Home » 2016 » September

Monthly Archives: September 2016

New Construction Starts Much Better Than Might Appear


Dodge Data and Analytics yesterday released August new construction starts. The August number came in right about where I expected it, just over $700 billion. August starts are 21% higher then July which was an 8 month low. However, year-to-date through August totals $439 billion, down 7% from the same period 2015.

August came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of $711 billion, the highest since May 2015. In fact, this is only the fourth month since January 2008 that registered new starts over a SAAR $700 billion. The other three were in the 1st half of 2015.


Nonresidential Buildings new starts for August came in at a seasonally adjusted $267 billion, the second highest month since early 2008. The year-to-date is down compared to last year because 2015 had some very high months that helped the first half of 2015 reach an average of $214 billion, but the first five months of 2016 had some soft months that averaged only $189 billion. New starts for the last three months average $212 billion and starts have been increasing since May.

Residential new starts reached a SAAR of $291 billion in August, the third time this year over $290 billion, averaging over $280 billion so far for 2016, the highest since 2007.

Non-building Infrastructure starts for August total SAAR of $153 billion. Infrastructure starts fluctuate much more than any other and this year have ranged from $121 billion to $200 billion. Last year they ranged from $127 billion to $261 billion. Since 2006 Infrastructure starts annual totals have been between $140-$160 billion, except for last year when they shot up to $180 billion. So even though 2016 is coming in near the high end of the average from 2006-2014, it’s still well below last year because last year was so unusually high.

But there is another major factor that keeps new starts from appearing as good as they should look. Dodge Data continually revises starts. In each monthly release we can see not only the previous month revision but also the previous year-to-date revision. They do incorporate other revisions at a later date, but the “12 month” revision to the previous year-to-date values captures a large part of all revisions. So this August report includes revisions to 2015 values through August 2015. None of the 2016 values yet include that “12 month” revision. In the last 10 years the revisions have never been down. Usually, most of the revisions occur to nonresidential buildings, about 5% to 6% per year, with only a 2% to 3% revision to infrastructure and residential.

For nonresidential buildings, so far year-to-date 2015 values have been revised UP by almost 8%. So while the 2016 year-to-date nonresidential buildings value this month is down 10% compared to some very strong starts in early 2015, part of the reason it is down is because 2015 values have had revisions applied that increase the 2015 base by 8%, but we won’t see those equivalent “12 month” revisions applied to 2016 values until next year. When all the revisions are in, new starts for nonresidential buildings in 2016 are on track to equal or exceed 2015 and perhaps record the third consecutive year over $220 billion. We are within easy striking distance of the all-time high for nonresidential buildings starts reached in 2007!

For residential starts, if 2016 values get revised up next year by only 2%-3%, then 2016 will have grown by nearly 10% over 2015. Unless we experience a severe downward trend in new residential starts, which is NOT predicted, 2016 will post an all-time high for new residential starts.

Steel Statistics and Steel Cost Increase Affect on Construction?

9-18-16    update Mar 2018

Recent articles suggest that steel cost is expected to increase and this will almost certainly affect the cost of construction. But just how much of an affect would a cost increase have on total building cost? The cost increase that is being talked about is the mill price cost of steel, or something like pipe and tube producer price (PPI), since pipe and tube is a world trade item, but not a Fab Steel PPI. None of these include total cost of steel installed. The PPI is the price after fabrication. Total cost is the contractor’s bid or selling price installed which includes all markups (or markdowns).

PPI Steel Materials Inputs plot updated 2-10-19 to include 2018 data

PPI Materials Steel 2-20-19

The questions we need to answer are:

  • How much of a cost increase will we see in the raw product, manufactured raw steel?
  • How much steel is used in a building?
  • What affect will a raw material cost increase have on the cost of steel installed?
  • How much does that change the cost of the building?

It might help to start with a basic understanding of steel manufacturing and use.

Basic Oxygen Steel (BOS) steel making uses between 25 and 35% recycled steel to make new steel. BOS steel usually has less residual elements in it, such as copper, nickel and molybdenum and is therefore more malleable than EAF steel so it is often used to make automotive bodies, food cans, industrial drums or any product with a large degree of cold working. Cold rolled steel is in this category which would include gypsum wall system steel studs and HSS Hollow Structural Sections.

Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) steel making contains more residual elements that cannot be removed through the application of oxygen and lime. It is used to make structural beams, plates, reinforcing bar and other products that require little cold working. EAF steel uses almost 100% recycled steel. Most steel that goes into a building or civil structure is in this category. 2/3rds of all steel manufactured in the US is EAF steel.

