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In Which Category is That Construction Cost?

Seldom do two sources present information the same way!

In the construction industry, a disconnect exists in the reporting of construction starts data and actual spending data. Problems may arise when data is used to perform comparisons or forecasts between starts and spending. New starts and backlog may be listed in one category and spending for the same markets may be listed in another.

Almost universally, reporting of actual construction spending data follows the U.S. Census Put-in-Place Spending format. I adjust all other construction starts input/forecasting data that I use to conform to these Census Construction Spending Put-in-Place definitions. Here are some pitfalls to be aware of:

The U.S. Census Construction Put-in-Place (Construction Spending) Release follows these definitions.

Residential spending $ includes about 35% renovations and improvements that has no units associated with the dollars, so that portion of $ should not be included in a comparison to housing starts.

In census spending, MF dormitories is in educational and all types of MF healthcare related homes are in healthcare.

Demolition is not included in renovations/improvements. Partial repair of flood damaged homes is NOT included in residential improvements. Full replacement of flood damaged homes is included as improvements, not new single family. Here is the US Census definition of flood repairs

Offices includes pubic buildings such as city halls and courthouses. Includes data centers and bank buildings. Excludes medical office buildings, offices at manufacturing sites and offices at educational or healthcare facilities. Excludes Public Safety.

Commercial includes all retail buildings, warehouses, parking lots and garages. Excludes parking at educational/healthcare facilities.

Census DOES separate the costs for buildings that are mixed use retail/office/residential.

Educational, along with K-12, includes administrative offices, health centers, parking, residence halls, classrooms, educational research labs, food service and sports/recreation facilities at schools or colleges and universities and all associated infrastructure and maintenance facilities at the educational site. Also includes public libraries, science centers and museums.

Healthcare includes similar support and infrastructure to educational. Also includes medical office buildings, non-manufacturing and non-educational research labs.

Amusement and Recreation includes performing arts centers, civic centers, convention centers, sports and recreation facilities not located at schools or colleges.

Transportation includes air freight and passenger air terminals, runways, bus and railroad passenger terminals, light rail and subway facilities, railroad track, railway structures and bridges, docks and marine terminals and maintenance facilities and infrastructure associated with each.

Some sources of design or new construction starts data carry terminal buildings as commercial buildings, institutional buildings or other public nonresidential buildings. Census caries the building cost of all terminals grouped in with the non-building infrastructure costs of Transportation. Some sources carry public buildings such as city halls and courthouses as Public Safety but Census carries cost data for public buildings such as city halls and courthouses in Offices. Some sources classify laboratories as commercial and warehouses as industrial/manufacturing but Census includes warehouses in Commercial and Labs, depending on use, can be either Educational, Healthcare or Manufacturing.

Dodge Data New Construction Starts

Dodge includes monthly New Construction Starts for Terminals and Courthouses in Other Institutional Buildings, a Nonresidential Buildings category. The Census actual spending report includes Terminals in Transportation and Courthouses in Offices.

Although all of these still remain in Non-building Infrastructure, Dodge includes Rail, Mass Transit, Airport Runway and Pipelines in Other Public Works. Although not often mentioned by Dodge, it is assumed Communications is also included in Other Public Works. Census includes all mass transit in Transportation, Communications is listed separately and pipelines are included in Power.

Dodge does not identify Renovations in their residential starts data. Census reports SF and MF spending and Total Residential spending with the difference between Total and SF+MF being Renovations. Multifamily spending accounts for less than 15% of all residential actual spending. Dodge MF starts account for 30% of all residential starts dollars. Furthermore, Dodge totals for MF starts $ for the last 7 years exceed the actual total of MF spending for the year by 30% to 50%. Dodge MF data represents more than just MF starts. Which may mean it includes renovations starts. It might also include student housing.

Constructconnect (CC) Construction Starts Forecast

New starts for Transportation Terminals is in a line by the same name but subtotaled in Commercial (Nonresidential Buildings) starts. Census includes Terminals in Transportation.

