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2020 Construction Forecast Briefs

2020 Construction Forecast Briefs

12-23-19 updated 1-4-20

updated 1-4-20 – The construction spending forecast for 2019 is revised up to $1,304 billion, still a decrease of 0.2% vs 2018. Almost all of the revision up is residential spending that was added in Oct and Sept Census spending revisions released 1-3-20.

The forecast for 2020 construction spending is $1,360 billion, up 4.5% over 2019.

Total Spending increased 9%/yr. from 2012 to 2016, then in 2017 and 2018 slowed to 4%/yr. Spending declined <1% in 2019 and is forecast up 3% to 4% for both 2020 and 2021. 

New construction starts, as reported by Dodge Data and Analytics, increased 7%/year in 2016 and 2017, but only 3% in 2018. Starts are forecast to decline slightly in 2019 and 2020.

New construction starts data captures a share of the total market or a portion of all construction spending, on average about 60% of all construction. In this analysis every market is adjusted by its own individual market share factor.

Applying the market share factors, starts are forecast up slightly in both 2019 and 2020.

Backlog reaches a post-recession high starting 2020, up 20% from 2017, up 100% from 2013. Starts and backlog growth are forecast to remain below 3%/year gain or decline over the next few years. Total spending has only slight gains in 2021 and 2022.

Backlog at the beginning of the year or new starts within the year does not give an indication of what spending will be like within the year. Backlog increases if new starts during the year is greater than spending during the year. An increase in backlog could be a level rate of market activity for a longer duration. It takes several years for all the starts in a year to be completed. Cash flow shows the spending over time. 

The best indicator of future construction activity is the sum of the projected cash flow generated by all the construction starts that have been recorded.

plots updated 1-4-20

Spending cash flow predicted from Dodge Starts and construction spending to date.

Starts CF 2015-2022 1-18-20

A what if scenario in which new construction starts drop by 10%:

On average about 20% of new nonresidential construction starts gets spent within the year started, 50% is spent in the next year and 30% is spent in future years. (For residential the spending curve is more like 70%-30%). If new starts drop by 10% this year, that has only a -2% impact on total nonresidential buildings spending for this year. It would be -5% next year, -3% after. If starts drop a second year, the same impacts occur, shifted one year out, and the total impact for both years is added.

Only about 30% of residential spending within the year comes from backlog and 70% from new starts. If residential new starts drop 10% that impacts total residential spending by 7% in that year.

Nonresidential Buildings starts (excluding Terminals) have reached a new high every year since 2009, but the last three years starts are up only 2% to 3%/year. Every market posted increases in 2017 and 2018. Only Commercial/Retail and Amusement/Recreation declined in 2019. Backlog for Office Buildings, which includes data centers, is up 100%+ since 2015. Spending is still up 4% in 2020 but then with the slowdown in starts forecast in 2020, backlog growth stalls and spending slows in 2021-2022.

Nonresidential buildings markets advancing in 2020-2021 are Educational, Healthcare, Office and Manufacturing. Markets declining are Amusement/Recreation, Commercial/Retail and Lodging.

Non-building Infrastructure starts (including Terminals), up 4% in 2019, are at an all-time high. The two markets with the largest share of new starts are Highway/Bridge and Transportation. Transportation terminals and rail starts are up 30% in the last three years, but backlog has nearly doubled because a large portion of those starts is very long duration projects. Starts are forecast up only 1% in 2020 but backlog peaks in 2021. Spending increases are in the 6% to 8% range at least for the next two years.

Spending in recent years has been boosted by Transportation terminals, Highway and Public Works projects. Power is flat or down slightly.

Residential starts averaged 19%/year growth from 2012 to 2016 but slowed to 5%/year for 2017 and 2018. Starts declined in 2019 and are forecast to decline again in 2020.

The outlook for residential construction spending has improved slightly. Previous forecast had residential spending in 2019 down 6% and 2020 up only 2%. That’s been revised to now forecast 2019 down 4.5% and 2020 up 5%. Spending holds steady in 2021.

