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2022 Construction Economic Forecast – Jan22

Spending and Volume updated 1-4-22. Jobs updated 1-7-22

The construction data leading into 2022 is unlike anything we have ever seen. Construction starts were up in 2021, but backlog leading into 2022 is down. That is not normal. Backlog is rarely down and usually when starts have been down the previous year. In this case the starts declined in 2020, but that 2020 decline was so broad and so deep, even with an increase in starts in 2021, backlog to start 2022 has not yet recovered (to the start of 2020). Spending for 2021 was up 8%, but after adjusting for inflation, real volume after inflation was down. Last time that happened was 2006 and 2002, the only two other times that happened in the last 35 years. Let’s have a look at all the data that sets up 2022.

New Construction Starts for 2022, as reported by Dodge Data and Analytics, are forecast up +5% total for the year. Residential starts will be up +2%, but that is on top of a +33% gain over the previous two years. Nonresidential Bldgs starts will be up +8%, just recovering to pre-pandemic levels. Nonbuilding starts are forecast up +8%, still -6% below 2019.

Construction Backlog leading into Jan 2022 vs Jan 2021 is up only +1%, but it’s still down 8% vs Jan 2020. Residential backlog is up +21%, but Nonresidential Bldgs backlog is up only +2%, still down -14% from the start of 2020 and Non-Building backlog is down -8% yoy, now -17% below the start of 2020.

Nonresidential Bldgs starting backlog for 2022 is still down -14% from the start of 2020 and Non-Building backlog is now -17% lower than the start of 2020. That could weigh on spending for several years.

(Construction Analytics measures Backlog at the start of the year vs backlog at the start of the previous year. This is different than the ABC Backlog indicator, which measures current month’s backlog compared to previous year’s total revenue).

Backlog at the beginning of the year or new starts within the year does not give an indication of what direction spending will take within the year. Backlog is increasing if new starts during the year is greater than spending during the year. An increase in backlog could immediately increase the level of monthly spending activity, or it could maintain a level rate of market activity, but spread over a longer duration. In this case, there is some of both in the forecast. It takes several years for all the starts in a year to be completed. Cash flow shows the spending over time.

Spending for 2021, with 11 months actual in year-to-date, is forecast up +7.9%. However, that can be misleading. Residential spending for 2021 is up 22% while Nonresidential Bldgs is down -5% and Non-Bldg is down -1%.

In almost every data release this year, Census has revised the previous month upwards. That has been adding to my forecast throughout the year.

Spending includes inflation which does not add to the volume of work.

My current and predicted Inflation rates:

  • 2020 Residential 5%, Nonres Bldgs 4.8%, Nonbldg Infra Avg 4.5%
  • 2021 Residential 14.2%, Nonres Bldgs 6.8%, Nonbldg Infra Avg 7.8%
  • 2022 Residential 7%, Nonres Bldgs 4.5%, Nonbldg Infra Avg 3.7%
  • There is greater chance for rates to move up than down.

After adjusting for inflation, total volume in 2021 is down -2.5%. Residential volume for 2021 is up +7.4% while Nonresidential Bldgs volume is down -11% and Non-Bldg volume is down -8.1%.

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. Since 2010, Construction Spending is up over 100%, but after adjusting for inflation, Volume is up only 28%. Jobs are up 41%.

Jobs average over the year 2021 increased +2.3%. Volume was down -2.5%

Spending Forecast for 2022 is expected to increase +3.0%. Residential spending for 2022 is forecast up +5.7%. Nonresidential Bldgs forecast is up +3.5%. Non-Bldg forecast is down -3.6%.

Some of the biggest impacts to nonresidential buildings spending are: Warehouses, 60% of Comm/Retail, new starts are up 50% since Jan 2020. Comm/Retail could post the largest gains in 2022 nonres bldgs spending. Lodging starts even with 24% growth in 2022, are still down 50% from Jan 2020. Manufacturing starts dropped over 50% in 2020 but gained nearly all of that back in 2021. Manufacturing spending in 2022 should return to the level of 2019.

Many construction firms judge their backlog growth by the remaining estimate to complete of all jobs under contract. The problem with that, for example, is that Nonresidential Buildings spending (revenues) are expected to grow +3.5% in 2022, but after adjusting for inflation the actual volume of work is down about -1%. By this method, in part, these firms are accounting for an increase in inflation dollars passing through their hands. Spending includes inflation, which does not add to the volume of work.

Total volume for 2022 is forecast down -2.5%. After adjusting for inflation, Residential volume for 2022 is forecast down -1%. Nonresidential Bldgs volume is also forecast down -1% and Non-Bldg volume is forecast down -7%.

The Non-Building Infrastructure spending forecast for 2022 is more affected by a drop of -17% in starts in 2020 (2020 starts would have generated 30% of 2022 spending) than by any increase in starts in 2022 (which would generate only 15% of 2022 spending).

Non-building construction starts recorded 18 months (from April 2020 through September 2021) averaging 16% below the Q3’19-Q4’19 average of starts. Non-building Infrastructure Backlog beginning 2022 is down -17% from Jan 2020, the largest two-year drop on record. Non-building Infrastructure Spending has declined in 15 of the last 21 months.

Why is spending still down in Non-building? Here’s a few notes on construction starts that drive spending.

Power starts for the 3yr period 2020-2022, even with 11% growth in 2022, are expected to average 33% lower compared to 2017-2019. Transportation starts for the 3yr period 2020-2022 are expected to average 40% lower compared to 2017-2019. These two make up 50% of the Non-bldg sector and we could see spending remain depressed in both for the next two years.

Highway starts through 2020 are up 15% in 3 years. But spending in 2019 through 2021 has remained constant. This might be an example of adding new starts but it doesn’t show in spending because work is spread out over many years, or this could be indicating no real change in volume but a change in share of total market being captured in the starts.