CC lists Courthouse starts subtotaled in Institutional. Census carries Courthouses in Office (Commercial).

CC lists Military as a line item subtotaled in Institutional. This might include Office, Housing, Warehouse, etc., which would be carried by Census in Office, Residential, Commercial, etc., respectively.

CC lists Laboratories (Schools & Industrial) together and subtotals all labs in Commercial. Census separates labs by commercial, research and educational and carries spending in Manufacturing, Healthcare or Educational respectively which would subtotal spending in Manufacturing (industrial), or Institutional (Healthcare and Educational).

CC does not list rail or transportation separately, but does list Airport and Misc Civil (Power,etc.). This leads me to think rail is included in the line item with Misc Civil (Power, etc.). Also, CC does not list Communication, which I suspect is included in Misc Civil (Power, etc.) Already noted above is that Terminals is subtotaled in Commercial. Census carries rail, runway and terminals in Transportation and keeps Communication and Power separate from others.

CC provides an alternate table of new starts data that corresponds to a proprietary software, INSIGHT. This table of starts data reshuffles categories very far from anything that would resemble Census spending output.

The AIA publishes a twice annual Consensus Construction Forecast, comparing forecast of Nonresidential Buildings spending using inputs from seven or eight firms. Every firm but one follows a similar organization. The difference is FMI includes both Transportation and Communications in Commercial Nonresidential Buildings. I’m not aware of another other firm that reports these two categories of spending as Nonresidential Buildings. Both are typically carried as Non-building Infrastructure. That these categories include costs for projects such as rail beds, rail right-of-way civil structures, loading platforms, airfield runways and support structures, communication transmission lines and cell towers supports the more standardized inclusion of these items in Infrastructure.

Similar discrepancies may exist when comparing starts or spending to indexes, such as the AIA Architectural Billings Index, which broadly classifies projects as commercial, institutional or residential. Some resources classify Amusement/Recreation as institutional and some as commercial. In particular, the shifting of costs between Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure creates a particularly meaningful disparity between spending forecasts.

As you can see, there are numerous instances where the data are often mixed up. From the point of view of the forecaster, initial input data cannot always be used directly to forecast or match spending output. Some manipulation of the data may be required to make input and output match.

As an example, I move the Dodge data starts for Terminals from nonresidential buildings to non-building infrastructure Transportation, so that really changes my totals from theirs for Nonresidential Buildings to Non-building Infrastructure. My spending output conforms with most all others, most of whom also follow the Census PIP definitions.

What does your source for data take into consideration? Know your data!

Backlog Construction Forecast Fall 2017


Total Construction Starting Backlog is at a record high, up 30% from the previous high in 2008.

Infrastructure and Residential sectors dropped to a decade low backlog in 2010. In 2013, nonresidential buildings hit the lowest starting backlog since 2004. Combined, total backlog hit a low-point in 2011, the lowest since 2003. Total Starting Backlog has been increasing since 2011, up 65% in 2018.

Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure backlog are both at all-time highs. 75% to 80% of all nonresidential spending within the year comes from starting backlog. Residential backlog is at a post-recession high, although as will be explained later, it is new residential starts that are more important and starts have tripled since the 2009 low. 70% of all residential spending in the year comes from new starts. Residential starts are still 20% below the 2004 peak.

Starts Generate Backlog

New Starts increased at an average rate of 11%/year from 2012 to 2016. 2017 starts slowed to less than half that pace.

Nonresidential Buildings starts, even though there was a 1% decline in 2015, averaged 13%/year growth for the last 4 years. 2017 will post an 8% increase. The 6 months from Aug 2016 to Jan 2017 was the highest starts since Jan-Jun 2008, also the year nonresidential buildings spending peaked. The 6 months Apr-Sep 2017 just surpassed both those previous peak highs.