Typically quoted benchmark steel pricing that I’ve seen is based on either cold-rolled-coil sheet steel or hot-rolled-coil sheet steel.  This is a common product used for the automotive industry or appliance, but not so much for the construction industry (steel studs vs structural steel). EAF Structural steel is nearly 100% dependent on recycled steel so is not as much affected by price changes of iron ore, as is BOS steel.

The United States is the world’s largest steel importer. Of the 30MMT imported, 50%+ of that comes from our top few import suppliers, Canada, Brazil, South Korea and Mexico.  Russia supplies 7%-9%. No other country supplies more than 5% of our imports. China supplies less than 2% of our steel imports, The U.S. is responsible for almost 10% of global steel imports, more than double the second largest importer. The U.S. annually imports about $20-$25 billion of steel, $2 billion from Mexico.

The United States consumes approximately 110 million tons of steel each year. More than 40 million tons is used in the construction industry. The next largest industries, automotive and equipment and machinery, together do not use as much steel as construction. The U.S. imports about 30% of the steel it uses.

Steel Use

The graphic chart above is by American Iron and Steel Institute.

Structural steel is the most widely used structural framing material for buildings used in the U.S. with nearly 50% market share in nonresidential and multistory residential buildings. Prior to the recession steel had a 60% market share.

Steel Share of Building Frame 3-1-18

The table of data above is by Dodge Analytics, from this paper by American Institute of Steel Construction.

Sources are also linked below.

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. Structural steel and reinforcing steel are hot-rolled long products, EAF steel. All the others are cold-rolled flat sheet BOS steel.

Here are some averages of the percentage of steel material costs as related to total project construction cost.  For a building that is predominantly masonry, these percentages would be reduced considerably. For a heavy industrial building the percentages might be higher.

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 building cost. 

Structural Steel only, installed, is about 9% to 10% of total building cost, but applies to only 60% market share of steel buildings. The other 6% of total building cost applies to all buildings. 

Other steel is very likely higher to take into account any increased cost in major mechanical equipment such as chillers, pumps, fan powered boxes, cooling towers, tanks, generators, plumbing fixture supports, electrical panel boxes and cable trays.

If the structural steel subcontractor increases bid price by 10%, that raises the cost of the building by 1%, but if it is the mill price of steel that increases by 10% the increase to final building price is far less. It is the mill price of steel, rather than fabricated steel, that you would track in the producer price index (PPI).

The final cost of steel installed in a building is about four times the cost of the raw mill steel material used in making and installing the final product. Why so different? Well, for instance, structural steel cost includes: raw mill steel cost, delivery to shop, drafting, shop fabrication, shop paint, delivery to job site and shop markup. At the job site it includes: unload and sort, field installation crew, welding machine, crane and operator, contractor’s overhead and profit and sales tax.

Assuming a building as described above, a 10% increase in the cost of mill steel, which (material only) affects one fourth the cost of 16% of the total building cost, then a 10% increase in the cost of ALL mill steel may result in a composite price increase on a whole building of about 10% x ¼ x 16% = 0.4%. A 10% increase in the cost of mill steel just for structure may result in a composite price increase on a whole building of about 10% x ¼ x 10% = 0.25%.

So, if the mill cost of steel were to increase 10% from $700/ton to $770/ton prior to shop fabrication,  for a $100 million building, that could add roughly 0.25% ($250,000) to the cost of the structural steel contract or roughly 0.4% ($400,000) to the total cost of all steel.

A 25% increase in mill steel could add 0.65% to final cost of building just for structure. It adds 1.0% for all steel in a building.

For a project such as a steel bridge, where not just 16% of cost is steel material, but potentially 40% to 60% of cost is steel, a 25% increase in mill steel might add as much as 3% to 4% to final cost.

links to relevant data

Steel Imports Report Global Steel Trade Monitor

Steel Capacity Utilization and Use American Iron and Steel Institute

Structural Steel Industry Overview  AISC

World Steel Production – Consumption – Imports – Exports

Steel Benchmark Pricing

Crain’s NY – Impact of steel tariffs already being felt in NYC



Construction Cost Inflation – Commentary 2019

1-28-20 See the new post Construction Inflation 2020

8-10-19 updated plots and commentary

General construction cost indices and Input price indices that don’t track whole building final cost do not capture the full cost of escalation in construction projects. To properly adjust the cost of construction over time you must use actual final cost or selling price indices.

