overhead and profit margins increase in response to increased demand. These costs are captured only in Selling Price, or final cost indices.
Consumer Price Index (CPI), tracks changes in the prices paid by consumers for a representative basket of goods and services, including food, transportation, medical care, apparel, recreation, housing. This index in not related at all to construction and should not be used to adjust construction pricing.
Producer Price Index (PPI) for Construction Inputs is an example of a commonly referenced construction cost index that does not represent whole building costs. The PPI is a materials cost index. Engineering News Record Building Cost Index (ENRBCI) and RSMeans Cost Index are other examples of commonly used indices that do not capture whole building cost.
Construction Analytics Building Cost Index, Turner Building Cost Index, Rider Levett Bucknall Cost Index and Mortenson Cost Index are all examples of whole building cost indices that measure final selling price (for nonresidential buildings only).
Residential inflation indices are primarily single-family homes but would also be relevant for low-rise two to three story building types. Hi-rise residential work is more closely related to nonresidential building cost indices.
A nonresidential buildings index would be representative of commercial construction or hi-rise residential construction, since hi-rise residential is quite similar too commercial construction and in fact substantial portions of the building are constructed by firms classified as commercial constructors.
The Construction Analytics Infrastructure composite index is useful only for adjusting the total cost of all non-building infrastructure. Individual types of non-building infrastructure require attention to specific indices related to that type of work.
Post Great Recession, 2011-2020, average inflation rates:
Nonresidential buildings inflation 10-year average (2011-2020) is 3.7%. In 2020 it dropped to 2.5%, but for the six years 2014-2019 it averaged 4.4%. In 2021 it jumped to 9%, the highest since 2006.
Residential 8-year average inflation for 2013-2020 is 5.0%. In 2020 it was 5.3%. In 2021 it jumped to 14%, the highest since 1978.
30-year average inflation rate for residential and nonresidential buildings is 3.7%. Excluding deflation in recession years 2008-2010, for nonresidential buildings is 4.2% and for residential is 4.6%.
- Long-term construction cost inflation is normally about double consumer price index (CPI).
- In times of rapid construction spending growth, nonresidential construction annual inflation averages about 8%. Residential has gone as high as 10%.
- Nonresidential buildings inflation has average 3.7% since the recession bottom in 2011. Six-year 2014-2019 average is 4.4%.
- Residential buildings inflation reached a post-recession high of 8.0% in 2013 but dropped to 3.5% in 2015. It has averaged 5.3% for 8 years 2013-2020.
- Although inflation is affected by labor and material costs, a large part of the change in inflation is due to change in contractors/supplier margins.
- When construction volume increases rapidly, margins increase rapidly.
Historically, when spending decreases or remains level for the year, inflation rarely (only 10% of the time) climbs above 3%. Avg inflation for all down/flat years is less than 1%. In 2021, spending was down for nonresidential buildings and non-building. Inflation for both was over 8%.
Nonresidential buildings inflation, after hitting 5.3% in 2018 and 4.8% in 2019, fell to 2.5% in 2020, lower than the 4.5% average for the previous four years. In 2021 it was 9.0%. Nonresidential buildings spending has not kept up with inflation since 2016. Spending needs to grow at a minimum of inflation, otherwise volume is declining. Since 2016, inflation exceeded spending by almost 20%.
Nonbuilding Infrastructure inflation, from 2013 to 2017 averaged less than 1%, but then jumped to 5% in 2018 and 2019. Inflation fell to -0.2% in 2020, but jumped to 9.1% in 2021.
Residential construction inflation in 2019 was only 3.4%. However, the average inflation for six years from 2013 to 2018 was 5.2%. It peaked at 7% in 2013 but dropped to 3.2% in 2015 and 3.4% in 2019. Residential inflation is 2021 was 14.0%.
Producer Price Index (PPI) Material Inputs (which exclude labor) to new construction averaged less than 1%/yr. from 2012 to 2017. Cost decreased in 2015 and 2016, the only negative costs for inputs in the past 20 years. Input costs averaged over 5% for 2018-2020. Then in 2021 input costs soared to 22%, the highest ever recorded.