Non-building Infrastructure starts were the highest in the 1st 6 months of 2015 than any 6-month period in history. Total 2015 starts increased 26%. 2016 is down just 2% from the peak 2015 starts and 2016 is the 2nd highest starts on record. Those early 2015 starts will still generate 10% of all spending in 2018. 2017 starts are level with 2016. After revisions, 2017 starts may set a new peak high.

Residential starts in 2016 posted the best year since 2005-2006. New starts in 2016 were revised up to show an increase of 10% over 2015. That follows five years of growth averaging 20%/year. New starts in Q1’17 reached an 11 year high.

Entering Backlog

New Backlog is added every month from New Construction Starts. When projects first enter backlog, the amount counted to backlog is the total value of project revenues under contract that are about to start construction, or the same as the new start values. For purposes of predicting future construction spending, as each month of project construction passes, work that has been put-in-place is subtracted from the total value to get the amount remaining in backlog.

Starting Backlog

Starting Backlog is the Estimate-to-Complete (ETC) value of all projects under contract at the beginning of a period. Projects in starting backlog could have started last month or last year or three years ago. The amount counted in backlog is the value of the project that remains or that has not yet been put-in-place. Backlog is the total amount of future spending that will be generated by the project, commonly referred to as the ETC. The sum of all ETCs represents current backlog.

  • Nonresidential buildings 2018 starting backlog is up 10%
  • Non-building Infrastructure 2018 starting backlog is up 12%
  • Residential buildings 2018 starting backlog is down 3%
  • Starting Backlog is at an all-time high for nonresidential buildings and non-building infrastructure.

Typically, starting backlog is a reference to the amount of work in backlog on January 1st. It is referred to as the Starting Backlog for the coming year. The sum of all ETCs as of December 31st represents Starting Backlog.

For any project that has a remaining duration going out past year end, backlog at the start of year does not represent the amount that will be spent within the year. Some of that project backlog will be spent in future years. For this reason, backlog is not representative of spending within the year and the change in Starting Backlog from year to year is not an indication of a change in spending from year to year.

Values and duration of projects that make up backlog help to better predict spending activity over time, particularly in the coming year.

A cash flow schedule of all ETC backlog and predicted new starts provides a tool to predict future spending. It is not enough to look at just the change in backlog to get an indication of the strength of the market. While continued growth in backlog is important, the predicted cash flow from backlog and cash flow from new starts is necessary for predicting spending.

Construction spending is strongly influenced by long duration projects in backlog, more-so than normal monthly starts growth rate. The pattern of continuing or ending cash flows from the long duration backlog projects causes fluctuations in spending that supersede the balance cycle of one month of old jobs ending for every new month of jobs starting. This often can be responsible for some of the monthly fluctuations of construction spending.

The following table shows predicted cash flow from backlog on record as of October 1, 2017 and predicted starts that will generate future backlog in 2018.

Backlog Cashflow 2018 and 2017 11-10-17

Look Ahead to 2018

Buildings and Infrastructure will both hit new all-time highs for starting backlog in 2018.  For four years, from 2010 to 2013, all nonresidential backlog remained nearly constant. Since then, growth has been similar to the pre-recession construction boom of the early 2000s.

Nonresidential buildings 2018 starting backlog is 50% higher than at the start of 2014, the beginning of the current growth cycle. Starting backlog has increased for 5 years at an average 10%/year. Spending from starting backlog, up 10% in 2018, increased for 5 years at an average 9%/year. Buildings will reach a new high for spending in 2018.

Non-building Infrastructure 2018 starting backlog is up 35% since 2014 but spending from backlog is up only 10%. Infrastructure starting backlog has been increasing for more than 10 years, sometimes only a fraction of a percent per year. Since 2010, backlog increased only 3%/year for the first 5 years then it jumped 35% in the last 3 years. Spending within the year from starting backlog is up 8% in 2018. Infrastructure spending will hit a new high in 2018.

Backlog incld Res Starts 2005-2018 11-8-17

Due to the shorter duration of projects, nearly 70% of residential spending within the year is generated from new starts. Unlike nonresidential, backlog does not contribute nearly as much residential spending within the year. New residential starts in Q1’17 reached an 11 year high.