On average about 20% of new nonresidential buildings 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%).

Nonresidential Buildings construction starts recorded 12 consecutive months (from April 2020 through March 2021) at 20% or more below the Q4’19-Q1’20 average of starts. Nonres Bldgs spending has posted 17 of the last 21 months down and is still down 13% from Feb 2020.

Construction Analytics has been forecasting these drops in Nonresidential spending since August of 2020.

In constant (inflation adjusted) dollars, as of Nov. 2021, Nonres Bldgs spending is 20% below the Feb 2020 peak. The bottom is expected in mid-2022.

Below is the Non-building plot, inflation adjusted. Both these plots show there has been no increase since Feb 2020 in volume of nonresidential or non-building work to support jobs growth, and there is little to no help in 2022.

If new construction starts in 2022 post an add of $100 billion in new starts for infrastructure, only about $20 billion of that would get put-in-place in 2022. The cash flow schedule for that $100 bil of new starts would extend out over 3 or 4 years. Most of that $100 bil would get spent in 2023 and 2024.

Current Final Demand pricing for Nonres Bldgs and Trades is highest on record. Prices support high inflation this year and next. Do not expect inflation to turn to deflation in 2022 or any time in the near future. The only time in 50 years that construction experienced deflation was in the period 2008 to 2011. At that time conditions were 10x worse than now.

1-7-22 Construction Jobs growth

2021 Dec21 vs Dec20 Rsdn+75k, Nonres Bldgs +61k, Nonbldg +24k

but annual averages tell a much different story

AVG21 vs AVG20 Rsdn+153k(+5.3%), Nonres Bldgs +28k(+0.8%), Nonbldg +9k(+0.9%)

Dec vs Dec simply compares jobs at 2 points in time, without the benefit of what occurred in the other 11 months of the year, so does not tell us what took place over the year. The annual average gives a much clearer indication of jobs growth over the year because it accounts for the peaks and dips of all 12 months during the year.

Jobs average over the year 2021 increased +2.3%. After adjusting for inflation, total volume in 2021 is down -2.5%. Residential volume for 2021 is up +7.4% while Nonresidential Bldgs volume is down -11% and Non-Bldg volume is down -8.1%.

If jobs are increasing faster than volume of work, productivity is declining. For example, nonres bdgs volume declined 11%, but nonres bldgs jobs increase 0.8%. That’s a 12% swing in productivity. Since labor is about 35% of the cost of a project, if productivity declines by 12% Then inflation rises by 12% x 35% = 4%. The most recent year drop in volume, while jobs increased, added 4% to nonres bldgs inflation for the year.

If jobs are increasing faster than volume of work (a negative impact) can we tell if it’s production employees or supervisory employees? BLS reports ALL construction jobs (~7.5million) and Production jobs (~5.5million). The difference between these two data sets is supervisory employees.

Looking at the average number of construction jobs in the last 4 years, the average of 2021 jobs vs the average of 2017 jobs, production jobs increased +5%, but supervisory jobs increased +12%.

Looking at 2021 vs 2019, in the past 2 years, production jobs decreased by -1.5%, but supervisory jobs increased +1.7%. During this period spending increased +3.5%, but after adjusting for inflation, volume declined -9%.

In 2011, supervisory jobs was 24% of all construction jobs. Now it is 35%. Growth in supervisory jobs has had a greater negative impact than production jobs on the spread between jobs and volume.

Jobs and Volume of work growth should move in tandem.

If jobs grow faster than volume, productivity is declining. When these plot lines grow wider apart with jobs on top, that is a sign of productivity decline. That’s part of inflation.

And finally, here’s one of the markers I use to check my forecast modeling, my forecasting performance tracking index. The light plot line is forecast predicted from my modeling. The dark plot line is actual construction spending. Even after any separation in the indices, the plots should move at the same slope. Almost without fail, the forecast model, estimated spending from cashflow, predicts the changes in direction of actual spending.

Year End 2021 – Construction Forecast 2022 – Briefs

New Construction Starts, as reported by Dodge Data and Analytics, are up +13% for the total three years 2020+2021(actuals) + 2022(estm). Residential starts will be up +35%. Nonresidential Bldgs starts are at 0%. Nonbuilding starts are down -7%. This includes the forecast that has Nonresidential Bldgs and Non-Bldg starts both up +8% in 2022.

Construction Backlog leading into Jan 2022 vs Jan 2020 will be down -8%. Residential backlog will be up +34%, but Nonresidential Bldgs backlog will be down -14% and Non-Bldg backlog will be down -17%.

(Construction Analytics measures Backlog at the start of the year vs backlog at the start of the previous year. This is compared to ABC Backlog indicator, which measures current backlog compared to previous year’s revenue.)

Backlog at the beginning of the year or new starts within the year does not give an indication of what direction spending will take within the year. Backlog increases if new starts during the year is greater than spending during the year. An increase in backlog could immediately increase the level of monthly spending activity, or it could maintain a level rate of market activity, but spread over a longer duration. In this case, there is some of both in the forecast. It takes several years for all the starts in a year to be completed. Cash flow shows the spending over time.

Spending for 2021, with 10 months actual in year-to-date, is forecast up +7.4%. However, that can be misleading. Residential spending for 2021 is up 22% while Nonresidential Bldgs is down -5% and Non-Bldg is down -1.7%.

Spending includes inflation which does not add to the volume of work.

“This is the beginning of trying to work through supply chain problems…inflation will still get worse before it gets better ” Diane Swonk, Chief Economist Grant Thornton 11-12-21

My current and predicted Inflation rates:

  • 2020 Residential 5%, Nonres Bldgs 4.8%, Nonbldg Infra Avg 4.5%
  • 2021 Residential 14.2%, Nonres Bldgs 6.8%, Nonbldg Infra Avg 7.8%
  • 2022 Residential 7%, Nonres Bldgs 4.5%, Nonbldg Infra Avg 3.7%
  • There is greater chance for rates to move up than down.

