Construction Analytics

Jobs vs Construction Volume – Imbalances

8-8-17

From January 2001 to June 2017, jobs growth exceeded construction volume growth by 13%. The attached plots show the imbalances in growth.

Jobs growth is # of jobs x hours worked.

Volume is construction spending adjusted for inflation, or constant $.

Sometimes rapid spending growth is accompanied by higher than average inflation. This occurred in the 1990’s and again in 2005-2006. While spending seems to indicate rapid growth, much of the growth in cost is inflation and volume growth can be significantly lower, even sometimes negative, as occurred in 2005-2006. However, jobs growth during these rapid spending growth periods appears to track much more in line with spending growth. This leads to over-hiring and a loss of productivity occurs.

There are two distinct periods when jobs growth advanced more rapidly than real construction volume, 2005-2006 and mid-2015 to mid-2017. In the eight year period in between, either jobs fell faster or, after January 2011, volume increased faster. If spending growth is used to compare, then jobs growth falls far short of construction spending. But, due to inflation, spending is not the correct parameter to compare to jobs. Jobs must be compared to volume. Since 2001, the imbalance shows jobs growth has exceeded volume growth.

2001 through mid-year 2017, jobs exceeded volume growth by 13%.

Jobs vs Volume 2001-2010 8-8-17

2001-2004 jobs and volume growth were nearly equal.

2005-2006 jobs growth exceeded volume growth by 20%. During this period, construction spending and volume reached a peak. From late 2004 into early 2006, we experienced 20% growth in spending, the most rapid growth period on record. But that was also the period of the most rapid inflation growth on record. Residential volume peaked in early 2006 but then dropped 20% by the end of 2006. Nonresidential spending was increasing, but almost all of the growth was inflation. Nonresidential volume remained flat through 2006. Inflation was greater than spending growth, so volume declined. Although volume declined, hiring continued and jobs increased by 15%.

2007-2010 volume exceeded jobs growth by 4%. Spending decreased by 30%. Both volume and jobs were in steep decline. More jobs declined than volume, however, this period started with nearly 20% excess jobs. For January 2010 to January 2011, jobs bounced around near bottom, but volume dropped 8% more. 2010 ended with an excess of 15% jobs. January 2011 was the low-point for jobs.

Jobs vs Volume 2011-2017 8-8-17

2011-June 2015 volume exceeded jobs growth by 10%. Spending increased by almost 40% and inflation was relatively low at only 3%/yr. This period helped absorb more than half of the excess jobs that were created in 2005-2006 and remained after 2010. By mid-2015, jobs exceeded volume by only 7%.

June 2015-June 2017  jobs growth exceeded volume by 7%.  Spending increased by 7%, but inflation was 7% over the same period.  Although volume was up and down, over this two-year period through June 2017 we posted zero growth in volume. All of the increase in spending was inflation. Jobs increased 7% in two years.

For the last 5 years, 2012-2016, jobs averaged 4.5%/yr. growth  Construction spending averaged 8.5%/yr. growth. Inflation, currently hovering around 4.5%, averaged about 3.5%/yr. during this period. So real volume growth was only 4% to 5%. In the first few years of the recovery, 2011-2014, the gap narrowed and volume improved over jobs, but for the last two years, jobs have been increasing faster than volume.

I do expect spending to continue at a 6% to 7% growth rate at least through 2018. But also, I expect inflation at 4% to 4.5%. If the spending forecast holds, and if jobs growth comes into balance, then that would indicate only a 2% to 3% jobs growth rate from now through 2018.

Also SEE Construction Jobs Growing Faster Than Volume

and Is There a Construction Jobs Shortage?

ARCHIVE – Construction Inflation Index Tables 2016 data

10-24-16 original posted
1-27-17 updated index tables and plots
8-6-17 archived this for 1-27-17 2016 content  –  Linked Master Index Tables has updated data

8-6-17  SEE Construction Inflation Index Tables For Updated 2017 Indices

Construction Cost Indices come in many types: Final cost by specific building type; Final cost composite of buildings but still all within one major building sector; Final cost but across several major building sectors (ex., residential and nonresidential buildings); Input prices to subcontractors; Producer prices and Select market basket indices.

Residential, Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure Indices developed by Construction Analytics, (in BOLD CAPS), are sector specific selling price composite indices. These three indices represent whole building final cost and are plotted in Building Cost Index  – Construction Inflation below and also plotted in the attached Midyear report link. They represent average or weighted average of what is considered the most representative cost indicators in each major building sector. For Non-building Infrastructure, however, in most instances it is better to use a specific index to the type of work.

BCI 1992-2018 5-15-17

Click Here for LINK to Cost Inflation Midyear Report 2016 – text on Current Inflation

All actual index values have been recorded from the source and then converted to current year 2016 = 100. That puts all the indices on the same baseline and measures everything to a recent point in time.