  • Cash flow models of construction projects in backlog are indicating substantial acceleration in nonresidential spending over next year, perhaps most notable in infrastructure.
  • 75% to 80% of nonresidential spending within the year comes from Starting Backlog.
  • 70% of residential spending within the years comes from New Starts. Residential starts are at a post-recession high.
  • Share of spending within the current year from backlog is at an all-time high for nonresidential buildings and non-building infrastructure.

Nonresidential Buildings

Nonresidential buildings experienced a decline in starting backlog as recently as 2013. Since 2013, nonresidential buildings starting backlog is up 60%. Backlog will hit a new all-time high for 2018, 5% over the previous high in 2009 . Not only is starting backlog higher coming into 2018, but also spending from backlog is predicted up by 10%. This will produce a new high in current dollar spending.

Revenues from starting backlog account for 75% of all nonresidential buildings construction spending within the year.

Backlog for Nonres Bldgs 2014-2019 11-12-17

Educational starts, backlog and spending has been increasing for 5 years or longer. 2018 starting backlog is up 16% from 2017. Starts for 2018 are predicted to go up 13% and this will push 2019 starting backlog even higher. This should produce good spending growth for the next few years.

Office construction starting backlog for 2017 was the highest in at least 8 years, more than double at the start of 2014 when the current growth cycle of office construction spending began. For 2018 it’s up 27% over 2017. Office starting backlog increased an average of 28%/year for the last 5 years. Actual spending increased an average of 17%/year. Backlog growth looks like it will support very strong spending increases into 2019.

Commercial Retail backlog will hold steady from 2017 into 2018. This should level off spending after 7 years of strong growth. 2018 backlog still produces a spending increase but current projections show a slight drop in 2019.

Lodging backlog increases slightly for 2018. Beyond 2018, spending will decline, but this is after 6 years of growth totaling 300%.

Manufacturing posted a 100% increase in new starts in 2014 that drove starting backlog to new highs for the next two years. With new starts slowing back to normal by 2016, starting backlog dropped 20% in 2017 and spending dropped 12%. That was expected. What was unexpected is that 2017 posted another very strong year of new starts and that pushed 2018 starting backlog again to a new high. This will support a spending rebound in 2018-2019 after a drop of 18% in the last two years.

Non-building Infrastructure

Non-building infrastructure backlog stood at $180 billion in 2008, the last pre-recession year. At the beginning of 2017, non- building infrastructure backlog hit an all-time high, $260 billion, up 45% from 2008. For the last three years, starting backlog is up 40%. In 2018, it’s up 13%, another new high.

Revenues from starting backlog account for 80% of all non-building infrastructure construction spending within the year.

Backlog for Nonbldg Infra 2014-2019 11-12-17

Power backlog has doubled since 2014. It’s up 11% for 2018. Starts are down 14% from the 2015 peak, but spending from backlog is increasing. Most relevant is that backlog increased much stronger than spending. Backlog is being driven higher by very long duration projects that started in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Highway starts declined the last two years from the peak in 2015, but starting backlog increased the last 3 years and is now 25% higher than 2015.  The last three years of highway starts are still feeding spending in 2018. There is very little change in the amount of spending from backlog, so 2018 spending won’t change very much from 2017.

Transportation new starts shot up by 70% in 2017, pushing 2018 starting backlog to a new high, up 75% from 2017. That will help increase 2018 spending by more than 15%, but a larger spending increase could come in 2019.

Environmental Public Works, Sewer/water/Conservation is experiencing declining starts, declining backlog and declining spending from backlog. All are at the lowest since 2014. We may not see any increase in construction spending until 2019.

