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June Construction Starts Reach New Highs


New construction starts, posted today by Dodge Data & Analytics, measured in current dollars, came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $896,000 million, up 11% from May. May, originally posted at +15% over April, was revised up 3.5%.

2nd qtr increased 7.5% from 1st qtr., and 1st half increased 4.5% from the previous 6 months.

The June SAAR (seasonally adjusted) amount of $896,000 million is the highest on record. However, in constant $, adjusted for inflation, there were a few months from 2004 through 2006 that would still be slightly higher. After revisions, it will likely be higher.

Year-to-date starts through June total $396,000 million, 1% higher than the same six months of 2017, but that amount is not as low as first comparison would indicate. 2017 starts through June have already been revised up by 14%, up about 20% in nonresidential and 5% in residential. 2018 starts will be revised again next year and revisions have always been up. Revisions in previous years have averaged more than +7%/yr. for the last 5 years, with most of the upward revision in nonresidential. Therefore, the potential that 2018 YTD gains at a later date will increase vs 2017 is expected.

2017 starts final, once all revisions are posted, could reach close to $800 billion.

New starts data is a sampling of project starts, representing about 60% of total work volume. Actual starts dollars cannot be used directly to represent spending. However, tracking the rate of change in predicted cash flow from starts allows to predict the rate of change in spending.

From Sept’17 through Jun’18 new construction starts reached the highest monthly average since 2004 and are now just below the all-time high.

Residential starts average for the 6 months Jan-Jun 2018 is the highest since 2006. The 1st 6 months of 2018 is up 10% from the prior 6 months.

Non-building infrastructure starts for June are down 28% from May, but that is not particularly newsworthy, because May had an unusually high amount of starts. May included almost $8 billion of pipeline, rail and sewerage projects starts, 3x normal, while June settled back to normal.  June Infrastructure starts are still higher than the average of the previous 6 months. The average Infrastructure starts for Apr-May-Jun is the highest since Q1 2015 when massive new starts for energy plants drove Infrastructure starts to all-time highs. Starts may finish the year close to the same as 2017, but, if slightly higher, could still be the best year of starts on record. The growth in Infrastructure starts will drive Non-building spending to record highs in 2018 through 2020.

Starts 2008-2018 nonbldg 7-26-18

Nonresidential buildings starts in June reached $402 billion, nudging up against the all-time constant $ high from 2008. In fact, in un-adjusted dollars current $, June 2018 starts reached a new high. Manufacturing starts are double the amount from same period in 2017 and Amusement/Recreation starts are triple last year. The only nonresidential market that is lower year-to-date is retail stores. Adjusted for inflation, Jan 2008, by a few percent, is still the best ever for nonresidential buildings starts and spending.

Starts 2011-2018 nonres bldgs 7-25-18

The plot above shows 3mo moving average and trend line for Nonresidential Buildings Starts. Starts can be erratic from month to month. The trend line gives a better impression of how starts will impact spending.

The plot below is an index. The plot shows accuracy when the predicted cash flow and actual spending plot lines move in the same direction.

The light green line, spending estimated from starts cash flow, shows smooth spending, even though actual monthly starts are erratic (see nonres bldgs plot shown above). The actual spending often follows pretty close to the pattern as that estimated from cash flows.

Starts CF 2015-2018 7-25-18

It’s notable that new construction starts through June are up 1% from 2017. When the 2018 forecast was first issued last November, 2017 starts were predicted to finish the year at $742 billion. The original forecast for 2018 starts growth predicted starts would increase 3% over 2017 to a 2018 total of $765 billion. Well, the current total for 2017 is now $780 billion. Since November, the 2017 base has been revised up by  almost $40 billion. 2017 starts could finish close to $800 billion, more than double the original forecast % growth. And yet, the YTD total for 2018 is still 1% above that revised value.

Starts in both 2017 and 2018 are stronger than expected just 6 months ago. The current SAAR monthly $ of starts is 10% higher than anticipated just 6 months ago.

Construction spending is up year-to-date through May in every sector. Only Manufacturing and Power markets are down YTD, but not enough to drag the sectors negative. Both markets are expected to finish the year up. (Religious market is down, but represents only 0.2% of spending).

Cash flow from all starts still in backlog supports a 2018 spending forecast of $1,330 billion, a spending increase of 6.6% over 2017.

Construction JOLTS – What’s wrong with this picture?