Not all indices cover all years. For instance the PPI nonresidential buildings indices only go back to years 2004-2007, the years in which they were created.

SEE Construction Inflation Index Tables For 2017 Tables

index-table-2000-to-2018-updated-2-17-17

SEE BELOW FOR LARGER IMAGE

When construction is very actively growing, 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. When construction activity is declining, construction cost increases slow or may even turn to negative, due to reductions in overhead and profit margins, even though labor and material costs may still be increasing.

Selling Price, by definition whole building actual final cost tracks the final cost of construction, which includes, in addition to costs of labor and materials and sales/use taxes, general contractor and sub-contractor overhead and profit. Selling price indices should be used to adjust project costs over time.

Here’s a LINK to a good article by Faithful & Gould that explains “If you want to avoid misusing a cost index, understand what it measures.” 

quoted from that article,

wiggins-cost-iindex

R S Means Index and ENR Building Cost Index (BCI) are examples of input indices. They do not measure the output price of the final cost of buildings. They measure the input prices paid by subcontractors for a fixed market basket of labor and materials used in constructing the building. These indices do not represent final cost so won’t be as accurate as selling price indices.

Turner Actual Cost Index nonresidential buildings only, final cost of building

Rider Levett Bucknall Actual Cost Index in RLB Publications nonresidential buildings only, final cost of building, selling price

IHS Power Plant Cost Indices specific infrastructure only, final cost indices

  • IHS UCCI tracks construction of onshore, offshore, pipeline and LNG projects
  • IHS DCCI tracks construction of refining and petrochemical construction projects
  • IHS PCCI tracks construction of coal, gas, wind and nuclear power generation plants

Bureau of Labor Statistics Producer Price Index only specific PPI building indices reflect final cost of building. PPI cost of materials is price at producer level. The PPIs that constitute Table 9 measure changes in net selling prices for materials and supplies typically sold to the construction sector. Specific Building PPI Indices are Final Demand or Selling Price indices.

PPI Materials and Supply Inputs to Construction Industries

PPI Nonresidential Building Construction Sector — Contractors

PPI Nonresidential Building Types

PPI BONS Other Nonresidential Structures includes water and sewer lines and structures; oil and gas pipelines; power and communication lines and structures; highway, street, and bridge construction; and airport runway, dam, dock, tunnel, and flood control construction.

National Highway Construction Cost Index (NHCCI) final cost index, specific to highway and road work only.

S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index history final cost as-sold index but includes sale of both new and existing homes, so is an indicator of price movement but should not be used solely to adjust cost of new residential construction

US Census Constant Quality (Laspeyres) Price Index SF Houses Under Construction final cost index, this index adjusts to hold the build component quality and size of a new home constant from year to year to give a more accurate comparison of real cost inflation

Beck Biannual Cost Report develops indices for only five major cities and average. The indices may be a composite of residential and nonresidential buildings. It can be used as an indicator of the direction of cost but should not be used to adjust the cost in either of these two sectors.

Mortenson Cost Index is the estimated cost of a representative nonresidential building priced in six major cities and average.

Other Indices not included here:

Consumer Price Index (CPI) issued by U.S. Gov. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Monthly data on changes in the prices paid by urban 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 never be used to adjust construction pricing.

Leland Saylor Cost Index  Clear definition of this index could not be found, however detailed input appears to represent buildings and does reference subcontractor pricing. But it could not be determined if this is a selling price index.

Sierra West Construction Cost Index is identified as a selling price index but may be specific to California. This index may be a composite of several sectors. No online source of the index could be found, but it is published in Engineering News Record magazine in the quarterly cost report update.

Vermeulens Construction Cost Index can be found here. It is described as a bid price index, which is a selling price index, for Institutional/Commercial/Industrial projects. That would be a nonresidential buildings sector index. No data table is available, but a plot of the VCCI is available on the website. Some interpolation would be required to capture precise annual values from the plot. The site provides good information.

The Bureau of Reclamation Construction Cost Trends comprehensive indexes for about 30 different types of infrastructure work including dams, pipelines, transmission lines, tunnels, roads and bridges. 1984 to present.

Click Here for Link to Construction Cost Inflation – Midyear Report 2016

1-27-17 – Index updated to Dec. 2016 data

index-table-2000-to-2009-updated-2-17-17

index-table-2010-to-2018-updated-2-17-17

8-6-17  SEE Construction Inflation Index Tables For Updated 2017 Indices

 

June Construction Spending – What’s Up, or Down?

8-2-17

Here’s some headlines this month on the June Construction Spending release: Plummets in June; Largest one month drop in 15 years; Clearly Decelerating; US Construction Spending Just Collapsed; and my personal favorite, Construction Spending Plummets to Economic Crisis Levels.

Frankly, I have much more trust in my data than to suggest we are at crisis levels.

In the latest Census construction spending report, June spending dropped 1.3% from May, but May was revised down -0.7%. The consensus of economists predicted spending would be up +0.5% (from the original May value), so the data posted is actually 2.5% below consensus estimates.

