Attached PDF of my Forecasting presentation delivered 5-22-17 at Advancing Building Estimation in Houston
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:
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
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.
I’ve written about this in-depth in these two articles.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
April construction spending 1st release was issued on 6-1-17 by U. S. Census. The initial release shows April DOWN 1.4% from March, a value many news sources have reported as “construction spending is slowing”, “one of the largest drops in six years”, “an unexpected slump”, “spending continued to demonstrate substantial weakness.” I’ve written about this numerous times but it’s worth repeating again. Construction spending almost always gets revised UP in the following month after 1st release. Average revision so far in 2017 is +1.8% and for the last 18 months +1.3%. Monthly construction spending has now been revised UP every one of the last 43 consecutive months.
Headlines of construction spending declines are almost always premature.
Construction spending is almost always a miss when first posted, until it gets revised up in the following monthly report to show is it almost never a miss.
The 1st release of March construction spending came out May 1. This initial release indicates a decline of 0.2% from February. Keep in mind, all 12 monthly reports in 2016 were subsequently revised up. Nine times in the previous 14 months, the 1st report of spending was down vs the prior month. After revisions, only three months were down compared to the prior month.
In the last 48 months, the 1st report of spending was down vs the prior month 20 times. 47 times the initial value was revised UP. After revisions, only nine months were down compared to the prior month.
Monthly construction spending has been revised UP every one of the last 42 consecutive months.
The 1st release of spending is almost always being compared to a previous month and a previous year that have been revised up. Upward revisions to monthly construction spending in 2016 have been as high as 3.4% and for the year average 1.1%/mo. So, a 0.2% mo/mo decline s probably not a decline at all after revision, and there will be a revision, most likely UP.
After spending is first published it is revised in each of the two following months. Then all the values for the entire year are revised with the May data release the following year.
Some specific markets construction spending revised after 1st release (2016 data). These markets represent almost 50% of nonresidential data.
- Office revised UP 8 of 12 months (average of all 12 +1.1%)
- Commercial UP 9 of 12 avg 1.8%
- Educational UP 10 of 12 avg 1.8%
- Power UP 12 of 12 avg 3.6%