In the 24 months from May 2016 to May 2018, Construction Volume went up 3.0%. Jobs went UP by 8%, 500,000 jobs. Spending in that 24 month span increased by just over 12%, but inflation for that period across all construction averaged 9%, hence real volume increased only 3%. That’s a $35 billion increase in volume, enough new work to support 175,000 to 210,000 new construction jobs.

JOLTS (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey) job openings went up from 2.4% to 3.0%, up 50,000 openings. Jobs growth exceeded volume growth by more than double and yet job openings went up!

Not only did jobs growth of near 8% far exceed that needed to support the growth in new work, but also, because jobs growth was so strong, it should have reduced job openings.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Jobs vs Volume 2011-JUN2018 7-6-18

Pretty obvious the numbers just don’t add up. First, since construction spending is always later revised up, in recent years by 2%, let’s be generous and assume spending will get revised up by 2%, and let’s keep inflation the same. That would result in a 5% increase in volume or closer to $60 billion in volume. That would support 300,000 to 360,000 new jobs, a need still well below the actual growth in jobs of 500,000.

No matter how we look at it, even generously supposing spending will later increase by 2%, jobs have increased greater than volume of work.

Companies predict job openings based on positions they need to fill within 30 days. But, what if their judgement of positions they need to fill is determined based on what they anticipate from increases in revenue, without taking inflation into consideration. Since revenue also includes inflation, which adds nothing to business volume, that would overestimate the need for new jobs.  We’ve seen this before, in the last expansion.

2003-2006 construction spending increased by 35%, the most rapid increase in spending in over 30 years. But construction inflation during that four year period totaled over 30%, the most for four consecutive years dating back to 1978-1981. After adjusting for inflation real volume in 2003-2006 was up by less than 5%. Considering how high spending was and how much it felt like growth, there was surprisingly little. That did not hold back jobs expansion.

Construction firms added 15% to jobs, or 1,000,000 jobs during this period, more than 3x the actual need.  Job Openings in the JOLTS report increased 100%+, from 100,000 to over 200,000. Firms hired far more than needed and kept increasing the report of job openings, even though they had already hired far more than required. In 2006, housing starts dropped 15%, residential spending dropped 25%, but residential jobs still increased by 6%. From 2003 to 2006, spending on nonresidential buildings increased by 20%, all of it inflation. Volume remained stagnant these four years, however jobs increased by 10%.

Clearly the increases in jobs during this period correlate more with spending than real inflation adjusted volume growth. This four-year period registered the largest productivity decline in over 30 years because the rate of jobs growth was much faster than volume growth.

For 2018-2019-2020, construction spending is currently forecast to increase 6.7%, 3.0% and 4.2%. But after adjusting for inflation, real construction volume is predicted to increase only in 2018 by about 2%. For 2019-2020 volume declines or remains flat.

An argument could be made that JOLTS openings is dependent on firms outlook for growth in the near future. For that, let’s look at predicted volume growth in 2nd half 2018 and in 1st half 2019. It is predicted spending will increase 1.5% in the 2nd half vs 1st half 2018. But adjusted for inflation, volume will decline by 1%. Likewise, for the 1st half 2019, although spending will increase, inflation will outpace spending and real volume will decline 1%. There is nothing in past data or forecast that would support an increase in forecast job openings.

See also What Jobs Shortage? 7-6-18 for related info.

Could it be that some firms are anticipating job needs based on spending, not on volume? Could it be that these firms are not adjusting revenues for inflation to get volume before using the data to prepare a business plan? This is not entirely anecdotal. In several presentations I’ve given over the years I’ve asked the audience, How many of you plan your business needs on your revenue? In a show of hands at a  presentation to NHAGC, a large portion of the audience raised their hand.

If your construction company revenues are up 6% in a year when inflation is 5%, then your net volume is up only 1%. Your company jobs growth required is only 1%.

You cannot ignore the impact of inflation when forecasting jobs need.

What Jobs Shortage?


Jobs report for June issued this morning. Construction Jobs are up slightly.  But the real story is in the last year of growth. Jobs are up 282,000 since June 2017. All across the industry, pundits are screaming jobs shortage. But is there one?

The current spending growth has 2018 on a path to reach an increase of near 8% in spending. But that is not volume. Most of that is INFLATION and that ADDS NO VOLUME. Inflation in 2018 is predicted (already in the spending numbers) to come in about 5% to 6%. Volume is spending minus inflation. Volume in 2018 forecast 2%-3%. Jobs are up 4% since June 2017.