Even though material input costs were up for 2020, nonresidential inflation in 2020 remained low, possibly influenced by a reduction in margins due to the decline in new nonresidential buildings construction starts (-18%), which is a decline in new work to bid on. An 18% drop in new nonresidential buildings starts within one year equals a loss of near $100 billion of spending that would occur over the next 2-4 years. Nonbuilding starts were down 15%, equivalent to a loss of $50 billion in new work that would likely have been spread over 2-5 years. Residential starts in 2020 increased 6%, adding about $35 billion in new spending spread over 2 years.
Nonresidential buildings inflation for 2020 dropped to 2.6%, the first time in 6 years below 4%. Spending fell only 1.8% but after accounting for 2.6% inflation, volume decreased 4.4%. Nonresidential volume dropped every month in 2020 after the February 2020 peak, down 19% by December, but that’s not the bottom. Declines continue into 2021.
Nonbuilding Infrastructure in 2020 posted mild deflation of -0.3% after +5% in 2019, but averaged only 2%/yr. since 2011. 2020 spending increased only 0.7%. After accounting for -0.3% deflation, volume increased 0.4%. Public infrastructure inflation, up only 1.2% in 2020 after reaching over 4% in 2018 and 2019, averaged 2.7%, since 2011.
Residential inflation averaged 4.5% for 2020. Remarkably, spending increased 15% and 2020 volume was up 10%. Residential business volume dropped 9% from the March 2020 peak to the May bottom, but then by December recovered 16% to hit a post Great Recession high, 11% above Dec 2019.
Most nonresidential construction markets had a weaker spending performance in 2021 than in 2020. Approximately 40%-50% of spending in 2021 is generated from 2020 starts, and 2020 nonresidential starts ranged down 10% to 25%, several markets down 40%.
Nonresidential buildings starts fell 18% in 2020, but gained 18% in 2021. Nonbuilding starts were down 15% in 2020, then added 8% in 2021. Residential starts increased 6% in 2020 and 22% in 2021.
Nonresidential buildings spending fell 4.4% in 2021. Nonbuilding spending was down 1.1%. Residential spending was the star of the year, up 23%, the largest yearly % gain on record.Nonresidential buildings inflation in 2021 jumped to 6.7%, the highest since 2007. Non-building average inflation was 7.5%, the highest since 2008. Residential inflation in 2021 jumped to 13.2%, the highest on record back to 1967.
After adjusting for inflation, total all construction volume in 2021 was down -1.1%. Residential volume for 2021 was up +10% while Nonresidential Bldgs volume was down -10% and non-building volume was down -7%. Jobs average over the year 2021 increased +2.3%. Volume was down -1.1%.
U.S. Census Single-Family house Construction Index gained only 4% in 2020. The index is up 11.7% for 2021. The index has posted steady growth throughout 2021. Thru February 2022, over the last 4-5 months, the year/year rate of increase in this index has jumped from 12% yoy to 17% yoy. https://www.census.gov/construction/nrs/pdf/price_uc.pdf
Turner Construction Cost Index average annual for 2021 is up only 1.9% from 2020. That is unusually low, well below the range of 5% to 16% and the average of 9% for other nonresidential buildings indices. http://turnerconstruction.com/cost-index
Rider Levitt Bucknall nonresidential buildings index average for 2021 is up 4.8% from 2020. https://www.rlb.com/americas/
Mortenson’s cost index of nonresidential buildings data is posted through Q4 2021. The annual average inflation for 2021 is up 16% over 2020. https://www.mortenson.com/cost-index
RSMeans Nonresidential buildings index for 2021 is up 9.11%.
Engineering News Record (ENR) BCI inputs index for 2021 is up 10.0%. The BCI is up 5.3% year-to-date for the first 4 months of 2022.
Producer Price Index tables published by AGC show input costs to nonresidential buildings up about 18% for 2021. Final costs of contractors and buildings is up 5.3%. PPI Inputs for March show residential inputs up 8.2% and nonresidential buildings inputs up 12.6% ytd for 3 months. Also the average final demand increase cost for residential is up 16% and final demand cost for nonresidential bldgs is up 4.8% in the 1st quarter. https://www.agc.org/learn/construction-data
A caution here. AGC reports inflation for the year as the value reported in December of the year. Many others report the average inflation for all 12 months. These two reporting methods cannot be mixed. Construction Analytics has recently revised PPI data to reflect annual average inflation.