After adjusting for inflation, total volume in 2021 is down -3%. Residential volume for 2021 is up +7% while Nonresidential Bldgs volume is down -11% and Non-Bldg volume is down -8%.

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 average over the year 2021 increased +2.3%.

Spending Forecast for 2022 is expected to increase +2.5%. Residential spending for 2022 is forecast up +5%. Nonresidential Bldgs forecast is up +4%. Non-Bldg forecast is down -5%.

One important thing that happens when we find out inflation rose much faster than we would have thought, production hasn’t been as great as we thought.

When volume decreases and jobs increase, productivity is declining.

Many construction firms judge their backlog growth by the remaining estimate to complete of all jobs under contract. The problem with that, for example, is that Nonresidential Buildings spending (revenues) are expected to grow +4% in 2022, but after adjusting for inflation the actual volume of work is down about -1%. By this method, in part these firms are accounting for an increase in inflation dollars passing through their hands. Spending includes inflation, which does not add to the volume of work.

The Non-Building Infrastructure spending forecast for 2022 is more affected by a drop of -17% in starts in 2020 (2020 starts would have generated 30% of 2022 spending) than by any increase in starts in 2022 (which would generate only 15% of 2022 spending).

After adjusting for inflation, Residential volume for 2022 is forecast down -1.5% while Nonresidential Bldgs volume is forecast down -1% and Non-Bldg volume is forecast down -9%. Total volume for 2022 is forecast down -3%.

On average about 20% of new nonresidential buildings 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%).

Nonresidential Buildings construction starts recorded 12 consecutive months (from April 2020 through March 2021) at 20% or more below the Q4’19-Q1’20 average of starts. Now 20 months after the onset of the pandemic, Nonres Bldgs starts have posted 16 down months and are still down 13% from Mar 2020.

In constant (inflation adjusted) dollars, as of Oct. 2021, Nonres Bldgs spending is 20% below the Feb 2020 peak. The bottom is expected in mid-2022.

If new construction starts in 2022 post an add of $100 billion in new starts for infrastructure, only about $20 billion of that would get put-in-place in 2022. The cash flow schedule for that $100 bil of new starts would extend out over 3 or 4 years. Most of that $100 bil would get spent in 2023 and 2024.

Current Final Demand pricing for Nonres Bldgs and Trades is highest on record. Prices support high inflation this year and next. Do not expect inflation to turn to deflation in 2022. The only time in 50 years that construction experienced deflation was in the period 2008 to 2011. At that time conditions were 10x worse than now.

An interesting question came up recently, related to the plot below, that prompted me to look at jobs data a little deeper. The question was, If jobs are increasing faster than volume of work (negative impact) can we tell if it’s production employees or supervisory employees? BLS reports ALL construction jobs (~7.5million) and Production jobs (~5.5million). The difference between these two data sets is supervisory employees.

Looking at the average number of construction jobs in the last 4 years, the average of 2021 jobs vs the average of 2017 jobs, production jobs increased +5%, but supervisory jobs increased +12%.

Looking at 2021 vs 2019, in the past 2 years, production jobs decreased by -1.5%, but supervisory jobs increased +1.7%. During this period spending increased +3.5%, but after adjusting for inflation, volume declined -9%.

In 2011, supervisory jobs was 24% of all construction jobs. Now it is 35%. Growth in supervisory jobs has had a greater negative impact than production jobs on the spread between jobs and volume.

And finally, here’s one of the markers I use to check my forecast modeling, my forecasting performance tracking index. The light plot line is forecast predicted from my modeling. The dark plot line is actual construction spending. Even after any separation in the indices, the plots should move at the same slope. Almost without fail, the forecast model, estimated spending from cashflow, predicts the changes in direction of actual spending.

October Record Increase to Construction Inflation 11-10-21

What’s the Construction Inflation rate?

From Sept to Oct construction materials input price changes were normal, but Final Demand prices for October increased in one month by what could be considered an entire year’s increase. We’ve been watching the price pass thru catch up slowly, until now.

This is the single largest monthly increase in Final Demand pricing since final demand records began in 2006. Prior to this, based on changes in recent months, I expected future cost increases to add on slowly. So I wasn’t expecting the huge jump all at once. This may be some increases that were occurring over a few months that finally got captured in the index.

In October, the Final demand cost for Buildings and Trades averaged +12% year-to-date. In July, August and September it was between 5% and 6%. A change like this in one month has never occurred before. In fact, this one-month change is greater than any annual change on record. So, it resets the baseline for all forecasts.

For Oct, Nonresidential Buildings 2021 inflation is estimated at 6.8% and Residential at 15%. The forecast for 2022 is estimated at 4.5% for nonresidential buildings inflation and 7% for residential. See inflation and PPI data on my blog for more.

It must be noted that huge jump in nonresidential buildings inflation may not yet be picked up in many of the industry indices that we reference. Construction Analytics BCI is now updated to include the 11-10-21 PPI final demand inflation. Some sources update only quarterly, some semi-annually. After this event, I would expect to see a change in most other sources, which may update sometime over the next quarter.

One important thing, when inflation turns out to be higher than you thought, that means productivity is lower than you thought.

See Inflation – PPI data Jun to OCT Updated 11-10-21

Also see 2021 Construction Inflation – updated 11-10-21

Nonresidential Bldgs Forecast 2022 Improves

Lots of construction data came out last week. Sept spending, Oct jobs and Dodge Outlook 2022 for new starts. There have been major revisions to new starts since the June and July starts reports. Since June data, starts increased over what had been forecast for 2021 in Residential +12%, Comm/Rtl +20%, Mnfg +41%, Educ +4%, Rec +38%, Enviro+6%. These increases to 2021 starts improve the spending forecast for 2022. Mnfg, Rec and Enviro starts for 2022 were all reduced slightly.