Click Here for Link to a 20year Table of 25 Indices

Inflation in construction acts differently than consumer inflation. When there is more work available, inflation increases. When work is scarce, inflation declines. A very large part of the inflation is margins, wholesale, retail and contractor. When nonresidential construction was booming from 2004 through 2008, nonresidential final price inflation averaged almost 8%/year. This was at a time when input costs were averaging between 5% and 6%/year. When residential construction boomed from 2003 to 2005, inflation in that sector was 10%/year. But from 2009 through 2012 we experienced deflation, the worst year being 2009. Residential construction experienced a total of 17% deflation from 2007 through 2011. From 2008 to 2010, nonresidential buildings experienced 10% deflation in two years.

The following plots are all the same data. Different time spans are presented for ease of use.

BCI 1967-2018 7-10-18

BCI 1992-2019 2-12-18

8-10-19 note: this 2005-2020 plot has been revised to include 2018-2020 update.

BCI 2005-2020 8-10-19

Nonresidential Buildings – Since 1993, the 25-year long-term annual construction inflation has averaged 3.5%, even when including the recessionary period 2007-2011.  Long-term average inflation, without recessionary declines, is 4% for 20 non-recessionary years since 1993. During rapid growth period of 5 years from 2004-2008, inflation averaged 8% per year. Since 2011, nonresidential buildings inflation has averaged 3.8%, averaging 4.25%/yr. for the last 4 years with a high of 5.1% in 2018.

Residential, from 2007- 2011 experienced 5 consecutive years of deflation, down 20%. In the 4-year boom just prior to that, 2003-2006, inflation averaged 9% per year. Residential inflation snapped back to 8.0% in 2013. It slowed to 4.4% in 2018 but has averaged over 5% for the last three years.

Construction Spending growth posted two separate 4-year periods of 40%+ growth, up 41% in 2012-2015 and up 40% in 2013-2016, exceeding the growth during the closest similar four-year periods 2003-2006 (+37%) and 1996-1999 (+36%), which were the two fastest growth periods on record with the highest rates of inflation and productivity loss. Growth peaked at +11%/year in 2014 and 2015, exceeded only slightly by 2004-2005.

Spending growth slowed to 7.0% in 2016 and only 4.5% in 2017. In 2018, spending dropped to a gain of only 3.3%. It’s expected, after revisions that 2019 spending will finish at a gain of less than 2%.  

Producer Price Index (PPI) Material Inputs (excluding labor) costs to new construction increased +4% in 2018 after a downward trend from +5% in 2011 led to decreased cost of -3% in 2015, the only negative cost for inputs in the past 20 years. Input costs to nonresidential structures in 2017+2018 average +4.2%, the highest in seven years. Infrastructure cost are up near 5% and single-family residential inputs are up 4%. But material inputs accounts for only a portion of the final cost of constructed buildings.

Labor input is currently experiencing cost increases. When there is a shortage of labor, contractors may pay a premium to keep their workers. All of that premium may not be picked up in wage reports. Also, some of the labor inflation is due to lost productivity due to less skilled workforce. Unemployment in construction is the lowest on record. There is some sign of jobs growth slowing down in Q2 and Q3 2019, and potentially getting slower.

Nationally tracked indices for residential, nonresidential buildings and non-building infrastructure vary to a large degree. When the need arises, it becomes necessary that contractors reference appropriate sector indices to adjust for whole building costs.

Click Here for Link to a Table of 25 Index Values

ENRBCI and RSMeans input indices are prefect examples of commonly used indices that DO NOT represent whole building costs, yet are widely used to adjust project costs. An estimator can get into trouble adjusting project costs if not using appropriate indices. The two input indices for nonresidential buildings did not decline during the 2008-2010 recession. All other final cost indices dropped 6% to 10%.

From 2010 to 2019, total final price inflation is 110/80 = 1.38 = +38%. Input cost indices total only 106/85 = 1.25 = +25%, missing a big portion of the cost growth over time.

BCI 2010-2020 Firms 12-9-19

CPI, the Consumer Price Index, tracks 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. Historically, Construction Inflation is about double the CPI. However for the last 5 years it averages 3x the CPI.

Taking into account the current (Jan 2018 12 mo) CPI of 2% and the most recent 5 years ratio, along with accelerated cost increases in labor and material inputs and the high level of activity in markets, I would consider the following forecasts for 2018 inflation as minimums with potential to see higher rates than forecast.