I expected May to get revised up 0.6% and the initial June release would be flat vs the revised May value. So the actual came in 2.6% below my expectation.

June construction spending was posted at $1.205 trillion, down 1.3% from May and down 2.7% from March. With the revised data, the May Year-to-date (YTD) vs 2016 was only +5.5% (not +6.1% as initially reported) and for June it’s now +4.8%.

My opinion is this preliminary June value appears suspect. This is sort of like driving a well maintained car that gets 30 mpg and all of a sudden the gauges indicate 20 mpg for the latest tankful of gas. Although the road may be a little bumpy, there does not seem to be any serious mechanical problems, so we have to ask, why did gas mileage drop so much?

The April decline and the Apr-May-June decline are the single largest monthly and 3-month total non-recessionary declines on record. We would need to look at recession data to find similar declines. Spending drops like this just don’t normally occur, especially when cash flow patterns from starts predict 4% growth during the 3-month period. That’s a 6.7% miss over 3 months.

The largest declines in the June Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) construction spending were Highway and Educational, together 60% of the total monthly decline. (There are other markets with greater mo/mo% declines, however most of those markets have a very small share of the total spending so don’t amount to much).  Almost all of the largest declines are public work. In fact, the initial June release shows every public market declined. However, all ten other public markets together don’t equal half of the declines generated by these two major markets. Furthermore, for the past 3 months Highway spending shows a decline of 12.5%, and Educational spending is down 7.6% in 4 months. A review of data back to 2005 shows neither of these markets have ever had any periods where they’ve experienced declines of this magnitude. These would be record declines if they stick. Market trend data simply is not indicating to expect record declines at this time. So I consider these data suspect.

Construction spending initial release is always preliminary data. The June value, released August 1st, will be revised in each of the next two reports and then once again next year when all 2017 data is reviewed. The average revision to June spending data over the last 4 years (similar growth years to current expectations) is +4.8%.

Spend Final vs 1st print 8-3-17

There are three more opportunities for revision to the June data and two more to the May data. We will have a much better idea what really happened on October 1st, but we won’t know the final outcome until the final 2017 revision on July 1, 2018.

So, what data seems to indicate a trend contrary to current declines? The last 12 months of Dodge Data new starts for nonresidential buildings are the highest since 2008 and they peaked from August to October. Residential starts, at their highest since 2006, peaked from December’16 to March’17. Backlog is at an all-time high. There is no indication here that spending will plummet.

Also, one month of Educational or Highway new starts each generate about $250 to $300 million per month in spending, for the next 24 to 36 months. Normally, with some variation, we have the current month of new starts coming into backlog and one month of old starts ending. Since starts have been normal or high recently, the spending declines posted in June would imply that we’ve lost two to three months of backlog from current spending. Again, there are no indications that we have an extreme imbalance or a canceling of backlog.

Most of the nonresidential spending occurring right now is from projects that started between mid 2015 and the end of 2016. Nonresidential buildings projects that started in 2015 or earlier still make up one third of the spending in the 1st half of 2017. Non-building infrastructure projects that started in 2015 and earlier contributed 50% of spending in the 1st half of 2017. Residential projects have shorter duration so most spending is from more recent jobs, but we hit a 10 year peak in new residential starts just a few months ago. All sectors have fluctuations in spending and have down months but the index of long term cash flows out to completion shows normal backlog and spending growth across every sector.

Index of Actual Spending and Starts Cash Flows 2015-2018 8-2-17

I’m inclined to expect substantial upward revisions to June construction spending in the next two releases. No other data supports a big June drop.

Keep in mind, current construction spending is always being compared to previous months revised spending and growth is almost always being understated. Monthly spending has been revised UP 45 times in the last 48 months. All previous months and all 2016 data have been revised several times. The average revision to ALL spending data over the last 4 years is +3.9%/month. Since January 2016, the average revision is +3.0%/month. The average revision to June spending data over the last 4 years is +4.8%.

June data is un-adjusted preliminary data. Many of the news articles declaring construction spending was a miss are based on this preliminary data which very often gets revised away in following months. For example, The 1st 6 months of 2016 have already been revised up, three times each, by a total of 2.5%. All the months YTD in 2017 still have pending revisions. June 2017 vs June 2016 shows a percent growth of only +1.6%, but June 2016 has already been revised up by 4.7% and June 2017 has not yet been revised at all. June 2017 has a 90% chance of being revised up.

I predict after all the revision are in we will see that June spending did not drop to a low of $1.205 trillion, but that it was closer to $1.250 trillion.