Public Work

Public vs Private starts are not tracked separately, but the public share of markets is known. Therefore a projection of public backlog is possible. Highway and Environmental Public Works are 100% public.  Educational is 80% public, Transportation is 70%, Amusement/Rec is 50%, Healthcare is 20% and Power is 10% public, along with few other smaller shares. Starting backlog for 2018 is up 40% from 2014 due to the predominantly long duration projects that make up public work. This is a post-recession high and is nearing the all-time high of 2008. Increased backlog is indicating the best construction spending increases since 2008 for the next two years.

Residential Buildings

Residential new starts hit bottom in 2009 and starting backlog hit bottom in 2010. Residential on average has the shortest duration and new starts has a dramatic impact on the amount of available work. Both new starts and backlog are now 3x higher than the lows. New residential starts have increased every year since the 2009 bottom, but are still 25% lower than 2004-2005. Residential spending reached its peak of $630 billion in 2005. Current spending is still 15% below that peak. In constant $, spending is 30% below that peak.

Due to the shorter duration of projects, nearly 70% of residential spending within the year is generated from new starts. Unlike longer duration nonresidential projects, backlog does not contribute nearly as much. 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 residential construction industry.

New starts slowed in 2017 to only 4% growth and similar growth of 6% is expected for 2018. This is not unexpected after 5 years (2012-2016) of new starts growth at an average 20%/year. This leads to a prediction of 2018 spending up only 6%.

All construction starts data in this report references Dodge Data & Analytics starts data.

See this companion post for  Starts Trends Construction Forecast Fall 2017

Also see 2018 spending forecast Spending Summary Construction Forecast Fall 2017

Starts Trends Construction Forecast Fall 2017


It all starts here! Construction Starts Generate Construction Spending.

2017 construction starts through September total $557 billion Year-to-date (YTD), even with 2016. If/when 2017 gets revised as expected it will then show +3% to +4% growth over 2016, but we won’t see that growth in the revision data until next year.

  • Previous year starts always later get revised upwards. Therefore, current year starts ytd growth is always understated.
  • Revisions for the period 2012-2015 averaged +4%.
  • Revisions to 2016 year-to-date through September are +10%.
  • Starts have been increasing at an average rate of 11%/year for the last 5 years.
  • Nonresidential Buildings and Nonbuilding Infrastructure are at or near all-time highs.
  • Residential starts are at a post-recession high.
  • New starts will generate record high 2018 starting backlog for every sector.

Nonresidential Buildings starts, averaged 13%/year growth for the last 4 years, even though there was a 1% decline in 2015. 2017 will post an 8% increase. The 6 months from Aug 2016 to Jan 2017 was the highest period of starts since Jan-Jun 2008, the year nonresidential buildings spending peaked. The 6 months Apr-Sep 2017 just surpassed both those previous peak highs. This will help support increases in nonresidential buildings spending for the next two years.

Infrastructure starts posted a higher value of new construction projects in the 1st 6 months of 2015 than any 6-month period in history. 2016 is down just 2% from the peak 2015 starts and 2016 is the 2nd highest starts on record. Those early 2015 starts will still generate 10% of all spending in 2018. After revisions, 2017 starts may set a new peak high. This would set up infrastructure as the strongest growth sector for the next two years.

Residential starts in 2016 posted the best year since 2005-2006. New starts in 2016 were revised up by 5% to show an increase of 10% growth over 2015. That follows five years of growth averaging 20%/year. Initial values posted for 2017 show starts up by only 3.5%, however, the average revision for the past few years has been +2% to +4%, so 2017 will get revised higher. New starts in Q1 2017 reached an 11 year high.

All construction starts data in this report references Dodge Data & Analytics Starts data.

Care must be taken to use Starts data properly. It is regularly misinterpreted in common industry forecasting articles. Starts dollar values represent a survey of about 50% to 60% of industry activity, therefore Starts dollar values cannot ever be used directly to indicate spending. Also, Starts do not directly indicate changes in spending per month or per year. Only by including an expected duration for all Starts and producing a forecast Cash Flow from Starts data can the expected pattern of spending be developed. Finally, it is the rate of change in Starts Cash Flows that gives an indication of the rate of change in spending.