AGC April Construction Inflation Alert “The construction industry is in the midst of a period of exceptionally steep and fast-rising costs for a variety of materials, compounded by major supply-chain disruptions and difficulty finding enough workers—a combination that threatens the financial health of many contractors. No single solution will resolve the situation.”
New construction starts reported by Dodge thru Feb are up 15% over the same period in 2021, with residential at a new high and nonresidential near the previous high. Feb 2022 total was the highest level of new starts on record. High levels of activity often lead to higher levels of inflation.
Wage offerings are increasing (up 6% in 2021), productivity is declining (down 7% in last 4 years) and there are many instances of material shortages or delays in delivery (lumber, windows, roofing, cabinets, mechanical equipment, appliances, etc.). These issues are all present now and all work to increase inflation.
Steel Mill Products prices are up over 100% in 2021, but steel mill products includes all kinds of steel for all uses including automobiles and appliances. Construction uses slightly less than 40% of all steel and that is predominantly fabricated structural steel.
Fabricated Structural Steel prices are up 25% in 2021.
Here’s an example of how a PPI cost change affects the total final cost of the product installed. The mill price of steel is about 25% of the final price of steel installed. The other 75% of the cost is detailing, fabrication, delivery, lifting, labor and equipment for installation and markup. What affect might a steel cost increase have on a building project? It will affect the cost of structural shapes, steel joists, reinforcing steel, metal deck, stairs and rails, metal panels, metal ceilings, wall studs, door frames, canopies, steel duct, steel pipe and conduit, pumps, electrical cabinets and furniture, and I’m sure more. Assuming a typical structural steel building with some metal panel exterior, steel pan stairs, metal deck floors, steel doors and frames and steel studs in walls, then all steel material installed represents about 14% to 16% of total nonresidential building cost. Structural Steel only, installed, is about 9% to 10% of total building cost. The other 6% of total steel cost applies to all buildings. If mill price is up 100%, then subcontractor final cost is up 25%. With all steel representing 16% of total building cost then final cost of building would be up 4%.
Steel Prices Reach Levels Not Seen Since 2008 by The Fabricator
2021 Input costs for Residential and Nonresidential Buildings is the highest on record. Materials prices support high inflation into 2022. But some sources expect gains to moderate from 2021.
For up to data 2022 PPI see Producer Price Index PPI Tables 2022
Could a recession bring on deflation?
Deflation is not likely. Only twice in 50 years have we experienced construction cost deflation, the recession years of 2009 and 2010. That was at a time when business volume went down 33% and jobs were down 30%. In 2020, business volume dropped 7% from February to May. By October, volume reached a low for the year, down 8%. Volume of work seemed to be recovering in the first quarter of 2021, up 3% from the October low, but then struggled most of the year. As of December 2021, volume is still down 7% from the February 2020 peak and up only 2% from the 2020 low. Jobs dropped 14%, 1,100,000+ jobs, in two months! But jobs recovered all but 3% by December 2020. As of December 2021, jobs are down 2% from February 2020 peak. We have now gained back 1,000,000 jobs. But we gained back far more jobs than volume. That means it now takes more jobs to put-in-place volume of work. That increases inflation.
Here’s a list of some 2021 indices average annual change and date updated.
- +6.7% Construction Analytics Nonres Bldgs Mar
- +5.4% PPI Average Final Demand 5 Nonres Bldgs Dec
- +5.3% PPI average Final Demand 4 Nonres Trades Dec
- +1.9% Turner Index Nonres Bldgs annual avg 2021 Q4
- +4.8% Rider Levett Bucknall Nonres Bldgs annual avg 2021 Q4
- +16% Mortenson Nonres Bldgs annual avg 2021 Mar
- +11.7% U S Census New SF Home annual avg 2021 Dec
- +7.4% I H S Power Plants and Pipelines Index annual avg 2021 Dec
- +7.1% BurRec Roads and Bridges annual avg 2021 Q4
- +6.0% FHWA Fed Hiway annual avg 2021 Q4
- +9.11% R S Means Nonres Bldgs Inputs annual avg 2021 Q4
- +10.0% ENR Nonres Bldgs Inputs annual avg 2021 Dec
Take note of the top six indices reported here. They all represent nonresidential buildings final cost. The spread is from 2% to 16%, wider than ever seen in any other year. The average of these six is 6.7%.