Residential construction, from 2007- 2011, experienced five consecutive years of deflation, down 20%. In the 4-year boom just prior to that, 2003-2006, inflation averaged +9% per year. Residential construction inflation saw a slowdown to only +3.5% in 2015. However, the average inflation for five years from 2013 to 2017 is 6%. It peaked at 8% in 2013. It climbed back over 5% for 2016 and reached 5.8% in 2017. For 2018, residential final cost inflation indexes are up only 4.5%. Residential construction inflation for 2019 is now about 4% to 4.5%.

A word about Hi-Rise Residential. About 95% of the cost of a hi-rise residential building would remain the same whether the building was for residential or nonresidential use. This type of construction is totally dis-similar to low-rise residential, which in large part is stick-built single family homes. Therefore, a more appropriate index to use for hi-rise residential construction is the nonresidential buildings cost index.


Nonresidential Buildings inflation, during the rapid growth period of five years from 2004-2008, averaged 8% per year. Inflation averaged near 4% per year for the 4 years 2014-2017.

Several Nonresidential Buildings Final Cost Indices averaged over 5% per year for the  last 2 years and over 4% per year for the last 5 years. Nonresidential buildings inflation totaled 22% in the last five years. Input indices that do not track whole building cost would indicate inflation for those four years at only 12%, much less than real final cost growth. For a $100 million project escalated over those four years, that’s a difference of $8 million, potentially underestimating cost.

Nonresidential buildings spending slowed from 2017 to 2019 but is now entering a phase in which it may reach the fastest rate of growth in three years, which historically leads to accelerated inflation. Construction inflation for nonresidential buildings for 2018 and 2019 was 5%/yr. For 2020 expect 4.25%, rather than the long term average of 3.5% to 4.0%.

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, stayed flat from 2015-2017, then increased 6%+ in 2018. The Highway index for 2019 is up about 6%. The IHS Pipeline and LNG indices increased in 2018 but are still down 20% since 2014. Coal, gas, and wind power generation indices have gone up only 6% in seven years. Refineries and petrochemical facilities have dropped 5% in 4 years but 2018 regained the level of 2013. Input costs to infrastructure are down slightly from the post recession highs, but most have increased in the last year. Input cost to Highways are up 5.0% and to the Power sector are up 3.6% in 2018. Work in Transportation and Pipeline projects has increased dramatically in 2017 and 2018.

Infrastructure power indices registered 2.5% to 3.5% gains in 2017 and again in 2018. Highway indices increased 6.6% in 2018. Anticipate 4% inflation for Power sector and at least 5%-6% inflation for Highway in 2019 with the potential to go higher in rapidly expanding markets, such as pipeline or highway.

This plot for nonresidential buildings only shows bars representing the predicted range of inflation from various sources with the line showing the composite final cost inflation. Note that although 2015 and 2016 have a low end of predicted inflation of less than 1%, the actual inflation is following a pattern of growth above 4%. The low end of the predicted range is almost always established by input costs, while the upper end of the range and the actual cost are established by selling price indices.

8-10-19 note: this 2005-2020 plot has been revised to include 2018-2020 update.

Inflation Range 2000-2020 plot 8-10-19

A 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 most 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. Keep it simple in discussions. No need to argue over the terminology, although this graphic might represent how most owners and estimators reference these two terms.

Inflation Escalation with text

In every estimate it is always important to carry the proper value for cost inflation. Whether adjusting the cost of a recently built project to predict what it might cost to build a similar project in the near future or adding an escalation factor to the summary of an estimate for a project with a midpoint 2 years out, or answering a client question, “What will it cost if I delay my project start by one year?”, whether you carry the proper value for escalation can make or break your estimate.

  • Long term construction cost inflation is normally about double consumer price inflation (CPI).
  • Since 1993 but taking out 2 worst years of recession (-8% to -10% total for 2009-2010), the 20-year average inflation is 4.2%.
  • Average long term (30 years) construction cost inflation is 3.5% even with any/all recession years included.
  • In times of rapid construction spending growth, construction inflation averages about 8%.
  • Nonresidential buildings inflation has average 3.7% since the recession bottom in 2011. It averaged 4.6% for the 4 years 2016-2019.
  • Residential buildings inflation reached a post recession high of 8.0% in 2013 but dropped to 3.5% in 2015. It averaged 4.6% for the 4 years 2016-2019, but is at the low point of 3.3% in 2019.
  • Although inflation is affected by labor and material costs, a large part of the change in inflation is due to change in contractors/suppliers margins.
  • When construction volume increases rapidly, margins increase rapidly.
  • Construction inflation can be very different from one major sector to the other and can vary from one market to another. It can even vary considerably from one material to another.