See Construction Economics in Pictures 11-5-21 for current forecast.

Nonresidential buildings starts increased in 2021 by more than the marked up equivalent of $40 billion in spending (over the life of the projects). About half of that increase in spending would occur in 2022. So this increase in the starts forecast really pushed up the forecast for 2022 spending. All sectors now are forecast higher spending in 2022, but the biggest change is in nonres bldgs. These two plots show nonres bldgs as it was forecast based on June data on Aug. 1, and again as of Sept spending/Outlook22 starts data released Nov. 3. The expectation now is for an upward turn in spending beginning in the 4th quarter 2021. Previous models all had poor 2020/2021 starts reflecting a bottom in nonres bldgs spending just about mid-2022. The spending increase leading into 2022 moves the spending bottom to a point much sooner in 4th quarter 2021.

Nonres bldgs spending prior to release of Dodge Outlook 2022

Nonres bldgs spending forecast as of 11-3-21 includes release of Dodge Outlook 2022

Forecast spending bottom was mid-2022, now is Q4 2021. Although total spending is now forecast to increase 2.5% in 2022, that is still less than inflation, so real construction volume in nonres bldgs is still down slightly for 2022. The forecast bottom for nonres bldgs inflation adjusted constant $ is still mid-2022.

Construction Economics in Pictures 11-5-21

These data reflect Sept’21 construction spending Put-in-Place, Jobs and hours worked thru Oct’21, Dodge Nov’21 New Starts Outlook 2022, Inflation factors thru Q3’21

Construction Jobs Outlook 10-11-21

The most recent BLS jobs report was released Oct 8, 2021. I expected construction jobs to decline. For the last 4 months, volume of work has been flat at 2% below the 1st quarter. My forecast indicated no support for jobs growth, but jobs increased.

11-5-21 update Construction jobs report for October added 44k jobs, but The Story once again is in hours worked. Hours dropped 3.5% this month from 40.1 to 38.7. Even though jobs increased by 44k (+0.7%), actual total workforce hours worked dropped 2.8%. See plot at bottom of report that shows Oct jobs vs volume.

Construction added 22,000 jobs in September. Jobs have increased only 4 out of 9 months this year. Since a large increase of 93,000 in March, construction has gained only 6,000 jobs. For all of 2021, jobs are up by 47,000. But after a brief increase in the 1st quarter 2021, volume of work is down, now down 2% since Q1 2021, only 1% above the lowest point since the onset of the pandemic and 6% below the pre-pandemic level.

In March and April of 2020 we lost 1.1 million jobs. But every month in 2020 after that we gained back jobs, all of that driven by large gains in residential work. There was no recovery in any nonresidential work in 2020. In fact, all nonresidential work continued to decline throughout the year. How much support did we get for jobs growth?

Inflation Does Not Support Jobs

We cannot overlook the affect of inflation. As of 10-14-21, nonres bldgs inflation for 2021 is estimated at 4.6% and residential inflation is estimated at 12.9%. 

Inflation adds to total spending but adds nothing to total work volume. Construction spending minus inflation (Volume) is what supports jobs. Spending is always reported in Current $, the value of the dollar at that time. Spending minus inflation is Constant $. Constant $ = Volume. Most of the increase in residential construction spending in these past two years is INFLATION. Nonresidential spending and volume are both down. There is no meaningful increase in total construction volume to support jobs growth.

Spending versus Volume through August 2021 since February 2020:

Residential spending is up +32%. After adjusting for inflation the real change in volume is up only +14%. Most of the 14% increase in volume occurred in 2020. Since Dec 2020, residential volume is up only 3.5%.

Nonresidential Buildings spending is down -17%. After adjusting for inflation, the real change in volume is down -22% (down 17% in 2020 and 5% ytd in 2021).

Nonbuilding Infrastructure spending is down -12%. After inflation, the real change in volume is down -19% (down 13.5% in 2020 and 5.5% ytd in 2021).

Residential jobs are up only 3%, but volume is up 14%. This is where the greatest need is currently.

Nonres Bldgs jobs are down 6.5%. Volume is down 22%. There is a considerable excess in jobs.

Nonbldg Infra jobs are down 5.5%. Volume is down 19%. There is a considerable excess in jobs.

Total ALL JOBS are down only 2.6%. Total Volume is down 6%. This means productivity is down.

Jobs Imbalances

The need identified in residential, and likewise the excess identified in nonresidential are not as extreme as both seem. There are a large number of jobs classified as nonresidential that actually perform residential work. Any large firm, and all it’s employees, if primary work is on nonresidential buildings, is classified nonresidential for the purpose of the jobs count. Workers are always classified by the primary classification of the firm they work for, not by the type of building they work on. However, the buildings they work on are always classified as to building type. This often occurs in large primarily nonresidential trades such as concrete, structural steel and HVAC, when working on multifamily high-rise buildings. These crossover jobs are not separable from the major classification. Therefore, most often, nonresidential jobs are overstated by workers involved in residential work and residential jobs are understated because some work is performed by firms whose primary classification in nonresidential.

(A separate issue arises from the fact that residential construction employs the largest percentage of immigrant workers, about 40% of the residential workforce, predominantly in southern states. Pew Research provided a study documenting that about 14% of all construction is performed by immigrant workers and about half of all immigrant workers are unauthorized. It is fair to suggest some portion of these residential workers are not being captured in the BLS Jobs survey, contributing to the above noted imbalances in residential jobs versus volume of work. For more information, use the search function in this blog for “Pew Research”).

Hours Worked

In the September BLS report, hours worked per week jumped to 40.0 hours form 38.8 in August. That’s an increase of 3%, an equivalent to adding 225,000 jobs. The recent increase in hours worked could also be equivalent to 40% of the residential workforce working a six-day week versus five days.