Jobs growth of 4% when net volume is increasing only 2%-3% shows jobs growth in excess of volume. In 2017, jobs increased 3.4% against spending growth of 4.5%. But ALL of the spending growth was inflation, so net volume was 0%. So jobs growth has outpaced volume growth for the last two years by 5%.

See also Construction JOLTS – What’s wrong with this picture? 7-10-18 for related info.

This plot sets the plot lines to zero starting at Jan 1, 2011 so the growth from the bottom of the recession can be visualized. We started Jan 2011 with an excess of jobs.

Jobs vs Volume 2011-JUN2018 7-6-18.JPG

The plot below shows from Jan 2005 through Dec 2010, volume had dropped 15% more than jobs. So we started the recovery in 2011 with excess jobs compared to 2005.

Jobs vs Volume 2001-2010 8-8-17


When we look into the three major sectors, the numbers show shortages in residential and job excesses in nonresidential building and nonresidential infrastructure.

You can read much more detail on this in several other articles I’ve written. See this link Construction Jobs 3-8-18  for an article that includes all links to previous articles on the Jobs/Workload imbalance, has an explanation of how some residential jobs are counted in nonresidential and shows the volume/jobs plots for residential and nonresidential.

Residential construction jobs currently total 2,817,000. That’s 83% of the peak jobs year, 2006, which averaged 3,405,000 jobs. Volume of residential work, after adjusting spending for inflation, peaked in Q1 2006 at $780 billion. Volume in the 1st five months of 2018 averaged only $540 billion, only 69% of peak volume. Since the peak in 2006, residential jobs are at 83% of peak, but volume is only at 69% of peak. If we look only at growth since the bottom in Q1 2011, residential jobs have not kept up with volume growth. However, jobs have increase far more than volume compared to the previous peak.

Nonresidential building construction jobs currently total 3,388,000. That’s 99.7% of the peak jobs year, 2007, which averaged 3,397,000 jobs. Volume of nonresidential buildings work, after adjusting spending for inflation, peaked around Q42007-Q12008 at $530 billion. Volume in the 1st five months of 2018 averaged only $420 billion, only 79% of peak volume. Since the peak, non residential buildings jobs have returned to previous levels, but volume is only at 79% of peak. Nonresidential buildings jobs, whether we look at just from the 2011 bottom or we compare since the 2007-2008 peak have increased far more than volume.

The following link shows the jobs vs volume plots for residential and nonresidential.

Much more on this topic Construction Jobs


The AGC survey of contractors has been reporting difficulty hiring construction labor every year since 2012. Yet from June 2012 through June 2018 construction has added 1.5 million jobs, the 2nd strongest jobs growth ever recorded. It is 2nd to 1994-1999, the strongest construction expansion on record. We are currently in the 2nd strongest expansion, about equal to 1994-1999, but substantially stronger than 2000-2005.

AGC Aug 2018 survey >Eighty percent of contractors report difficulty finding qualified craft workers in latest AGC workforce survey:

Construction Spending 2016-2017 Revisions 7-1-18

While everyone else is talking about May construction spending versus April, the most important change taking place in the spending report every July 1st is the fact that, every year, with the release of May construction spending data on July 1, Census revises the data for all months going back the previous two years. Rarely have revisions been lower.

Census Construction Spending July 1, 2018 data revisions:

2017 increased by $12bil, +1.0%. Most notable was a +2.5% increase to unusually low April 2017.  2017 revisions were mostly residential, up $7.5bil, +1.5%

2016 also revised up, by $6bil, +0.5%, mostly in Nonresidential Bldgs.

Nonresidential Bldgs were revised up in both 2016 & 2017. Healthcare up by ~4%/yr both years. Power revised down by ~4% both years.

Jan, Feb & Apr 2018 spending were reduced, Mar was revised up. Jan-Apr 2018 total was reduced by $2.6bil, -0.7%. Biggest move was -5% to Nonresidential Bldgs. Commercial -15%, Mnfg -5%, Office -4%, Public Safety -18%, Communication +6%

Primary reason YTD dropped from 7.6% last month to 4.3% this month is because $6bil was added to JFMA 2017. Happens every year with this Revs issue.

More to come.

Spend Summary 2014-2020 May 2018 7-3-18


Starts CF 2015-2018 7-3-18.JPG


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