Click Here for Link to a Table of 25 Index Values

Construction Spending 2016 – Midyear Nonresidential Markets

Construction Spending 2016 – Nonresidential Markets


Refer here to the Construction Spending 2016 Midyear Summary

Nonresidential Buildings 

Nonresidential Buildings spending for July totaled a SAAR of $403 billion, down slightly from June but up 1.3% from the May dip. Spending YTD for nonresidential buildings through July is up 8.0% over 2015. The current 3-month average of $403 billion is up slightly from the 1st quarter but is still 9% below the peak in 2008.

How does actual spending YTD compare to my early 2016 forecast?

Nonresidential Bldgs predicted YTD $236.9b,  actual YTD $228.1b (-$8.8bil, -3.7%).

Nonresidential Buildings spending for 2016 predicted in Dec 2015 $439.2b. Now with YTD data through July forecast spending for 2016 is $410.9b (-$28.3bil, -6.4%).

Total Nonresidential Buildings construction spending increased 9.7% in 2014 and 13.8% in 2015 and will grow 8.5% in 2016 and 6.3% in 2017.


Nonresidential Buildings Spending History

  • 5 years 2004-2008 up 64%
  • 3 years 2006-2008 up 45%
  • 3 years 2009-2011 down 36%
  • 2 years 2014-2015 up 25%


Manufacturing construction spending YTD is down 2.6% from 2015. However, that is because 2015 manufacturing construction spending reached all-time highs after record new starts in 2014, some of which will extend spending into 2017. 2016 is on track to reach the second highest year of spending on record, only slightly below 2015.  Although new starts YTD in 2016 are down 75% from 2015, that will have most affect next year. A very large volume of starts in mid-2014 and early 2015 will generate spending extending into the 2nd half of 2016and early 2017. Total manufacturing construction spending for 2016 will finish 2% below 2015. Due to declining new starts in 2015 and 2016, spending in 2017 will drop more than 10%, and yet still be the 3rd highest year on record. Manufacturing construction represents 19% of total nonresidential buildings spending.


Office construction spending YTD is up 22% from 2015. Although new starts are currently down slightly from last year, starts are expected to grow 4% for 2016. Office starts have been strong since 2013. Vacancy rates peaked in 2010 and demand for office space has been increasing. A large component of office construction is data centers. Although we may see a few months of spending declines in late 2016, the large volumes of spending generated by several years of strong starts will keep total spending high. Office construction spending increased 23% in 2014 and 19% in 2015 and it will grow 23% in 2016 and 15% in 2017. Office construction represents 17% of total nonresidential buildings spending.

Commercial construction spending YTD is up 11% from 2015.  Commercial new starts have been increasing slowly for the last 4 years. Spending will remain nearly flat for the next several months and is forecast to grow very slowly through mid-2017, then taper off slightly. Commercial construction had its biggest years in 2012-2013-2014 with growth of 11%, 12% and 18%. Total commercial construction spending for 2016 will finish 9% higher than 2015 and 2017 will grow 3% to 4%. Commercial construction represents 18% of total nonresidential buildings spending.

Lodging construction spending YTD is 29% higher than 2015. Lodging construction spending has exceeded the growth rate of all other markets. Starting in 2012 annual spending increased 19%, 25%, 24% and 30%. However, during that time lodging averaged only 5% of total nonresidential buildings spending. It now represents just under 7%. Total lodging construction spending forecast growth for 2016 is 25%. For 2017 expect spending growth of only 8%.


Educational construction spending YTD is up 4.8% from 2015.  Educational buildings spending experienced the longest downturn of any market, declining for 5 consecutive years from 2009 through 2013. It has been slow to recover with 2015 showing the first real growth of only 4.8%.  2014 marked the beginning of the turn but registered growth of less than 1%. New starts posted 15% growth in 2014 and then slowed to only 4% growth in 2015. However, a large volume of those starts occurred in late 2014 and then again in early 2015. The timing of these starts generates a lot of spending in late 2016. I expect spending in the 2nd half 2016 to grow 5% over the 1st half. Total educational construction spending for 2016 will finish 8% higher than 2015 and 2017 will grow 9%. Educational construction spending is the largest component of nonresidential buildings representing 22% of total nonresidential buildings spending. Before the 5 years of declines it represented 30% of nonresidential buildings spending.