Comparisons of hours worked show a little deeper look into the jobs situation. Compared to the average monthly hours worked in the pre-pandemic 12 month period Mar 2019 to Feb 2020, which was a 13-year high: April 2020 was down 16%; Apr-May 2020 average was down 12%; Mar thru Dec 2020 average monthly hours worked was down 5.2%; 2021 year-to-date average monthly hours worked is down only 1.4%.

Now in September 2021 average monthly hours worked is within 0.5% of the peak in Feb 2020, now 1% higher than the 13-year high average in 2019. Keep in mind, current construction volume is still down 6% from Feb 2020.

The increase in total hours worked could have several different explanations: it may be a response to meet current residential demand or to rush to completion jobs that were delayed due to the pandemic; Contractors may add hours if they can’t find enough workers with the needed skills; Contractors may be adopting an approach to meet current work demands by increasing hours rather than adding jobs. Using that last approach would allow contractors to reduce hours, rather than reduce jobs, if future volume of work were to decline. There does not seem to be any increase on the horizon in nonresidential demand. Nonresidential volume has been decreasing 1% to 1.5% per month in 16 of the last 18 months. All sectors are forecast to experience volume declines for the next 6 to 12 months.

11-5-21 update Construction jobs report for October added 44k jobs, but The Story once again is in hours worked. Hours dropped 3.5% this month from 40.1 to 38.7. Even though jobs increased by 44k (+0.7%), actual total workforce hours worked dropped 2.8%. See plot at bottom of report that shows Oct jobs vs volume.

Productivity

Whenever there is insufficient growth in the volume of work to support growth in jobs or total hours worked, productivity is declining. The following plots shows volume of work (spending adjusted for inflation) plotted against jobs adjusted for hours worked. From 2011 through Jan 2018, although there are bumps in the plot, the two moved pretty closely in tandem. A big volume decline in 2018 did not result in a similar jobs decline but volume came back very close to jobs by Jan 2020. Contractors may not respond to an immediate drop in volume by cutting jobs if they anticipate a pickup in volume on the horizon. Since Feb 2020, jobs have recovered to growth, but volume has fallen and is still not in recovery mode. The next 12 to 18 months show volume struggles to recover. Jobs will be affected but contractors may not respond in like fashion.

Spending Forecast / Volume Forecast / Jobs Forecast

For the full spending forecast see Construction Spending Update 10-1-21

Construction spending is on track to increase 5.8% in 2021 over 2020. But after taking out inflation, spending minus inflation, or volume, in 2021 will be down 2.5%. Total spending increases $87 billion over 2020, but after inflation volume will actually be down $32 billion. Residential spending increases $130 billion (+20%), but after 13% inflation residential volume increases only $49 billion. Nonresidential Buildings spending decreases $34 billion but after adjusting for 4.5%+ inflation real nonresidential buildings volume falls $52 billion. Non-building Infrastructure spending decreases only $9 billion but after adjusting for 7%+ inflation real non-building volume falls $30 billion.

All sectors are forecast to decline over the next 6 to 12 months. Residential has already captured large gains this year. Forecast declines are due to moderate ups and downs in when and how strong new starts were posted. Nonresidential construction volume growth is falling due to a huge amount of nonresidential buildings starts (-22%) and to a lesser extent non-building infrastructure starts (-15%) that disappeared from April 2020 through April 2021. The affect of those lost starts, which would have had peak spending from mid-2021 to mid 2022, is such that the volume of work will continue to decline throughout 2021 and well into 2022.

Since Feb 2020, total construction volume has recovered to a point that is down 6%, but jobs have increased back to a level that is down only 2.6%. Jobs are increasing at a rate that is closer to the growth in construction spending, which includes inflation and is substantially greater than the rate of growth of construction volume.

Although jobs should follow growth or declines in volume, as the plot above from 2011 through 2017 shows, things don’t always go as the forecast predicts. If jobs growth follows more closely to volume growth, which it should, this time next year construction could be down another 200,000 jobs.

11-5-21 updated plot below to include Sept spending report and Oct jobs report

11-5-21 update Construction jobs report for October added 44k jobs, but hours worked dropped 3.5% this month from 40.1 to 38.7. Even though jobs increased by 44k (+0.7%), actual total workforce hours worked dropped 2.8%. Plot shows Oct jobs vs Sep volume.

Midyear 2021 Economic Forecast Presentation

Construction Spending 2021 Update 8-2-21

Construction Spending Actual through June 2021

Total Construction Spending is up 5.4% year-to-date (ytd) from the same six month period 2020. Residential is up 24.5%, Nonresidential Buildings is down -10.1% and Nonbuilding Infrastructure is down -5.4%.

The single largest impact to the change in this forecast from last month is Highway and Street. Highway spending in June fell 5%, while my forecast was predicting a gain of +3%. I then lowered my forecast for the rest of this year.

Year-to-date through June, while residential is up 24.5%+, all but one single nonresidential market is down. 15 of 16 nonresidential markets, 98% of combined total nonresidential market value, are down a total of -8%. Only Sewage/Waste Water is up 2.5% ytd. That’s half of the $ in the table item Sewer / Water / Conservation. For the remainder of the year, the rate of nonresidential decline will slow to -4%.

Construction starts are leading the way to recovery, but construction spending, which is dependent mostly on starts from previous years (nonres bldgs 2020 down -20%), will remain depressed for nonresidential construction well into 2022. New nonresidential starts could double from the current rate of growth and it still wouldn’t be enough to turn 2021 nonresidential spending positive.

It is remarkable that both total new construction starts and total construction spending are UP for 2021, but that needs further explanation.

Residential starts increased +9% in 2020 and forecast up +19% in 2021. Residential spending increased +15% in 2020 and is forecast up +18% in 2021 and up +7% in 2022. Both residential starts and spending are at all-time highs. That is what is driving the totals to new highs.