Nonres Bldgs Construction Spending Midyear 2017 Forecast

7-24-17

The AIA recently published the Nonresidential Buildings Consensus Forecast Midyear 2017 report. The consensus of seven firms projects spending growth for nonresidential buildings at 3.8% for 2017 and 3.6% for 2018. The largest growth in the AIA forecast for any building type for both years is 10% for 2017 Retail & Other Commercial. The highest reported total annual prediction from any firm is 4.4% for 2017 and 5.5% for 2018. AIA Midyear Consensus Report July 2017

Construction Analytics forecast for nonresidential buildings construction spending growth is +7.3% for 2017 and +10.7% for 2018. Growth in 2016 was 7.5%. 

Year-to-date (YTD) spending for the 1st 5 months of 2017 is up +5.2%, led by Office and commercial, both near 15%. Estimate-to-complete (ETC) for the final 7 months is forecast at +8.1%. Total spending for Nonresidential Buildings in 2017 is forecast to increase 7.3% = $438 billion.

Compare Consensus 2017 July Forecast 7-26-17

If spending were to slow to 3.8% growth for 2017, since YTD growth is already 5.2%, the rate of growth in the final 7 months would need to fall to only 2.4%. However, the predicted cash flow from construction starts shows very strong spending growth in the 2nd half 2017 and into 2018. Nonresidential Buildings construction starts for the last 12 months posted the highest average since 2007-2008. This is helping boost spending.

Outside of recession years, nonresidential buildings construction spending for the year dropped below 4% annual growth only twice in 24 years, since data has been tracked. In fact, right now spending needs to grow at 4.5% just to stay ahead of construction inflation. So any forecast of spending growth below 4.5% actually might suggest that construction is not expanding, but is contracting. All indications are that there are no recessionary effects right now and economic activity does not suggest we are headed for a non-recession low spending for nonresidential building construction. I don’t expect spending to drop to 4% growth for the next three years.

The pattern of nonresidential buildings construction starts for the last 30 months is indicating spending increases in the 2nd half of 2017 and is setting up 2018 for the highest ever starting backlog and record spending. Even if starts crash to zero growth for the remainder of the year, 2017 spending would drop by less than 1% and we still begin 2018 with record backlog.

Spend Nonres Bldgs May 2017 7-24-17

New Office construction starts for the last 12 months are the best ever recorded, on track to reach a total 50% growth over two years. Retail/Commercial starts have averaged year-over-year (YOY) growth of greater than 10%/year for the last three years. Educational starts averaged YOY growth of 8%/year for the last two years. These three markets comprise 60% of all nonresidential buildings. Healthcare starts have quietly increased to a record high over the last 12 months. Every market except manufacturing will finish 2017 with new starts totals near or at post recession highs. Manufacturing reached record high starts in 2014 and record spending in 2015. All construction starts $ data in this report references Dodge Data & Analytics starts data.

Construction spending for Commercial/Retail, Lodging and Office construction all remain very strong with 2017 total growth near 15%. Educational (+9%) and healthcare (+4%) both show sizable gains after years of little to no growth.

92% of all construction spending in 2017 is already in backlog projects.

A scenario that would have Office spending drop down to 8.9% annual growth from the track it is on today (+15.4% YTD) would require a highly improbable and unprecedented non-recessionary decline in spending in the remaining months of 2017. To grasp the enormity of the decline needed, it would take canceling 8% of all ongoing office projects or new starts for the remainder of the year would need to drop by 50%.

Spend OFFICE COMM 2017 2018 7-24-17

Educational will show an increase in YTD gains in the 3rd quarter because increasing spending in 2017 will be measured against the lowest quarter (3rdqtr) in 2016. Healthcare may not show sizable YTD gains until 4th quarter, for which 2016 reached lowest spending of the year and 2017 will reach highest.

Spend Institutional 2013-2018 8-9-17

Total nonresidential buildings spending growth accelerates to 10+% in 2018, led by institutional and office spending.

Nearly all nonresidential buildings construction starts in 2016 are still contributing to spending. Since originally posted they have been revised up by 16%. Since most spending from new starts (approximately 50%) occurs in the year following the start, early spending projections based on original posted starts $ may understate 2017 spending.

Spend Nonres Bldgs asof May17

Nonresidential construction is comprised of two very different sectors, nonresidential buildings and non-building infrastructure. Infrastructure spending is quite erratic, while nonresidential buildings spending, with only slight variation, has been climbing at a strong steady pace for more than 4 years. Some analysts track nonresidential total spending, but these two sectors perform so differently it is important to break them apart to track trends. Buildings spending is up 2% from Q2’16 and up 5% YOY. In the 2nd half 2017 YOY spending is expected to reach 8% over the same months from 2016. Worthy of note is that non-building infrastructure spending, even though down slightly, just experienced two years of record highs. It will hold down the overall nonresidential total performance, but still finish 2017 near record highs.

See this article from February comparing my starting forecast compared to the Jan 2017 AIA Consensus Nonresidential Bldgs 2017 Forecasts Vary

 

Construction Spending Midyear 2017 Summary

Construction Spending Summary 7-11-17 for May Spending

Year-to-date % growth in construction spending for 1st five months and expected estimate-to-complete (ETC) % growth for remaining seven months 2017. Total % growth vs 2016 and 2017 total $.