If spending is increasing 3%/year at a time when inflation is 5%/year, then real volume is declining. In the last two years, spending increased only 3%, but construction inflation totaled 9%, therefore

in two years, real volume declined by 6%, yet jobs increased by 7.5%.

Since early 2018, jobs have been increasing while construction volume is declining. The volume of work in the last two years does not support jobs growth.

Volume, spending adjusted for inflation in Constant 2017$

Spend Sector 2015-2021 1-4-20.JPG

Nonresidential Buildings will post declines in volume in 2020 & 2021. Residential volume gains 1% in 2020 but slips again in 2021. Non-building Infrastructure will increase volume about 3%/year. Overall, total construction volume declined in 4 of the last 6 quarters and is forecast to drop slightly in 2 or 3 quarters in 2020.

One of the best predictors of construction inflation is the level of activity in an area. When the activity level is low, contractors are all competing for a smaller amount of work and therefore they may reduce margins in bids. When activity is high, there is a greater opportunity to bid on more work and bids can be higher. The level of activity has a direct impact on inflation.

Volume declines should lead to lower inflation as firms compete for fewer new projects. However, if jobs growth continues while volume declines, then productivity continues to decline and that will add to labor cost inflation.

Jobs vs Volume growth set to base year 2011

Jobs vs Volume 2015-2020 monthly 1-10-20

Average long-term nonresidential buildings inflation excluding recession years is 4.2%.

Average long-term (30 years) nonresidential construction cost inflation is 3.5% even with any/all recession years included.

Nonresidential buildings cost inflation for 2018 and 2019 averaged 5%. It’s predicted closer to 4.5% for 2020 and 4% for 2021.

Residential buildings cost inflation for 2018 and 2019 averaged 4%. It’s predicted at 3.75% for 2020 and 2021.

BCI 2005-2022 12-9-19


For more on the 2020 Forecast see these

2020 Construction Spending Increases, but Volume is Down

Expect Construction Jobs Growth to Slow in 2020

2020 Construction Spending Increases, but Volume is Down

12-10-19 updated 1-4-20

2020 Construction Forecast

Construction Spending for 2019 finishes flat for Nonresidential Buildings, Up 7% for Non-building Infrastructure and Down 5% for Residential.

Spending UNadjusted for inflation.

Spend Sector 2015-2021 1-5-20

After adjusting for inflation, we see that real construction volume is down. Only Non-building Infrastructure realizes gains in 2019 & 2020. Nonresidential Buildings Volume has been up and down since Q1 2017. Residential volume has been declining since early 2018.

Volume, spending adjusted for inflation in Constant 2017$

Spend Sector 2015-2021 1-4-20

I’m predicting Nonresidential Buildings will post declines in volume in 2020 & 2021. Residential gains 1% in 2020 but slips again in 2021. Non-building Infrastructure will increase at about 3%/year. Overall, total construction volume declined in 4 of the last 6 quarters and is forecast to drop slightly in 2 or 3 quarters in 2020.

Volume declines drive labor to slower growth. We had 6 years of 250,000-300,000 annual growth. Jobs will increase only 150,000 in 2019. In 2020, it could be lower to 100,000.

After 2006, and all the way to 2017, jobs and volume growth were pretty equal. Since 2017 there is a divergence forming. That can’t be sustained. 

Jobs vs Volume growth set to base 2006

Jobs vs Volume 1991-2020 2006 deficit reset 11-19-19

See the Jobs analysis here Expect Construction Jobs Growth to Slow in 2020

The plot below shows the predicted spending from modeling Dodge data new construction starts. Overlaying this plot is the actual census spending. You can see the actual value follows pretty closely to the predicted. None of this data is adjusted for inflation.

Spending predicted from Dodge Starts and actual spending to date.

Starts CF 2015-2022 1-18-20

Healthcare and Office are strong markets in 2020, as well as Highway, Transportation and Public Works. Backlog is strongest for Non-building Infrastructure leading into 2021. In the three years since 2017, backlog in Transportation is up 80%, Environmental Public Works up 40%. Within nonresidential buildings, Office backlog is up 60%, Educational is up 15% and Healthcare up 25%. Commercial Retail is the only market with a decline in backlog over this  three year period, down 15%.