Nonresidential Bldgs starts fell -4% in 2019, -21% in 2020 and are forecast up only +2.5% in 2021. 2021 starts are still -22% below the peak in 2018. Nonresidential Bldgs spending fell only -2% in 2020 but is expected to fall -8% in 2021 and -5% in 2022.

Nonbuilding starts were flat in 2019, fell -15% in 2020 and forecast indicates +4% growth in 2021. Nonbuilding starts are 11% lower than 2019. Nonbuilding spending gained only +1% in 2020, but forecast fell -3% in 2021 and is expected to drop -5% in 2022.

The Total Construction Spending plot doesn’t show enough detail. As described above, more detail is needed to understand what is going on. The sector plot below shows residential up and nonresidential down..

Recovery in both nonresidential buildings and nonbuilding backlog begins to build in a few markets in 2021. But overall, spending in nonresidential buildings and nonbuilding is exceeding new starts, therefore both will begin 2022 with lower backlog than 2021. Total all nonresidential 2021 starting backlog dropped -13% from 2020. Starting backlog at beginning of 2022 will be down another -8%. Backlog increases for 2023.

Aside from residential, recovery to the levels of revenue (spending) recorded in Q1 2020 or earlier won’t show up before 2024.

The following table shows ytd through June $ and forecast for 2021/2022. Almost every nonresidential market is down ytd and down compared to the average in Q1 2020 before Pandemic Recession.

Impact of Pandemic Slowdown

The impact of reduced starts in 2020 is showing up in the 2021 year-to-date results. Total Nonresidential Buildings starts were down -20% in 2020. Nonres Bldgs starts for the 1st 6 months of 2021 are level with 2020, still down -8% from the pre-pandemic high in Q1 2020. There is some good news! Nonres Bldgs starts in Q2 2021 are now back above the pre-pandemic high, indicating recovery underway. Nonbuilding Infrastructure starts were down -10% in 2020, but returned to pre-pandemic high several months ago.

Due to the large drop in new starts from Apr 2020, that continued at a level down -20% to March 2021, some nonresidential markets will be affected by a downward trend in spending for two to three years.

The greatest downward impact from a -20%, year-long loss of starts on nonresidential spending will be felt throughout 2021 and into 2022.

Over the next 9 months, every sector will post more down months (in spending) than up months, although the declines will be most noticeable in nonresidential buildings.

Overall performance by sector has changed very little since May.

While most markets recover to positive new starts growth in 2021, spending growth lags, showing the downward trend in 2021 as a result of lost starts in 2020.

This next plot changes the scale of the spending plot so the nonresidential buildings data can be visualized much easier. This is the exact same data as in the Construction Spending by Sector plot above. The scale change helps immensely to visualize the decline in nonresidential buildings spending. By midyear 2022, the annual rate of spending will be -20% lower than the pre-pandemic peak. It could take two to three years after that to recover to the pre-pandemic level of spending.

A typical batch of new construction starts within a year gets spent over a cash flow schedule similar to 20/50/30, that is, 20% of all starts in the year gets spent in the year started (or over the 1st 12 months), 50% in the next year ( next 12 mo) and 30% in years following. Total nonresidential buildings starts in 2020 were down -20% ($90 bil in spending) and nonbuilding was down -10% ($35bil). Under normal conditions, we know how much of that $125 bil would have occurred in 2020, 2021 and 2022. That’s a loss of spending this year, and that loss remains a steeply downward slope as long as starts remain depressed. Nonresidential buildings starts, depressed for 13 months, posted strong starts indicating recovery beginning in April this year.

If INFRASTRUCTURE BILL starts don’t begin until the 2nd half of 2021, only 30% (of the 1st year cash flow 20/50/30 that is based on 12mo) gets spent in the 1st year. Therefore, even if $100 billion in new infrastructure starts begin in the 2nd half 2021, only 30% x 20% or only about 6% would get spent in 2021. That’s $6 billion, or less than 1% of annual construction spending. So, there will be very little, if any, impact on 2021 construction spending as a result.

Total Public Infrastructure and Public Institutional, the total public work pool for which infrastructure investment is a potential, represents a total LESS THAN $350 BILLION, only 25% of all construction.

All the forecast spending in the data above is developed from monthly cash flow of new starts. This plot shows what the history looks like when comparing the cash flow forecast to the actual spending growth. Although actual spending is somewhat more uneven, the forecast accurately predicts the direction spending is headed.

JOBS DATA updated 8-6-21

Construction Jobs for July are expected to increase. Jobs are now down 3 consecutive months. Comparing jobs year-over-year in residential is strongly skewed by the rapid declines then rapid growth in 2020. That did not occur in nonresidential. July posted an increase of 11,000 jobs. Year-to-date thru July construction is up by 21,000 jobs. Jobs are down -227K (-3.0%) from Feb 2020 peak. Hours worked are down less than -1%, equivalent to about 50,000 jobs. Expect this downward trend to accelerate into year end.

Construction spending minus inflation (Volume) supports jobs. Most of the increase in residential construction spending this year is INFLATION. Nonresidential spending and volume are both down. There is no meaningful increase in total construction volume to support jobs growth.

Don’t ignore inflation. While residential spending is forecast UP 19% in 2021, 11% of that is inflation. Real volume is up only +8%. Nonres Bldgs volume after inflation is forecast down -12%, Nonbuilding volume down -7%.

If you are still measuring your business growth by change in revenue, you’re including inflation as part of your growth. Inflation is simply more paper dollars exchanging hands, not growth.

Total construction jobs through July measured from peak pre-pandemic (Feb 2020) are down 3%. Volume growth (spending minus inflation) from Feb 2020 to July 2021 is down 6%. Since the onset of the pandemic, we now have 3% more jobs than we have volume of work to support those jobs. The result is a 3% loss in productivity.