Cash flow is the best indicator of how much and when spending will occur. Cash flow from DDA starts gives a prediction over time of how spending from each month of previous starts will occur from all projects in backlog. Cash flow totals of all jobs can vary considerably from month to month, are not only driven by new jobs starting but also old jobs ending, and are heavily dependent on the type, size and duration of jobs.

Index of Actual Spending and Starts Cash Flows 2015-2018 2-10-18

Nonresidential Buildings

Retail/Commercial starts may finish flat or up just slightly for 2017, but that is compared to peak starts in 2016. Starts for the 12 months Aug 2016 – June 2017 posted 10% growth over the previous 12 months. Retail/Commercial starts have been increasing every year since 2010. In 2010, Warehouse starts were only 1/3 of Store new starts. In 2018, Warehouse starts will be 50% greater than Store starts. Warehouse starts have increased between 20%-40%/year for seven years and are now five times greater than in 2010.

Office construction starts have been increasing since 2010 with the strongest growth period of new starts in the 12 months July 2016 – June 2017, the highest 12 months on record, 60% higher than the previous 12 months. That high-volume period of starts is going to elevate spending in both 2018 and 2019 to come in higher than 2017. Office starts averaged year-over-year (YOY) growth of 20%/year for the last five years. Data centers are included in Office.

Educational starts are up 7% in 2017. Starts have averaged YOY growth of 8%/year for the last two years and have had slow but steady growth since 2012. The growth in starts will support growth in spending or the next three years.

Office, Retail and Educational markets comprise 60% of all nonresidential buildings. They are collectively responsible for 70% of the increase in 2017 nonresidential buildings starts.

Healthcare starts have quietly increased to a record high over the last 12 months, up 30% for the 12 months through August vs the previous 12 months.

Lodging starts may be flat or will be up only slightly in 2017, but from 2010 to 2016 averaged over 30%/year growth for six years. In 2018, Lodging may return to  that six-year average growth.

Manufacturing is the only nonresidential building market that will NOT finish 2017 with new starts totals at or near post-recession highs. Manufacturing reached record high starts in 2014 and record spending in 2015. However, 2017 will post new starts 50% higher than initially predicted by Dodge.

Manufacturing spending was expected to fall in 2017 after peaking in 2015 from massive growth in new starts in 2014. Based on cash flows from starts, spending was expected to decline in 14 of the last 18 months. It did decline in 11 of those months. We are at the point of turn-around with only 1 monthly decline predicted in the next 3 months and no spending declines expected next year.

Non-building Infrastructure

Sewer/Water/Conservation, the three Environmental Public Works markets, posted declines in new project starts in 3 (sewer) or 4 of the last 4 years. Collectively, new starts in 2017 are the lowest in 5 years. Cash flow predicted from starts has been indicating spending declines since Q2-2016. In fact, spending has declined in 12 of the last 18 months. Cash flow still indicates more spending declines over the next 8 months.

Highway/Bridge/Street starts in the 2nd half of 2014 recorded the slowest rate of growth in the last 6 years. Starts that would normally be contributing spending through 2017 and into 2018 contributed a lower than normal volume of spending which will end in 2017. Had it not been for the extremely high volume of starts in the 1st 4 months of 2014, the most ever recorded in 4 consecutive months, 2017 spending would have dropped more than double the 4% spending decline now forecast.

Highway starts in the 1st 6 months of 2015 posted the next highest growth to early 2014. Spending in 2018 will benefit from those projects that started in 2015 but that have unusually long duration. They will contribute a higher rate of spending in 2018 beyond the duration that typical projects would have ended. It is not recent new starts but old backlog that is influencing 2017 and 2018 highway spending.

Transportation Terminal starts in the first three months of 2017 were more than three times higher than any three-month period in the previous five years. While this helped turn 2017 spending positive, 2017 is still affected by uneven starts from two to three years ago holding down gains in the 2nd half. Transportation will show only a 2% gain in 2017 spending but will post strong double digits gains in 2018 and again in 2019. Terminal buildings is reported in Dodge Starts in Other Institutional Buildings. However Census reports terminal spending in Transportation along with Rail and Dock spending. I adjust the starts data in my reports to conform to the Census construction spending reports.