Future Inflation Forecast
Typically, when work volume decreases, the bidding environment gets more competitive. We can always expect some margin decline when there are fewer nonresidential projects to bid on, which typically results in sharper pencils. However, when materials shortages develop or productivity declines, that causes inflation to increase. We can also expect cost increases due to material prices, labor cost, lost productivity, project time extensions or potential overtime to meet a fixed end-date.
After adjusting for inflation, total volume in 2021 is down 1.1%. Residential volume for 2021 is up +10% while Nonresidential Bldgs volume is down 10% and Non-bldg volume is down 7%.
Total volume for 2022 is forecast up only 1.7%. After adjusting for inflation, Residential volume for 2022 is forecast up only 2%. Nonresidential Bldgs volume is forecast up 4% and Non-bldg volume is forecast down 2%.
Volume declines should lead to lower inflation as firms compete for fewer new projects. However, aside from remarkable cost increases for materials, if jobs growth continues while volume declines, then productivity declines, and that will add to labor cost inflation. Since 2010, Construction Spending is up over 100%, but after adjusting for inflation, Volume is up only 31%. Jobs are up 41%.
Notice in this next plot how index growth for ENR BCI and RSMeans, both input indices, is much less than for all other selling price final cost indices. From 2010 to 2020, Construction Analytics total final cost inflation is 103/71 = 1.45 = +45%. Input cost indices total inflation over the same period is only 103/79 = 1.30 = +30%, missing a big portion of the cost growth over time.
Nonresidential Buildings Selling Price Indices vs Input Indices updated 9-19-22
Several Nonresidential Buildings Final Cost Indices averaged over 5%/yr. in 2018 and 2019 and over 4%/yr. from 2015 to 2019 averaging +25% inflation for 5 years. Input indices that do not track whole building cost averaged only 12% inflation for those five years, much less than final cost growth. As noted previously, most reliable nonresidential selling price indexes have been over 4% since 2014. All dropped to between 2% to 3.5% in 2020.
Current and predicted Inflation rates updated 9-19-22:
- 2020 Rsdn Inflation 4.6%, Nonres Bldgs 2.7%, Non-bldg Infra Avg -0.3%
- 2021 Rsdn Inflation 13.4%, Nonres Bldgs 6.8%, Non-bldg Infra Avg 7.8%
- 2022 Rsdn Inflation 14.6%, Nonres Bldgs 9.9%, Non-bldg Infra Avg 12.0%
Construction Analytics Building Cost Index updated 9-19-22
As of April 2022, not all nonresidential sources have updated their Q4 inflation index. A few are still reporting only 2% to 4% inflation for 2021, but several have moved up dramatically, now reflecting between +10% to +14%. One national resource is reporting only 1.9% inflation for 2021! The 2015-2023 table has been updated to include all Q1 2022 data where available. We can still expect some minor change to 2021 and future forecasts.
The tables below, from 2015 thru 2023, updates 2021 data and includes Q1’22 data when available and provide 2022-2023 forecast. The three major sector indices, highlighted, are plotted above. NOTE, in this table and these plots all indices are set to a base of 2019=100. All original data is gathered for all indices, but since all indices have different index dates (start in different years), all data is modified to a common base date, in this case 2019. That allows all indices to be easily compared. These indices are annual average index reported at midyear. All forward forecast values, whenever not available, are estimated by Construction Analytics using long-term avg.
Index Table updated 9-19-22 for older indices see Construction Inflation Index Tables + Links
How to use an index: Indexes are used to adjust costs over time for the effects of inflation. To move cost from some point in time to some other point in time, divide Index for year you want to move to by Index for year you want to move cost from. Example: What is cost inflation for a building with a midpoint in 2021, for a similar nonresidential building whose midpoint of construction was 2016? Divide Index for 2021 by index for 2016 = 111.7/87.0 = 1.284. Cost of building with midpoint in 2016 x 1.28 = cost of same building with midpoint in 2021. Costs should be moved from/to midpoint of construction. Indices posted here are at middle of year and can be interpolated between to get any other point in time.