Residential change in revenue from Feb 2020 to July 2021 is up +28%. But the real change in volume after inflation is up only +13%. Residential jobs are up only 3%. This is where the greatest need is currently.

Nonresidential Buildings change in revenue from Feb 2020 to July 2021 is down -15%. After inflation, the real change in volume is down -19%. Nonres Bldgs jobs are down only -7%. This is considerable excess jobs to support the current work.

Nonbuilding Infrastructure change in revenue from Feb 2020 to July 2021 is down -10%. After inflation, the real change in volume is down -17%. Nonres Bldgs jobs are down only -6%. This is considerable excess jobs to support the current work.

The need identified in residential, and likewise the excess identified in nonresidential are not as extreme as both seem. There are a large number of jobs classified as nonresidential that actually perform residential work. Any large firm, and all it’s employees, regardless of the job they perform, if they primarily work on nonresidential buildings, is classified nonresidential for the purpose of the jobs count. However, the buildings they work on are always classified as to building type. This often occurs in several large primarily nonresidential trades such as concrete, structural steel and HVAC, when working on multifamily high-rise buildings. These crossover jobs are not separable from the major classification.

In constant $ (spending adjusted for inflation), even though residential constant $ volume is up 13% from Q1 2020, current total $ volume of all types of work, residential and nonresidential, is 6% lower than the peak average in Q1 2020. Total all $ volume will fall another 5% by year end 2021.

Construction spending is on track to increase 4.7% in 2021 over 2020. But after taking out inflation, spending minus inflation in 2021 will be DOWN 2%. Residential spending increases $115 billion (+18%), but after 11% inflation residential volume increases only $50 billion. All nonresidential spending decreases $49 billion but after adjusting for 4%+ inflation real nonresidential volume is down $86 billion. Total construction volume (spending minus inflation) is expected to decline 5% from May to Dec. Construction Jobs are expected to follow suit.

Construction volume growth is falling due to huge volume of nonresidential starts (-22%) that disappeared in 2020. The affect of those lost starts, which would have had peak spending in mid-2021, is such that the volume of work is declining throughout 2021.

Of concern is that since Feb 2020, total construction volume has recovered to a point that is down 7%, but jobs have increased back to a level that is down only 3%. Jobs are increasing at a rate that is closer to the growth in construction spending, which is substantially greater than the rate of growth of construction volume.

Jobs are increasing faster than the volume of work (which supports jobs). What are the implications of this to the construction industry? The industry as a whole now expends 4% more labor (jobs) to put-in-place every $1 billion worth of work than it did in Feb 2020. That impacts job total labor cost. That is lost productivity and impacts inflation.

Although residential jobs are currently increasing, nonresidential jobs will continue to fall, dropping another 4% over the next 12 months. If jobs growth follows more closely to volume growth, which it should, this time next year construction could be down another 200,000 jobs.

2021 Midyear Forecasts

Here’s how the current year-to-date spending performance, as of June data, compares to various firms’ Midyear Forecasts. The ytd provides insight into expected final 2021 performance. For example, the year-to-date Educational spending is -10.8% with 6 months of spending recorded. One firm has forecast educational will finish up 3.5% for the year. With only 6 months remaining (estimate to complete or etc), here’s how the remaining 6 months would need to perform for that to happen.

[(forecast% x 12) – (YTD% x 6)] /6mo etc = [(+3.5% x 12) – (-10.5% x 6)] /6 = [(+42) – (-64)] /6 = 106/6 = +17.6%.

For the next six months Educational spending would need to average +17.6% growth over last year to swing from currently down -10.8% to end the year up +3.5%. Well, Educational spending is down 16% from the 2020 high, has fallen 9 of the last 13 months and is down an average of -1.5%/mo for the last 5 months. With this performance over the past year, the probability is exceedingly low that Educational construction spending is going to flip from a negative monthly rate of spending to an avg of +17%/mo for the next six months to finish the year up +3.5%. There are numerous examples like this in the forecasts.

AIA Midyear Consensus 2021

7-16-21

The AIA Midyear Consensus solicits the nonresidential buildings construction spending forecast from a number of firms and publishes those results and the Consensus average. The table posted here includes all the AIA forecasts and Construction Analytics 7-2-21 forecast.

https://www.aia.org/articles/6416440-outlook-has-improved-for-construction-spen

Also included in this table is the year-to-date (ytd) actual spending through May. With 5 months of actual data, that ytd result should sway any forecast for any market estimate of year end result. A review of several years of history over all markets shows there are very few instances in the historical data where year end performance swings by more than 10% from ytd at month 4 or 5. Normal variances for about 80% of instances are in the range of 3% to 5%. So with few exceptions, at 5 months into the year, we could estimate year end will be within +/-5% of year-to-date. And yet, there are many instances in these forecasts that are outside that expected range.

The question is, can we determine, how accurate are these forecasts? Some rudimentary checks and balances, and some simple proportional math, provide the answer.

If you forecast a construction spending mrkt to finish 2021 at -30%, but the ytd after 5 months is -5%, the next 7 months would need to average near -50% to get to -30%. With the change in the yoy rate less than -3%/mo, it can’t happen.

If you forecast a construction spending market to finish 2021 at +3.5%, but the ytd after 5 months is -11%, the next 7 months would need to average +14% above Jun-Dec 2020 to get there. That’s a 25%/mo swing from the current rate that would need to hold steady for 7 months.

Likewise, If you forecast a construction spending market to finish 2021 at +11%, but the cum ytd after 5 months is -3%, the next 7 months would need to average +21% above Jun-Dec 2020 to get there. That’s a 24%/mo swing from the current rate for 7 months. Swings like that just don’t happen.