Table of Spending by Market Type. updated 1-4-20

Spend Forecast 2018-2022 1-4-20

A reminder, You can’t interpret new construction starts directly to backlog or spending. Starts growth is one thing, but starts data requires cash flow modeling to get spending. Why are Transportation starts for 2018+2019 down 35% but both 2019 and 2020 spending are up? Because in 2017, the year before the data in this table, starts were up 75% and much of that was very long duration work, some that potentially has peak spending 3 to 4 years out, so is still adding a boost to 2020 spending and backlog.

Starts Backlog Spending 11-19-19 VG HW slide


For more on the 2020 Forecast see these:

2020 Construction Forecast Briefs

Expect Construction Jobs Growth to Slow in 2020





Expect Construction Jobs Growth to Slow in 2020


The construction spending forecast for 2020 indicates 2% growth. But predicted 2020 construction inflation is slightly higher than 4%. So, real construction volume in 2020 decreases by 2%. Jobs should follow volume growth, yet history shows that in non-recessionary periods, even with volume declining, jobs usually continue to increase, but perhaps at a slower rate. 

This plot shows the forecast volume decline in 2020. For the 2020 forecast we already have 80% of all nonresidential spending in backlog. Since new starts account for only 20% of the spending in the year, a 10% drop in new starts from forecast affects only 20% of the spending, so has only a 2% impact on the total. Nonresidential shows flat to moderate gains in 2020.

Residential forecast will be much more dependent on new starts in 2020. About 70% of residential spending within the year comes from new starts within the year, so quick or large changes in new starts has a huge effect on spending for the year. Residential spending is down 10% from early 2018 but residential volume after accounting for inflation is down 15% since that early 2018 peak.

Simply stated, there has not been any volume growth in the last two years to support jobs growth. In constant $, there was no volume growth in any sector in 2018. In 2019 and 2020, only Non-building Infrastructure shows growth, 2%-3%/yr.

This plot shows predicted 2020 jobs growth of 1.5% or just over 100,000 jobs. Since volume is forecast to decline, any jobs growth in 2020 will increase the disparity between jobs and volume growth. The disparity has been increasing since early 2018. It’s a 15% difference right now. Within a year that could be 20%.

Jobs vs Volume 2015-2021 1-4-20

To emphasize the growing difference, look at these two plots, actually, the same plot just modified to account for the 15% bust in 2006.

Jobs vs Volume 1991-2020 2006 deficit 11-19-19

By accounting for the 15% difference in 2006, essentially, resetting the baseline to 2006, it shows all other years up to 2017 were pretty well-balanced growth. With the exception of 2006 and now 2018-2019, for almost every year from 1997 to 2019 jobs grew pretty closely aligned with volume. A big spread occurred in 2006, then growth remained balanced through 2017. The spread now is near the same as it was in 2006.

Jobs vs Volume 1991-2020 2006 deficit reset 11-19-19


Construction jobs growth slowed substantially the last two quarters. I  predicted jobs growth would slow because volume growth had already been declining since early 2018 when volume reached a peak of $1,300 billion. Volume is now $1,170 billion, down 10% in 20 months.  After 6 years of jobs increasing at an average 275,000/year, jobs are up only about +150,000 in the last year, but only +48,000 in the last 7 months. The rate of jobs growth is now the slowest in 7 years. I expect this trend to continue.

The plot of jobs growth below shows current growth rate is below an annual rate of 150,000 jobs/year and it is expected to remain there through 2020, potentially dipping as low as 100,000.

Jobs trailing 12mo growth 2013-2020 12-6-19.JPG

I’d be surprised if jobs start to decline, but that certainly could be envisioned and it would help explain away some of the disparity in growth shown on the Jobs/Volume plot up above.

see also Construction Jobs and JOLTS

Advancing Construction Presentation 12-3-19

This short construction economics slide deck was presented at Hanson Wade’s Advancing Construction – Enterprise Risk Management Dec 2019 Miami, FL

Construction Economic Forecast pdf-notes-edz-presentation 12-3-19

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