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New Construction Starts Much Better Than Might Appear

09-23-16

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.

starts-nonres-bldgs-aug16

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.


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