 

Total All Construction

YTD = +6.1%, ETC = +7.0%, 2017vs/2016 = 6.7%, 2017 total = $1.266 trillion

Particular strength is evident in the long term trend for Nonresidential Buildings for which spending growth is increasing and continues into 2018.  Recently, all of 2016 spending was revised, in total up by 2%. Current 2017 values are being compared to revised 2016 values. History shows revisions have been up 45 of last 48 months. In the future, 2017 spending will most likely be revised higher. Even without that, at 6.7% total growth expected, 2017 will come in stronger than 2016. All sectors show some improvement over 2016. For 2018, Nonresidential Buildings and Infrastructure both contribute to an 7.8% forecast spending increase.

Spend Summary 2011-2018 May 2017 7-11-17

 

Spend Sector 2013-2017 7-5-17

Also See Construction Spending May 2017 – Behind The Headlines

 

Residential Buildings

YTD = +12.2%, ETC = +9.3%, 2017vs2016 = +10.5%, 2017 total = $523 billion

Residential spending YTD has been above 12% each of the 1st 5 months of 2017. It is expected to dip between May and October due to a low volume of work contributed from starts during the period Q4’15 to Q1’16. This results in a temporary dip in spending. We could see annual spending averaging only $515b to $525b from April through September. New starts in Q1’17 reached an 11 year high, so spending increases later in the year. Residential work will finish the year with 10% growth, the 5th consecutive year over 10%. Average growth the last 5 years is 14%. Spending slows to 5% growth in 2018 .

 

Nonresidential Buildings

YTD = +5.2%, ETC = +7.5%,  2017vs2016 = +7.4%, 2017 total = $438 billion

Nonresidential Buildings spending is expected to increase slightly from May through September due to an above average volume of work contributed from starts during the period Q1’15 to Q2’15. The only major nonresidential building in decline this year is manufacturing. That’s not unexpected since manufacturing spending reached an all-time high in 2015 and stayed close to that level in 2016. Commercial/Retail, Lodging and Office construction all remain very strong with growth near 15%. Educational (+9%) and healthcare (+6%) both show sizable gains after years of little to no growth. Growth accelerates to 10+% in 2018, led by institutional spending.

See Also Nonres Bldgs Construction Spending Midyear 2017 Forecast

 

Non-building Infrastructure

YTD = -3.0%, ETC = +1.4%, 2017vs/2016 = 0.0%, 2017 total = $304 billion

Non-building Infrastructure spending, always the most volatile sector, is expected to increase slightly in the 2nd half 2017. An above average volume of work in early 2015 contributed very long duration jobs that will still contribute spending in late 2017, adding to normal average duration spending. Environmental Public Works (Sewer, Water Supply and Dams & Rivers) is holding back infrastructure from gains in 2017. Declines in that group are offsetting gains in Power, Highway and Transportation. No future growth is included from infrastructure stimulus and yet 2018 is projected to increase by 7%.

 

Construction Spending May 2017 – Behind The Headlines

7-6-17  Construction Spending May 2017 – Behind The Headlines

See Also Construction Spending Summary 7-11-17

Headline – Construction Spending for May came in flat compared to April, up 4.5% vs May 2016.

In this latest May report, April spending was revised up by 1% and May 2016 was revised up by 3%. The average revision since Jan 2016 is 3%/month. May 2017 will be revised in each of the next two reports and again with the May report issued in July 2018.

Current unadjusted construction spending is always being compared to previous months revised spending and growth is almost always being understated. Spending has been revised UP 45 times in the last 4 years.

In 2016, the 1st report indicated monthly spending declined 8 times from the previous month. After revisions, spending declined only twice from the previous month. Most MSM articles declaring construction spending was a miss are revised away in following months. 

Spend Final vs 1st print Jan16 to Mar17 7-3-17

Nonresidential Construction Spending Remains Stagnant in May.

I’ve said this before many times, spending predictions are best tracked based on cash flows from all projects that have started. This is not simply tracking total backlog, nor is it tracking new construction starts. New starts (new backlog) represent only 20% to 25% of total spending within the year. Most spending comes from projects that started in previous years.

Big monthly changes in spending come from unusual fluctuations in starts. Very large projects ending (spending ending), compared to new projects starting, would cause a monthly drop in spending. The reverse would cause an increase. If a record volume month of construction projects that started two or three years ago are now reaching completion, and new starts today are experiencing normal growth not at record levels, then spending will most likely decline temporarily. Most monthly construction spending predictions are predetermined months ago.

Also, Nonresidential construction is comprised of two very different sectors, nonresidential buildings and non-building infrastructure. Infrastructure is quite erratic while buildings spending has been climbing at a steady strong rate for several years. Buildings spending is up 2% from Q2’16 and up 6% YOY. In the 2nd half 2017 YOY spending is expected to reach 8%.