Non-building infrastructure indices are so unique to the type of work that individual specific infrastructure indices must be used to adjust cost of work. The FHWA highway index increased 17% from 2010 to 2014, stalled from 2015-2017, then increased 15% in 2018-2019. During that time, the average of non-building indices would have given +12% from 2010-2014, +13% for 2015-2017 and +10% for 2018-2019. The IHS Refinery, Petrochemical plants index fell 10% from 2014 to 2016. In that same two-year period the IHS Pipeline, LNG index fell 25%. The CA Infrastructure composite index is useful only for adjusting the grand total cost of all non-building infrastructure.
Infrastructure Table updated 9-19-22
Volume of Work – The Impact of Inflation on Jobs
Volume is spending minus inflation.
Construction Spending drives the headlines. Construction Volume drives jobs demand. Total Volume is forecast flat to down over the next 12 months. Residential dips 4% then recovers to current level, nonresidential buildings volume increases 6% and Non-building infrastructure volume will fall 7%.
To differentiate between Revenue and Volume you must use actual final cost indices, otherwise known as selling price indices, to properly adjust the cost of construction over time.
When spending increases less than the rate of inflation, the real work volume is declining. In 2020, Nonresidential buildings spending was down 2%, but with 2.5% inflation, so volume was down 4.5%. The extent of volume declines impacts the jobs situation. In 2021, Nonresidential Buildings jobs increased by slightly less than 1%, but construction volume was down 10%. Total all construction jobs increased by 2.3%, but construction volume was down 1.1%. Jobs are supported by growth in construction volume, spending minus inflation. If jobs increase faster than volume, that adds to productivity losses and adds to inflation.
Many construction firms judge their business growth by the revenues passing through from all jobs under contract. The problem with that, for example, is that Nonresidential Buildings spending (revenues) are expected to grow 10% in 2022, but after adjusting for inflation the actual volume of work will be up by only 4%. By this method, in part, these firms are including in their accounting an increase in inflation dollars passing through their hands. Spending includes inflation, which does not add to the volume of work and does not support jobs growth.
Total volume for 2022 is forecast up only 1.7%. Residential volume for 2022 is forecast up 2.3%. Nonresidential Bldgs volume is forecast up only 4% and Non-bldg volume is forecast down 2.4%.
Construction Spending Current Dollars
Spending includes inflation which does not add to the volume of work. Before we can look at the effect on jobs, we need to adjust spending for inflation. The plot above “Spending by Sector” is current dollars. The sector plot below is adjusted for inflation and is presented in constant $. Constant $ show volume. Notice future residential remains in a narrow range after adjusting for inflation.
Constant $ = Spending minus inflation = Volume
Residential business volume is no stranger to hefty increases in spending and volume. In three years 2013-2015, spending increased 57% and volume was up 35%. For 2020-2021, spending increased 42% and volume was up 20%. Although residential spending remains near this elevated level for the next year, volume growth slows down in the 2nd half of 2022. Residential spending is forecast up 13% for 2022, but a forecast for 11.7% residential inflation slows volume growth to 2.3% for the year.
In January 2021, I had forecast by 3rd quarter 2021, nonresidential buildings volume would be 25% below the Feb 2020 peak. By 3rd qtr 2021 volume was down 21%. This follows the 20% decline in new starts in 2020. Most of the spending from those lost starts would have taken place in 2021. For 2022, spending is forecast to increase 10%, but inflation is forecast at 6%, resulting in volume growth of 4%.
In 2021, nonresidential buildings volume dropped 10%. Non-building volume dropped 7%. In 2022, nonresidential buildings volume should climb 4% but non-building volume falls 2.4%. In fact, the forecast shows non-building volume still drops another 4% in 2023. Although Power plants posted a massive gain in starts in 2019, declines in pipeline starts offset some of that gain. Transportation, a source of long duration projects, is also contributing to that decline. Although transportation starts were up 16% in 2021, that follows a 33% decline in starts in 2020-2021.
Below is the non-building plot, inflation adjusted. Both the nonresidential buildings and the non-building plots show there has been no substantial increase since Feb 2020 in volume to support jobs growth, and there is little to no help in 2022.
Jobs are supported by growth in construction volume, spending minus inflation. If volume is declining, there is no support to increase jobs. Although total volume for 2022 is forecast up 1.7%, with Residential volume forecast up 2.3%, Nonresidential Bldgs volume up 4% and Non-building volume forecast down 2.4%, we will not see total construction volume return to Feb 2020 level at any time in the next three years. By the end of 2023 volume is still down 3% from Feb 2020.