Healthcare construction spending YTD is up only 2.3% from 2015.  Healthcare new starts since 2011 increased only in 2014. Spending may see some moderate declines in late 2016 before resuming slow growth in 2017. Changes and uncertainty in the healthcare climate are having a dampening effect on spending growth. Total healthcare construction spending for 2016 will finish only 2% higher than 2015 and 2017 will grow 3% to 4%. Healthcare construction represents 10% of total nonresidential buildings spending.

Amusement/Recreation construction spending YTD is up 10.1% from 2015.  New starts were very strong in 2013 and 2014 and generated strong spending increases of 10% and 18% in 2014 and 2015. However, starts in 2015 declined slightly and 2016 starts to date have been flat. Spending through 2016 will remain strong but we will experience moderate declines in the 1st half of 2017. Total Amusement/Recreation construction spending for 2016 will finish 12% higher than 2015 but 2017 will grow only 2%. Amusement/Recreation construction represents 5% of total nonresidential buildings spending.



Non-building Infrastructure

Non-building Infrastructure spending for July fell to a SAAR of $289 billion, down slightly over for the last four months. YTD spending through July is up only 1.3% over 2015. Spending began to slow in April and May and is now at the 2016 low. The current 3-month average is down 4% from the 1st quarter. However, spending on non-building infrastructure reached an all-time high in the first half of 2014 and has remained near those highs through 2015 into the 1st quarter of 2016.

How does actual spending YTD compare to my early 2016 forecast?

Non-building Infrastr predicted YTD $156.2b,  actual YTD $160.5b (+$4.3bil, +2.8%).

Non-building Infrastrusture spending for 2016 predicted in Dec 2015 $293.2b. As of July data forecast spending for 2016 is $297.3b (+$4.1bil, +1.4%).

Total Non-building Infrastructure construction spending increased 8.8% in 2014 but decreased 1.5% in 2015. It will grow only 1.2% in 2016 but then 9.6% in 2017.


Non-building Infrastructure Spending History

  • 7 years 1995-2001 up 56%
  • 4 years 2005-2008 up 60%
  • 3 years 2009-2011 down 8%
  • 3 years 2012-2014 up 19%


Power construction spending YTD is up 6.0% from 2015. Power new starts are erratic. Also some power projects are very long duration from start to finish. In 2012 starts totaled over $50 bil., in 2013 only $30 bil. and in 2014 less than $25 bil. In 2015 starts reached an all-time high of $56 bil. The power construction spending pattern for 2012-2015 was +30%, -4%, +18%, -16%. Many of the starts in 2012 supported 18% spending growth in 2014, yet not much of the record year of starts in 2015 supported spending in 2015. Although new starts in 2016 are forecast to drop by 30%, that’s still over $40 bil. and more than in 2013 or 2014. Part of the reason for a drop in spending in 2016 is the tailing off of projects that started in previous years combined with the fact that 2013 and 2014 were “lean” years. Cash flow of starts determines spending and it follows the erratic flow of starts. A very high volume of starts in early 2015 will generate spending extending out through 2019. I’m forecasting total power construction spending for 2016 will finish only 1.2% higher than 2015 and 2017 will increase 7%. Power construction represents 32% of total non-building infrastructure spending.

Highway/Bridge/Street construction spending YTD is up only 2.5% from 2015. Some highway and street projects are long duration from start to finish. Although new starts in 2015 increased by 11%, that was significantly unbalanced with two very high months of new starts in the 1st quarter and below average starts for almost the entire 2nd half of 2015 and the 1st half of 2016. The very high months have starts with much longer duration so do not add significantly to monthly spending, they spread the spending over a longer period of time. Spending has declined in 8 out of the last 12 months. I’m expecting declines in 6 out of the next 12 months. Yet the plus months will still carry both 2016 and 2017 to spending growth. I’m forecasting total highway/bridge/street construction spending for 2016 will finish 4.5% higher than 2015 and 2017 will increase 8%. Highway/Bridge/Street construction represents 32% of total non-building infrastructure spending.

Transportation/Air/Rail construction spending YTD is down 2.4% from 2015. YTD spending is 9% lower than what I had predicted in my early 2016 forecast. There is a disconnect between where Dodge reports transportation starts and how U S Census reports transportation spending, so it is difficult to directly relate the two. I’m forecasting total transportation construction spending for 2016 will finish 2.5% higher than 2015 and 2017 will increase 6%. Transportation construction represents 16% of total non-building infrastructure spending.