Spend Nonres Bldgs asof May17

Most infrastructure projects that started in 2015 and 2016 are still ongoing so do not effect much change in current monthly spending. It is projects from late 2014/early 2015 that are finishing that are resulting in the largest share of current spending drops. Worthy of note is that non-building infrastructure spending just experienced two years of record highs, so even though spending is down slightly we will still see 2017 finish near record highs.

Spend Infra 2011 to Jan19 7-5-17

 

Construction Companies Continue to Face Labor Shortage Challenges

Construction Spending for the last 24 months increased +13%, but after inflation actual volume during that period increased only +5.5%. Construction output, (jobs x hours worked) for that same period increased +7.6%.

Why is it that jobs output is growing faster than construction volume? Could it be that shortages are localized, not as widespread as thought? Or perhaps it’s that contractors can’t get skilled workers, so they are hiring more workers with less skill? Maybe contractors anticipate growth, so they are hiring more now to prepare for the future? Whatever the case, jobs are growing faster than construction volume and that is not what should be expected in a labor shortage.

Are contractor’s responses to survey questions about filling job positions based on an anticipated need to staff up to meet revenue growth? If so, that is a major miscalculation to determine staffing needs. This is not as far-fetched as you might think. I’ve talked with numerous contractors in the past who were doing this. As I tried to explain in several previous articles, growth in revenue (or construction spending) doesn’t address how much of the growth is due to inflation. Right now, in fact for the last 24 months, the largest portion of spending growth is inflation, not real volume growth.

If you are hiring to match your revenue growth, you are part of the reason jobs are growing faster than volume. INFLATION!

See also Construction Jobs Growing Faster Than Volume

 

Is there a Residential Construction Spending slowdown? If so, how significant?

YTD  Residential Construction spending for the 1st 5 months 2017 is up 12.2% from 1st 5 months 2016. YTD has been above 12% since January.

Average spending for the last three months is up 4.0% from the average in Q4 2016. That’s a ~10% annual rate of growth.  Starts cash flows are indicting flat spending for the next few months but then accelerated spending from late Q3 into the end of the year. Current projected spending for 2017 is $523 billion, +10.5% higher than 2016.

May vs April residential construction spending shows a 0.5% decline. However, April has been revised up once and May has not yet been revised. All months are revised twice after the first release of data. The average revision (to residential data) for the last 16 months is up 4%, the average revision for the last 28 months is up 7%. All revisions for the last 28 months were up. After revisions, there were only two monthly declines in the last 28 months, and both of those were slight.

If new starts collapse to show no gains for the remainder of the year, then based on starts already in backlog and reduced starts for the remainder of the year, spending would be reduced to $513 billion. That’s still 8.5% higher than 2016. Of course, this would be an extremely unlikely scenario. The last time residential construction starts declined for three or more consecutive months was 2010, and the last time there were no gains for six or more months was 2008.

Construction Forecasting Presentation

Attached PDF of my Forecasting presentation delivered 5-22-17 at Advancing Building Estimation in Houston

EdZ presentation ABE Forecasting Costs 5-22-17

A few bullets from this presentation

  • Construction Starts is not construction spending
  • Cash flow = Spending = Revenue
  • Revenue is not Volume of work
  • Spending minus inflation = Volume
  • Understand what’s in an Index to avoid misguided inflation adjustments
  • We can’t ignore productivity
  • Spending activity has just as much influence on inflation as labor and material cost.

 

Slides in this presentation come from the following articles:

1st Qtr Update 2017 Construction Spending Forecast

Inflation Index vs Spending

Construction Jobs Growing Faster Than Volume

Construction Inflation Index Tables

Inflation Index vs Spending

The two plots lined up here represent spending and spending corrected for inflation or real volume growth in the top plot versus construction inflation in the bottom plot. On the Inflation plot, the black line represents final selling price, actual inflation. The red line represents the ENR Building Cost Index which is a fixed market basket of labor and materials, not a complete selling price index. All plots are for nonresidential buildings only.

The index shows how cost inflation climbs in periods when spending is accelerating and the index slows when spending is increasing slowly. Also we can see that the major decline in spending resulted in a major deflation in the index. Note the ENR BCI does not show the major decline in the inflation index. That’s because the ENR BCI is not final selling price. It shows what the cost of labor and materials did during that period,  but does not capture how contractors adjusted their margins down so deeply due to loss of volume.

The takeaway from this comparison is this:

  • Labor and material indices do not show what real total inflation is doing
  • When spending increases rapidly, inflation increases rapidly
  • When spending increases slowly, inflation increases slowly
  • An understanding of which direction and how much spending is moving is more important to predicting inflation than the change in the cost of labor and materials

 

Index vs Spending 1993-2016 5-13-17

 

See Also 1st Qtr Update 2017 Construction Spending Forecast

Construction Jobs Growing Faster Than Volume

5-5-17

Jobs growth slowed in the last two months adding only 6,000 construction jobs since February. However, a longer term look at jobs x hours worked vs volume growth gives better information.