Power market starts peaked in 2015 at an all-time high, up 142% from 2014 and more than the prior two years combined. The Power market was the prime contributor to the abnormally high infrastructure starts in the 1st 6 months in 2015. Power spending was down 6% in 2015 and up only 3% in 2016 because Power starts were also at an all-time high in 2012, just below the 2015 level, and those starts drove 2014 spending to an all-time high, but then spending from those old jobs tapered off in 2015.

Power starts dropped 11% in 2016 and are down slightly in 2017. Recently, there has been an unexpected large volume of power plant and pipeline starts that are driving 2017 power starts to come in about 40% higher than initially expected.

Even though Power starts have been declining since the 2015 high point, Power had several periods with an exceptionally high value of new starts, some of these periods 2x to 3x the normal rate of growth and a year or two longer duration than typical; late 2014, Jan-May 2015, Feb-Jun 2016 and again in Feb-Jul 2017. A large share of the cash flow, or monthly spending, from all those exceptional starts will occur in 2018 and 2019 and will drive spending to 10%+ gains.

Although starts are not tracked for Public vs Private, Highway, Educational, Environmental Public Works and Transportation make up more than 80% of all Public construction. Only Environmental Public Works starts are down. Educational, Transportation and Highway all have a positive outlook in new starts and predicted spending for 2018 which pushes public spending to post-recession highs.

Here’s how to use the Starts data and how it affects spending Construction Starts and Spending Patterns 9-26-17

Also, after New Starts, dollars are then tracked in Backlog, Backlog Construction Forecast Fall 2017  11-10-17

See the Spending Forecast Spending Summary Construction Forecast Fall 2017  12-2-17


Construction Jobs / Workload Balance


The last time construction jobs and workload were balanced was 2005. From 2006 through early 2011, workload dropped 15% greater than the decline in jobs. In other words, compared to 2005, contractors started the post-recession period in 2011 with 15% less workload on hand compared to the number of workers kept on staff and that resulted in the period 2006-2011 posting the largest productivity decline ever recorded.

Jobs vs Volume 2001-2010 8-8-17

For a discussion on data plotted 2001 to 2011, see this post Jobs vs Construction Volume – Imbalances  In the 2001-2011 plot above, jobs and workload are set to zero baseline in Jan 2001. This shows all of 2001 through 2004 that jobs/workload was balanced. The gap between the red and the blue lines above is the variance from zero change in Jobs/Workload balance. By Jan 2011 there was a 15% workload deficit.

The 1st quarter of 2011 was a dramatic turning point. Both jobs and work volume began to increase. To visualize the variance since Jan 2011, the following plot resets jobs and workload to zero baseline in Jan 2011.

Jobs vs Volume 2011-2017 11-25-17

From Jan 2011 to Jun 2015, construction volume increased 24% in 4 1/2 years. Staffing output increased 19% in the same period. Contractors may still feel the effects from not being able to grow staff at that same pace as volume during that period. However, we did see the larger work volume increases make up 5% of the 15% workload deficit from the previous period 2006-2011, but it loses sight of the fact that after almost five years we had not recouped the entire lost work output from all the other 10% staff imbalance that still remained.

Work output is defined as jobs x hours worked. Construction volume is defined as spending minus inflation.

From Jul 2015 to Oct 2017, volume increased just over 1% but jobs output grew by almost 7%. During that two year period, new jobs created plus the change in hours worked by the entire workforce grew 6% more than workload. Jobs increased greater than construction volume increased. The plot shows most of that variance occurred in 2015.

Shifting the time periods slightly gives another impression of the data, overall not much different. In discussions about Construction skilled labor shortages, it’s important to understand, both construction spending and volume are at record growth levels and jobs, since recession, and in last 3 yrs, have matched volume growth.