Construction Spending 2016 – Midyear Summary

Summary 2016 Construction Spending


Total Construction Spending for July reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of $1.15 trillion, level with June which was revised upwards by $20 billion or nearly +1.8%. Monthly spending always gets revised in subsequent months. This year every month but May, which remained nearly unchanged, has been revised upwards, by an average of +1.4% and as much as 3.4%. Monthly values are subject to revision for two months after the first release and once again in May of the following year.

This plot, Construction Spending vs New Starts Cash Flows, shows actual spending (SAAR) by sector through July 2016 and projected trends of spending out to July 2017.


Previously I wrote that we should expect a short duration downturn in spending occurring between January and March. The expected monthly spending cash flows that would be generated from uneven new starts over the last two years indicated that a slowdown in spending would occur during the first quarter 2016. As it turns out, first quarter spending was much stronger than expected, averaging $1.17 trillion SAAR, primarily due to outstanding results in February and March for residential spending. But then April and May experienced significant declines, dropping to an average of only $1.14 trillion SAAR, down almost 3% from Q1. Now with June and July spending both up 1% from the April and May lows, it looks like we may be past that short duration downturn.

Total Construction Spending year-to-date (YTD) through July is up 5.6% over the same seven months 2015. Spending slowed in April and May from a 1st quarter average of $1.17 trillion that reached close to a 10 year high and falls just 4% short of the all-time high. However, it must be noted, that compares unadjusted current dollars, values of all dollars current in the year spent.

When comparing inflation adjusted constant dollars, all dollars adjusted to the same point in time, we can see 2016 spending is still 18% below the 2006 highs.


Total spending YTD through July is slightly ahead of what I predicted back in December, but it’s slightly below what I expected for May, June and July . I expect 2nd half spending to average above $1.2 trillion SAAR, but slightly lower than I originally forecast.

I’ve revised my 2016 spending forecast down slightly to total $1.190 trillion, up 7% from $1.112 trillion in 2015.

How does actual spending YTD compare to my prediction at the beginning of the year?

  • Total predicted YTD through July $638.2b,  actual YTD $647.7b (+$9.5bil, +1.5%).
  • Residential predicted YTD $245.1b,  actual YTD $259.2b (+$14.1bil, +5.8%).
  • Nonresidential Bldgs predicted YTD $236.9b,  actual YTD $228.1b (-$8.8bil, -3.7%).
  • Non-building Infrastr predicted YTD $156.2b,  actual YTD $160.5b (+$4.3bil, +2.8%).

Where are the revisions?

The single largest reduction in spending is in Nonresidential Buildings Manufacturing. Although there are other variances, that could account for the entire revision downward. Predicted construction starts for Manufacturing was lowered by nearly 35% after the initial start-of-year forecast was made.

Non-building Infrastructure spending increase is being supported by a 20%+ increase in power, which I didn’t expect. New starts for power projects have increased more than 20% since the initial forecast.

Residential construction had unusually large gains in February and March, almost all of that in residential renovations, offset only partially in April through July by declines mostly in new single-family housing.

Here’s my revised 2016 spending forecast based on YTD spending and new construction starts through July, compared to my prediction in December 2015.

  • Total predicted Dec 2015 $1,206.2b,   July 2016 $1,189.9b (-$16.3bil, -1.4%).
  • Residential predicted Dec 2015 $473.8b,   July 2016 $481.8b (+$8.0bil, +1.7%).
  • Nonresdntl Bldgs predicted Dec 2015 $439.2b,   July 2016 $410.9b (-$28.3bil, -6.4%).
  • Non-bldg Infrastr predicted Dec 2015 $293.2b,   July 2016 $297.3b (+$4.1bil, +1.4%).

Spending and construction starts are often confused by some analysts who refer to starts data as spending. Starts represent total project value recorded in the month the project begins. To determine spending activity, starts values must be spread out over the duration of the projects. Spending is dependent on cash flows each month generated from all previous construction starts. Cash flows expected based on Dodge Data construction starts are indicating a return to growth in spending in the 2nd half 2016. (See chart above Index Actual Construction Spending vs New Starts Cashflows).