In the following plot Jobs (red line) = # of jobs x hours worked and Construction Volume (blue line) = construction spending in constant $ (adjusted for inflation). Unless we make these two adjustments we cannot compare jobs to construction spending and get any meaningful analysis from the data.

Jobs vs Volume 2011-2017 5-5-17

I’ve written about this in-depth in these two articles.

A Harder Pill To Swallow!   and   Is There a Construction Jobs Shortage?

You can see in the plot above from Jan 2011 to Mar 2013 both jobs growth and volume growth balanced. Then again by August 2014 jobs growth caught up to volume growth. It was the period from Aug 2014 to Jul 2015 when volume took off and climbed much faster than jobs growth. But then, since July 2015, jobs have been increasing faster than construction volume growth.

In a plot of this information back to 2005, it would show that by the end of 2010 there were already excess jobs. That is discussed in the attached articles. During the expansion, firms hired more employees than real work volume could support, then during the recession, firms held onto far more staff than was required to perform the available declining work volumes. So the chart above would start 2011 with an excess of jobs and really we needed to see work volume increase faster than jobs starting in 2011.

Long term, having started 2011 with not enough volume to support the remaining staff, we see two periods of growth in which jobs and volume were balanced, only one period where volume exceeded jobs growth and then this latest period, for the last 21 months, in which jobs are growing faster than volume.

There are many reports of job shortages and they appear to be genuinely accurate assessments, primarily regarding some very specific skilled labor positions. However, long term jobs vs volume data shows there is far more in play than not enough workers to hire. In fact, for the last 21 months, hiring has exceeded workload and that simply does not indicate an overall worker shortage.

1st Qtr Update 2017 Construction Spending Forecast

5-1-17  Updated construction spending forecast for 2017. Actual spending is included through March data, first release 5-1-17. Forecast spending includes predictions based on Dodge Data & Analytics (DDA) construction starts through March, released 4-21-17.

Reference Construction Economic Outlook 2017 posted January 2017

5-1-17 Update Overview

Construction Spending in March posted a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of $1,218 billion, down 0.2% from February. February was revised UP by 2.3%, and March data is still subject to revisions, usually upward, the next two months. January was revised UP 1.6% from the initial release.

The 1st release of spending is always being compared to a previous month and a previous year that have already been revised, almost always up. Upward revisions to monthly construction spending in 2016 have been as high as 3.4% and for the year average 1.1%/mo. In the last 48 months, the 1st report of construction spending was down vs the prior month 20 times. The initial value was subsequently revised UP 47 times. After revisions, only nine months were down compared to the prior month.

Total Construction Spending for Q1’17 is 3.5% higher than I predicted in my initial 2017 forecast posted 1-7-17. Construction spending growth from Q4’16 to Q1’17 gives 2017 the 2nd best quarter to quarter start in 10 years, just shy of 2014 which posted the best spending growth since 2005. Nearly all the greater volume in spending over my original 2017 forecast is in residential construction, which, for the last four months, has posted much stronger new starts and spending than anticipated based on DDA projections.

Year over year total spending:

  • Jan17r/Jan16 = 4.7%
  • Feb17r/Feb16 = 5.5%
  • Mar17/Mar16 = 3.6%

Based on history, it is likely that Mar17 will get revised UP. (note: with the 2nd release of March spending, the Mar17 year-over-year value was revised up from yoy 3.6% to 5.0%. The initial Apr17 yoy value was posted as up 6.7% from Apr16. Year-to-date total through April is up 5.8% over 2016, and that will most likely be revised higher.)

Spend ALL 2013-2017 5-1-17

Total construction spending in 2017 is now forecast to finish at $1,263 billion, an 8.5% increase vs 2016, supported by a 4th consecutive year of strong performance in nonresidential buildings and a very strong start in residential spending. The SAAR of spending will range from near $1.2 trillion in January to $1.3 trillion in the 4th quarter.

A significant indicator for 2017 construction spending performance is that 2017 year-to-date (YTD) spending is up 4.9% compared to a very strong 1st quarter 2016. In the 2nd quarter 2016 spending dropped and did not return to the Feb-Mar 2016 level until Sept-Oct 2016. In 2017, although growth will slow (but still remain positive) in the 2nd quarter, by Sept-Oct spending will be 5% higher than March. The six months Apr-Sept 2017 compared to the same period 2016 will show growth of more than 8%.

The SAAR of spending on a “current dollar” basis (before adjusting for inflation) is now at an all-time high, just barely eclipsing the highs of early 2006. By the 4th quarter of 2017 spending will be 5% above the previous 2006 highs on a “current dollar” basis. However, on a “constant dollar” basis (adjusted for inflation) we are still 13%-14% below peak spending, perhaps five more years away from the real inflation adjusted 2006 peak.