Jobs vs Volume 2011-2017 12-8-17

Overall, in the seven-year post-recession period Jan 2011 to Oct 2017, volume increased 25% and jobs output increased 26%. There seems very little room to be calling this a jobs shortage. Of course, this does not address skills.

So here we are most of the way through 2017 and if we look back at the last 11 years, not only are jobs once again increasing faster than workload, but also in total since 2005 we still have 14% staff that would need to be absorbed by new workload to return to the previous jobs/workload productivity balance.

Maybe it’s time we stop calling this a jobs shortage and start referring to it as a productivity challenge that needs to be turned around.

For an expansion of more information on this topic see Jobs vs Construction Volume – Imbalances posted 8-8-17.  Included is the 2001-2011 plot that explains all of 2001 through 2011.

Also, Feb 208 article breaking out residential and nonresidential sectors shows surplus in nonres and deficit in residential Residential Construction Jobs Shortages

Constant Dollar Construction Growth


Construction spending had been chugging along very nicely from 2012 through 2016 with annual growth ranging between +6.5% and +11.0%. The average spending growth for those 5 years is 8.5%/yr. For 2017, spending growth will come in at only just over 5%.

Perhaps what may be more important is the inflation adjusted growth or constant dollar growth. Constant dollar growth measures volume. Volume growth ranged from +3.0% to +8.0% in the 5 years from 2012 through 2016. The average constant$ growth for those 5 years is 5.4%/yr. The rest of the spending growth was inflation dollars. For example: a year in which spending growth is 7% but that has 4% inflation ends up with only 3% constant$ volume growth.

From 2005 peak volume ($1,448 bil in 2017$) to the lows reached in 2011 ($954 bil), constant dollar volume dropped 34%. Since the 2011 low, volume has increased 31%. In rapid growth years volume increases between 6% to 8%/yr. In average or low growth years, constant dollar volume growth ranges closer to 2% to 3%/yr.

Spend current vs constant 2017 11-8-17

2017 will post the highest composite construction inflation in 11 years, 4.5%. Residential inflation has averaged 6%/yr for the last 5 years. With 2017 at 5% construction spending growth, the lowest in six years, and at the highest inflation in years, 2017 volume growth will fall to only +0.6%.

Residential, with nearly 12% spending growth in 2017, still holds onto the best volume growth in 2017 at slightly over 5%. Residential has recorded the highest volume growth in 5 of the last 6 years, the lowest coming in at +5%, averaging 8%/yr for 6 years.

Nonresidential Buildings constant dollars is down slightly for 2017, posting a volume decline of -0.2%. This was predictable since Manufacturing, after recording 90% growth from 2011 to 2015, has worked off a big backlog and dropped 15% (from an all-time high) in the last two years, most of that drop in 2017. For 2017 that drop offset $8 billion of growth from other markets. Nonresidential Buildings volume increased 20% in the previous 3 years.

Non-building Infrastructure volume is down 6% in 2017 after growing only 5% in the previous 2 years. However, the non-building infrastructure sector led all growth in 2014 at +8.5%. It should be noted that 2015 posted the all-time high for Infrastructure spending. The largest declines since then are in Environmental Public Works projects, Sewer/Water/Conservation. All three markets posted declines in new project starts in 3 or 4 of the last 4 years. Spending in 2017 is down 17% from the most recent high in 2015.

Public works spending is responsible for 80% of the dollar decline in non-building infrastructure spending since the high in 2015.

In 2018, Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure lead spending growth.  Residential spending will slow considerably after six years of solid growth. Constant$ volume growth after inflation will climb back to +2.3% with the two nonresidential sectors over 5% and residential dropping to a volume decline.

Spend Sector Constant 2006-2018 11-2-17



These articles all relate to Constant dollars (Inflation Adjusted)

Inflation Index vs Spending

Constant Dollars – Impact of Inflation

Are We at New Peak Construction Spending?


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