Another market with a glaring example, this time in almost every forecast. Lodging forecasts in the AIA Consensus range from -14% to -20%, with one wild estimate at -43%. Construction Analytics forecast for Lodging is -26%. The year-to-date is -27%. Well, from April to December 2020, spending fell at a rate of 4%/month. In the 1st 5 months of 2021, spending has been down slightly, still hovering near the December low. There are no indications that spending is poised for a rebound. In fact the forecast calls for spending to continue falling through 2021. The current monthly rate of spending averages -25%/mo from 2020. In order to hit any of the forecasts between -14% and -17%, the current rate of spending would need to flip by 15 to 20 percentage points for all of the remaining 7 months of 2021. Spending would need to increase at a rate of 2.5% per month for the next 7 months. This is a good time to remind everyone that Lodging construction starts last year dropped 45%, so the trend is down, not up. Current indications are that spending will decline 9 out of the next 12 months.

The forecasts in this Consensus report have numerous examples like those above. Nonresidential Bldgs actual ytd for the 1st 5 months is -10.5%. Consensus forecast for 2021 is -3.9%. The next 7 months each would need to avg +1% over 2020 to get there. The monthly rate of spending is currently -6% to -10% below 2020 and has fallen 13 of the last 15 months. That’s not going to flip to +1% immediately and stay at that level for 7 months.

The argument cannot be used that monthly data should not be compared to 2020 because of the rapid decline due to shutdowns skewing all the data. That did not occur in nonresidential buildings. Nonres bldgs spending declined 5% in April, but then it averaged a steady -1.5%/mo decline for the remainder of 2020. As of May 2021, spending is right where it was in December, still 16% lower than March 2020. There are no huge down months in 2020 to which 2021 spending would be compared resulting in a large increase to year-to-date percent.

At midyear, the ytd values give some indication of how the year will end. There are a few examples in historical data in which a market did swing by 10% or more from midyear to year-end, but there is less than 10% chance of a market varying by more than 10% and more than an 80% chance markets vary by only 3% to 5%. Rarely does -2% become +8% or +7% become -3%.

11-1-21 updated table added Here’s the same Midyear forecasts with year-to-date updated to September spending. Only the year-to-date has been updated in this table. All forecasts are as reported in July.

6 out of 8 construction spending forecasts for nonresidential buildings reported in the AIA Midyear Outlook Jul’21 could now only be realized IF construction spending YOY for the next 5 months turns positive, in some cases it would need to grow to +10% to +12% YOY for the next 5mo. Currently, YOY is -7%. Construction spending YOY has been near -8% to -7% for last 4 months. The next 5 months is forecast to improve, but improves only to -4%, does not turn positive. There are no indications in the forecast that total nonres bldgs YOY spending will turn positive this year.

Compare Current Construction Forecasts

Compare Construction Analytics current construction spending forecast to the most recent forecasts by FMI and ConstructConnect.

Construction Analytics (CA) and ConstructConnect (CCon) forecasts include year-to-date spending. FMI report is titled 2021 2nd quarter edition, but also states based on 4th quarter 2020 actuals.

Both FMI and CCon forecasts have not yet been updated to include 2019 and 2020 revisions released on 7-1-21.

Construction Analytics forecast includes 2019 and 2020 revisions and includes May ytd spending.

Spending Total Put-in-place Forecasts for 2021 range from $1,422 billion (FMI) to $1,574 billion (CCon). Construction Analytics (CA) forecast is $1,526 billion. This is quite a wide spread. Here’s a few of the major differences:

Residential CA = $741 bil, FMI = $627 bil, CCon = $728 bil

Educational CA = $99 bil, FMI = $103 bil, CCon = $108 bil

Healthcare CA = $48 bil, FMI = $49 bil, CCon = $53 bil

Power CA = $110 bil, FMI = $120 bil, CCon = $137 bil

Transportation CA = $56 bil, FMI = $54 bil, CCon = $65 bil

https://edzarenski.com/2021/07/01/construction-spending-2021-thru-may/

https://www.fminet.com/news/2021/04/09/fmi-releases-second-quarter-issue-of-2021-north-america-engineering-and-construction-outlook/

https://www.constructconnect.com/blog/quarterly-u.s.-put-in-place-forecast-report-summer-2021

The FMI forecast for residential appears to not yet have been updated to reflect record spending from October through May. I’d expect that will soon be updated. Residential spending year-to-date (ytd) is up 23% and has averaged a seasonally adjusted $740bil for the past 7 months. For the remainder of the year it’s expected to decline about 0.5%/month, but residential spending will still finish 2021 well over $700 billion.

For Power to end up at CCon = $137bil in 2021, considering the ytd through May is already -7%, the remaining 7 months of the year would need to average up 30%. Markets don’t jump that much higher and maintain that level for the next 7 months.

The spread of Spending Put-in-place Forecasts for 2022 ranges over an even wider difference, from $1,355 billion (FMI) to $1,703 billion (CCon). Construction Analytics (CA) forecast for 2022 is $1,533 billion. This is an exceptionally wide spread with some obvious areas of attention.

2022 Residential CA = $779 bil, FMI = $567 bil, CCon = $781 bil

2022 Nonresidential Buildings CA = $421 bil, FMI = $432 bil, CCon = $474 bil

2022 Nonbuilding CA = $333 bil, FMI = $356 bil, CCon = $448 bil

note: Transportation and Communication carried in nonbuilding for like comparison.

At this time of year some firms will present midyear forecasts. My latest report is May ytd data released July 1. With the August 2nd and 6th spending and jobs releases for June we have half a year of data, I’ll base a midyear report on that. I don’t expect any big change since the May data. Not all midyear forecasts will have the same ytd data, so could vary in that respect. So, watch for the midyear forecasts!

Here’ is a link to the results of 8 firms forecasts at Midyear 2020 compared to actual revised final 2020 spending. Also here is the same firms 1st forecast for 2021 compared to actual year-to-date 2021

Measuring Forecasting Methodology & Accuracy

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