For inflation adjusted spending see “Are We at New Peak Construction Spending”

Sector Spending

The SAAR of Residential construction spending increased 6% in the last 3 months. It is up 5.3% from Q4’16 to Q1’17. March YTD (=Q1 2017 total) is up only 8.5% from Q1 2016, because Q1 2016 was exceptionally strong. I’m forecasting residential construction 2017 growth of 8% to 10%. Residential spending in 2017 is forecast at $512 billion, 10.2% higher than 2016. 

Spend Summary 2017 Mar 2017 5-2-17

Total Nonresidential construction spending is up 2% Q1’17 vs Q4’16 and up 2.5% vs Q1’16. Predicted cash flows indicate a strong growth pattern for 2017. I expect total nonresidential spending to finish the year up 7%. Nonresidential construction is better understood by looking at the parts, buildings and infrastructure.

Construction spending for Nonresidential Buildings in Q1’17 is up 1.6% vs Q4’16 and up 6.6% vs Q1’16. The most recent 3-month average seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) is $427 billion, now less than 4% below the previous peak of $444 billion in 2008. By midyear 2017 the SAAR will reach a new all-time high and at year-end it will be near $460 billion.

Nonresidential buildings 2017 starting backlog on January 1, 2017 was 47% higher than at the start of 2014, the beginning of the current growth cycle. Spending within the year has two sources; that generated from new starts within the year and that generated from starting backlog. For nonresidential buildings, spending within the year from starting backlog has increased every year since 2014 and in 2017 it will be 42% higher than 2014.

Nonresidential Buildings spending in 2017 is forecast at $447 billion, 9.0% above 2016. Office spending will lead 2017 with 25%+ growth. Commercial, Lodging and Educational markets are all expected to post strong gains over 10%.

For details on Nonresidential Buildings, See Behind The Headlines – Nonres Bldgs Construction Spending and Nonresidential Bldgs 2017 Forecasts Comparisons

Construction spending for Nonbuilding Infrastructure Q1’17 is up 3.8% vs Q4’16, but down 1.8% vs Q1’16.  Nonbuilding infrastructure 2017 growth is expected at about 4%-5%.

Non-building Infrastructure, following two down years, will increase by 4.8% to $305 billion. Infrastructure growth is being led by a very high volume of power generation and pipeline work, up only slightly from Q1’16, but up 10% from Q4’16. Although new infrastructure starts were down in 2016 and are expected to decline again in 2017, the amount of work in backlog at the start of 2017 is the highest its ever been and spending in 2017 is forecast at an all-time high.

For Non-building Infrastructure details see Infrastructure Outlook 2017

Spend Sector 2013-2017 5-1-17

Private spending is the highest since Q1 2006. Public spending YTD 2017 vs 2016 is down 7% ONLY because the 1st quarter of 2016 was the highest quarter since 2010, elevated due to highway and bridge spending. Educational and Highway/Bridge, the largest two components, make up almost 60% of public spending. The quarterly average of Public spending has been increasing since Q2’16. By the end of Q2’17 YTD public spending will be up 2.5%.

For all of 2017 Private spending will increase 9%. Public spending could increase 7%, with half the gains coming from educational spending.

Backlog

Starting Backlog is the Estimate-to-Complete (ETC) value of all projects under contract at the beginning of the period. The sum of all ETC represents current backlog. While continued growth in backlog is most important, the predicted cash flow from backlog and new starts is necessary for predicting future spending.

Revenues from starting backlog account for 75%-80% of all nonresidential construction spending within the year. Not only was nonresidential starting backlog at the highest ever coming into 2017, but also spending from backlog is predicted up by 5% and 2017 new starts are predicted up 8%.

Due to the shorter duration of residential projects, nearly 70% of spending within the year is generated from new starts. Unlike nonresidential, backlog does not contribute nearly as much spending within the current year. If no new work started within the year, within a matter of a few months there would be no backlog ETC left to support the industry.

Backlog incld Res Starts 2007-2018 5-2-17

New Starts

Construction starts, which generate construction spending (cash flow) over the next several years, were originally reported in 2016 as up only 1% from a remarkably strong 2015. However, Jan-Feb-Mar 2016 starts have recently been revised up by a whopping 16%, and the historical trend is that every monthly value in the previous year for the last eight years has been revised up. This adds to predicted cash flow, so has an immediate affect of raising predicted 2017 spending. 2016 revisions-to-date and expected revisions are on track to raise 2016 starts up to 6% growth over 2015.

Starts that are being reported for the current year are always being compared to a previous year that has been revised up, so starts growth is always understated. So far, starts for the 1st quarter of 2017 have been much stronger than expected. Starts year-to-date are down 1.5% from the upward revised 2016 totals, however the historical revision has been in the range of 3.5% to 5%. So, the actual growth in new starts has been remarkably strong, better than forecast in October, and is adding to the basis for increased forecast in future 2017 and 2018 spending.

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