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Pandemic Impact #5 – Restarting Construction


Construction does not come roaring back in Q3 or Q4 2020. The seasonally adjusted annual rate of total construction spending will not return to the Jan-Feb 2020 level until at least 2023.

Spend TOTAL monthly 2018-2021 4-18-20 recession

I’ve outlined in previous “Impact” articles what we might expect for cash flow and backlog through 2020 and into 2021. After the resumption of work that had been halted, which for various reasons cited will take several months, and which is not all expected to return to a full level of pre-pandemic spending, a pull-back in new construction starts will hold spending nearly flat from Q3 2020 through Q2 2021. During that time nonresidential work will reach a post-pandemic peak but residential work will hit a post-pandemic low. Non-building Infrastructure work is not affected nearly as much and still shows spending growth leading into 2022-2023.

Spend Sector monthly 2018-2021 4-18-20 recession

The U.S. steel industry is in the most severe downturn since 2008, as steelmakers cut back production to match a sharp collapse in demand and shed workers. Capacity Utilization dropped from 82% to 56%. Steel manufacturing output has fallen by a third and industry executives and analysts expect production to drop further. Approximately 40% of all steel is used in the construction industry. Until production ramps back up to normal levels expect shortages or delays in delivery of steel products.

Firms currently engaged in NYC public design work have been directed to immediately halt all services. Why? The city is anticipating a $7.4 billion drop in tax revenue for this fiscal year and next. Tax revenues will be down across the entire economy. Expect other municipalities to reduce plans for future capital investment?

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport officials may have to postpone or scale back the airport’s $3.5 billion capital expansion plan, including construction of a new Terminal F. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) Expect to see more scaling back of long planned expansion projects due to losses in revenue and profits needed to support growth.

U.S. manufacturing output posts largest drop since 1946. Think of all the manufactured products that go into construction of a new home: Doors, windows, roofing, siding, wallboard, lighting, heating, plumbing fixtures, wire, pipe, cabinets, appliances, etc. How many of these will be in short supply leading to delays in completing new or restarted work?

The value of construction projects delayed or canceled has not yet been summarized, but surveys show the number of firms affected by delays and cancellations.

  • 79% were working on (transportation) projects that had been shut down by agencies.
  • 35% of AGC’s respondents indicated that they had received cancellation orders on projects issued by government or statewide agencies.
  • 60% received orders to halt or cancel current projects (or those starting within the upcoming 30 days) on private and publicly owned projects.
  • 11% of projects  in the preconstruction phase were canceled.
  • More than 40% of companies reported furloughing or terminating workers from offices and jobsites.

The Architectural Billings Index ABI survey for March, recorded the largest single monthly decline ever recorded (and that’s just for March). Billings at architecture firms plummeted in March as the ABI fell by 20.1 points to a score of 33.3 for the month (a score over 50 indicates increasing billings, a score below 50 indicates declining billings).The index dropped more in one month that it did in three years in the Great Recession. 36% of firms predict the pandemic will have a serious to devastating impact on their firm, while 66% anticipate that their annual revenue will be considerably lower than it is at present. Firms estimated that their billings would decline by 15% in April.

The ABI is a 9 month leading indicator, but I would suggest it’s usefulness as an indicator will be disrupted for at least the next 9 to 12 months. Certainly the current month and next few months of construction are not accurately indicated by the ABI from 9 months ago and it is unlikely that 9 months from now construction will experience a precipitous drop. Perhaps the ABI gives us an indication of the direction, up or down, that future construction will take, but not the magnitude. 

See also these articles for all the analysis to date on the Impact of the Pandemic.

Pandemic Impact on Construction – Recession in 2020?

Pandemic Impact on Construction – Part 2

Pandemic Impacts – Part 3 – Jobs Lost, Inflationary Cost

Pandemic Impact #4 – Construction Jobs Recovery



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