Construction Jobs Growth
When we see spending increasing at less than the rate of inflation, the real work volume is declining. For example, with construction inflation increasing at 3% annually, a nonresidential building spending decline of -2% would reflect a work volume decline of 5%. The extent of volume declines would affect the jobs situation.
There is a difference comparing growth to same month last year versus comparing annual averages. For Dec’21 vs Dec’20, Residential jobs are up 75k, Nonresidential Bldgs up 61k and Nonbuilding up24k. But annual averages tell a much different story.
AVG 2021 vs AVG 2020, Rsdn+153k (+5.3%), Nonres Bldgs +28k (+0.8%), Non-bldg +9k (+0.9%).
Dec vs Dec simply compares jobs at 2 points in time, without the benefit of what occurred in the other 11 months of the year, so does not tell us what took place over the year. Total labor production for the year must take into account all months. The annual average gives a much clearer indication of jobs growth over the year because it accounts for the peaks and dips of all 12 months during the year.
Jobs average over the year 2021 increased +2.3%. After adjusting for inflation, total volume in 2021 is down -1.1%. Residential volume for 2021 is up 10% while Nonresidential Bldgs volume is down 10% and Non-building volume is down 7%. Those are remarkable nonresidential declines, not seen that deep since 2010.
If jobs are increasing faster than volume of work, productivity is declining. For example, nonresidential buildings volume declined 10%, but nonres bldgs jobs increase 0.8%. That’s a 11% swing in productivity. Since labor is about 30% to 35% of the cost of a project, if productivity declines by 11%, then inflation rises by 11% x 35%, or 3.8%. The most recent year drop in volume, while jobs increased, added 4+% to nonresidential buildings inflation for the year. But some jobs counted as Nonresidential actually work on residential construction, so the individual sector data is skewed and there is insufficient detail to count those jobs. Better to look at all volume vs all jobs.
Jobs and Volume of work growth should move in tandem, as seen in the above plot from 2011 to Jan 2018. With exception of 2006, when jobs increased by 10%, but volume dropped by 5%, a negative impact 15% spread, similar to 2018, these plot lines have been moving in tandem like this, with minor differences, back to 1992. If jobs grow faster than volume, productivity is declining (a negative impact). When these plot lines grow wider apart with jobs above volume, that is a sign of a productivity decline. That loss of productivity for the workforce is a hidden aspect of inflation, not shown in pricing or wages.
What does that hidden loss of productivity for the workforce look like? How can we tell the magnitude of this impact on inflation when it is hidden, not seen in wages? It shows up in this following plot, the volume of work Put-In-Place per job.
If jobs are increasing faster than volume of work, can we tell if it’s production employees or supervisory employees? BLS reports ALL construction jobs (~7.5million) and Production jobs (~5.5million). The difference between these two data sets is supervisory employees.
Looking at the average number of construction jobs in the last 4 years, the average of 2021 jobs vs the average of 2017 jobs, production jobs increased +5%, but supervisory jobs increased +12%.
In 2011, supervisory jobs was 24% of all construction jobs. Now it is 35%. Growth in supervisory jobs has had a greater negative impact than production jobs on the spread between jobs and volume.
In January 2021, I had forecast We will not see construction volume return to Feb 2020 level at any time in the next three years. Well, unprecedented residential growth outperformed with 10% volume growth in both 2020 and 2021. Nonresidential and non-building volume since Feb 2020 are down 15% to 16%. Total construction volume since Feb 2020 is still down 2.5%. It is expected to fall another 3% in 2022. And the forecast still shows total construction volume from Feb 2020 down 2% by the end of 2023. That is a difficult environment to see jobs growth.
A final word about terminology: Inflation vs Escalation. These two words, Inflation and Escalation, both refer to the change in cost over time. However, escalation is the term often used in a construction cost estimate to represent anticipated future change, while more often the record of past cost changes is referred to as inflation. This graphic might represent how most owners and estimators reference these two terms.
Links to Articles and Data
Construction Analytics Construction Inflation Index Tables for indices related to Nonbuilding Infrastructure work and for many more links to sources.
See this post on my blog Construction Economic Outlook 2022