Spending Breakout by Sector

Residential  construction spending for July totaled a SAAR of $452 billion, remaining near level for the last four months. Residential spending YTD through July is up 6.5% over 2015. Spending slowed in April and May from a very strong 1st quarter average that reached close to a 10 year high. The current 3-month average is just 1% below the 1st quarter and is still at its highest since the 2nd half of 2007 but is 10% below the current dollar all-time high in 2006. I’m still expecting some upward revisions to June or July residential spending.

Residential spending just experienced the strongest three-year stretch of spending growth on record, up 60% in 2013-2014-2015. After taking out inflation, volume growth was only 31%, but that is still the strongest ever for three consecutive years. Spending growth in 2016 will reach only +9%. After adjusting for inflation that represents volume growth of less than +4%, the slowest in 5 years. New starts YTD (as reported by Dodge Data) although down from the 1st quarter, are still near post-recession highs. Starts from late 2015 and early 2016 will still be generating spending into early 2017. 2017 will repeat nearly identical to 2016. What we may be seeing is that it might be difficult to register another year of very high percentage growth in 2016 or 2017 because it is being measured against the 2015 10-year high. Another factor limiting very high growth may be a limited supply of labor to expand the workforce.

Total Nonresidential SAAR spending for July is $701 billion, down slightly from June, but monthly SAAR has varied only +/- 1% for the last six months. YTD spending compared to 2015 is up 5.1%. Nonresidential spending also slowed in April and May but is now up 1.5% from those lows. The current 3-month average is up slightly from the 1st quarter and is just 3% below the pre-recession 2008 current dollar high.

Nonresidential Buildings spending for July totaled a SAAR of $403 billion, down slightly from June but up 1.3% from the May dip. Spending YTD for nonresidential buildings through July is up 8.0% over 2015. The current 3-month average of $403 billion is up slightly from the 1st quarter but is still 9% below the peak in 2008.

Non-building Infrastructure spending for July fell to a SAAR of $289 billion, down only slightly over for the last four months. YTD spending through July is up only 1.3% over 2015. Spending began to slow in April and May and is now at the 2016 low. The current 3-month average is down 4% from the 1st quarter. However, spending on nonbuilding infrastructure reached an all-time high in the first half of 2014 and has remained near those highs through 2015 into the 1st quarter of 2016.


Public spending average for the 1st six months of 2016 is the highest since 2010 and is up 10% from the 2014 low point. YTD public spending is up 0.2% from 2015. All of Highway plus 80% of Educational makes up 55% of all public construction spending. The next largest markets, all of Sewage/Wastewater plus 70% of Transportation accounts for only 19% of public sending. All other markets combined make up less than 20%.

The biggest mover to total public spending this year is educational spending. Public educational spending is up only 4.0% YTD, but because it represents almost 25% of all public spending, it’s has a bigger net impact of +1.0% on moving the trend up than any other single public market. Public commercial spending is up 36.6% YTD but has only a 1% market share of public work. Highway and street is up 2.6% YTD. At 30% of total public that results in a net move of +0.8%. Office, public safety, power, sewage/waste disposal and water supply are all down YTD by a combined -5.3%. At a combined market share of 21% that nets a -1.1% reduction in YTD public spending.

Private spending is dominated by a 52% market share of residential work. At 6.6% growth that nets 3.4% growth in private spending. Several of the nonresidential building markets have high YTD growth (and/or a large market share of private work); lodging +30%, office +27%, Amusement +22%, commercial +10% and power +8%.  These five markets combined represent 29% of private spending and combined are up +15% YTD for a net impact of +4.4% to private work.

For a base of reference, here’s a few points in spending history.

Total Construction Spending

  • 8 years 1998-2005 up 77%
  • 3 years 2003-2005 up 32%
  • 3 years 2008-2010 down 30%
  • 4 years 2012-2015 up 41%


  • 8 years 1998-2005 up 133%
  • 3 years 2003-2005 up 57%
  • 3 years 2007-2009 down 60%
  • 3 years 2013-2015 up 60%

Nonresidential Buildings

  • 5 years 2004-2008 up 64%
  • 3 years 2006-2008 up 45%
  • 3 years 2009-2011 down 36%
  • 2 years 2014-2015 up 25%

Non-building Infrastructure

  • 7 years 1995-2001 up 56%
  • 4 years 2005-2008 up 60%
  • 3 years 2009-2011 down 8%
  • 3 years 2012-2014 up 19%


See this post for expanded details on Construction Spending – Nonresidential Markets – Buildings and Infrastructure

See this post for expanded details on Construction Inflation

%d bloggers like this: