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Measuring Forecasting Methodology & Accuracy

1-30-21 How can we tell if the adjusted starts forecasting method produces reliable results?

This plot of predicted spending from the starts cash flow model compared to actual spending is a check on this analytical modeling method. It shows a comparison of the cash flows predicted from all construction starts vs actual spending. If the forecast plot is accurate, then actual spending should move in the same direction, at the same slope. While we sometimes see lag in the plots movement, over time, the cash flow model of new starts does a good job of predicting where spending is headed.

In this first plot, prepared back in Nov, based on October data, note the divergence of residential in Jun-Jul-Aug 2020. Actual residential spending finished much higher than predicted. In 3 months, the actual spending pushed 15% higher than starts predicted. Tracking actual spending vs predicted, several of these months varied by more than 4 standard deviations, an unusual occurrence that has occurred less than 2% of the time in past 240 months. All of the other instances occurred during the Great Recession. This variance was suspected to indicate initially adjusting starts data to forecast too great an amount delayed or canceled or too slow a return of delayed projects to full workload.

The nonresidential buildings plots (and the residential plot prior to 2020) are remarkably close, providing an indication the method of analysis employed, cash flow of all construction starts to get spending forecast, is reasonably accurate.

Settings in the pandemic forecast model resulted in the residential divergence. First, projects delayed were predicted to take six to eight months to come fully back up to production. But residential project spending was fully back to prior levels by August, within 3 months from the May bottom. About 60% of the return to prior spending was supported by growth in residential renovations. The rapid growth in spending is represented by the steep recovery in the spending curve between May and August. Second, a small portion of jobs delayed were predicted to be canceled permanently. Based on the spending data, this likely did not occur at all, or the impact was very small. Finally, Dodge at that time was forecasting that residential new starts in 2020 would finish the year down slightly. With December starts data now in, residential starts for 2020 finished up 4%. In fact, over the final 5 months of 2020, new residential construction starts posted 4 of the 5 highest monthly totals since 2004-2006. Residential new starts finished 2020 at a 15-year high, with almost 50% of new activity for the year posting in the final 5 months, which will put a lot of that spending into 2021.

The updated chart below incorporates these changes to residential (only residential has been modified): no delayed projects canceled; all delayed spending restarted by August; new construction starts beginning in August, for the final 5 months of 2020, fastest growth in 15 years. This shows the latest starts data as adding to the recovery forecast between May and December and moving the future forecast residential spending line up on the index.

The table below shows the 2020 forecasts published at midyear by numerous analysts, the first opportunity to incorporate impacts from the pandemic recession. This table compares Construction Analytics Midyear July 2020 forecast to eight firms that reported nonresidential forecasts in the AIA Midyear July Outlook. Two of those firms, FMI and ConstructConnect, also published full forecast reports at midyear. The Actual totals for 2020 based on data through December, are shown in the first column. There will be very little change to Actual 2020 data when revisions are issued 7-1-21. Forecasts, all compared to Actual 2020, are marked best, 2nd best, worst. Where there’s limited comparison (Total, Residential and Non-building), only the closest is marked.

Construction Analytics midyear 2020 forecast garnered more bests than any other firm when comparing Midyear estimates to actual totals for the year. No one got residential correct, some reasons cited above. I think it’s fair to say, Construction Analytics Midyear 2020 forecast was closest to 2020 Total Actual overall. Though, I do remember some other times with red in my column.

This next table shows the current forecast for full year 2021 forecast published as of January 2021. Of the eight nonresidential markets in the AIA Outlook report, the spread between hi and low forecast is 14%-17% for 4 markets, but 24%-25% for 3 markets and a spread of 45% for lodging. Spreads that wide are indicating some forecasts are all over the place. This will get compared next January when we know the Actual amounts for 2021. Watch closely nonresidential buildings.

Also, in July, along comes the Midyear Outlook, when usually forecasts improve a bit. That also will get compared next January.

2021 Construction Inflation

1-25-21 What impacts should we expect on Construction Inflation in 2021?

In April 2020, and again in June 2020, I recommended adding a minimum 1% to normal long-term construction inflation (nonres longterm inflation = 3.75%), to use 4% to 5% for 2020 nonresidential buildings construction inflation. Some analysts were suggesting we would experience deflation. Deflation is not likely. Only twice in 50 years have we experienced construction cost deflation, 2009 and 2010. That was at a time when business volume was down 33% and jobs were down 30%. In 2020, volume dropped 8% from Feb to May and we’ve gained half that back by Dec. Jobs dropped 14%, 1,000,000+ jobs, in two months! Now volume is still down 4% and jobs are down 2% from Feb peak. We’ve gained back 850,000 jobs. But also, we’ve gained back more jobs then volume. That’s inflation.

Volume drops another 5% in 2021, all nonresidential, and then another 3% in 2022. Jobs could drop overall 8%-10% for all of 2021-2022, 500,000 to 700,000 jobs.

Even though material input costs are up for 2020, nonresidential inflation in 2020 remained low, probably influenced by a reduction in margins due to the decline in new construction starts (-24%), which is a decline in new work to bid on.

Volume = spending minus inflation.

Residential business volume dropped 12% from the January 2020 peak to the May bottom, but has since recovered 22% and now stands at a post Great Recession high, 10% above one year ago. Although residential spending remains near this high level for the next year, volume after inflation begins to drop by midyear. For the year 2020, Residential Building Materials Inputs are up 6.2%. See PPI charts. Sharply higher lumber prices have added more than $17,000 to the price of an average new single-family home since mid-April. Residential inflation averaged 5.1% for 2020. However, a decline in volume midyear 2021 could temper 2021 inflation.

The U.S. Census Single-Family house Construction Index is up 6% from Nov 2019 to Nov 2020. The index increased 4% in the last 5 months. https://www.census.gov/construction/nrs/pdf/price_uc.pdf

Nonresidential volume has been slowly declining and is now down 10% from one year ago. By 3rd quarter 2021, nonresidential buildings volume is forecast down another 15% lower than December, or 25% below the Feb 2020 peak. This tracks right in line with the 24% decline in new construction starts in 2020. Most of the spending from those lost starts would have taken place in 2021, now showing up as a major decline in spending and work volume. Nonresidential inflation for 2020 dropped to 2.5%, the first time in 7 years below 4%. It’s expected to increase in 2021.

The most recent Producer Price Index tables published by AGC for year-end 2020 https://www.agc.org/sites/default/files/PPI%20Tables%20202012.pdf shows input costs to nonresidential buildings up about 3.5% to 4.5% for 2020, but final costs of contractors and buildings up only 1% to 2%. This could be an indication that, although input costs are up, final costs are depressed due to lower margins, a result of fewer projects to bid on creating a tighter new work available environment which generally leads to a more competitive bidding environment. This could reverse in 2021 as the volume of work to bid on in most markets begins to increase.

The Turner Construction Cost Index (nonresidential buildings) for Q1-Q2-Q3 is +1%, -1%, -0.5%, effectively reporting the index down -0.5% year-to-date. But the Turner index year-to-date average (avg Q1+Q2+Q3=1179) is still 2.6% higher than the average of Q1+Q2+Q3 2019 and 2% higher than the avg for all of 2019 (1156). So, while the index appears to show no gains in 2020, through the first nine months of 2020 it is up 2.6% above the average of the same months in the 2019 index. http://turnerconstruction.com/cost-index

The Rider Levitt Bucknall nonresidential buildings index average index for 2020 (through October 1, 2020), although up less than 1% in the last 6 months, is up 3.5% from the average 2019 index. https://s28259.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Q2-2020-QCR.pdf

R.S.Means quarterly cost index of some materials for the 4th quarter 2020 compared to Q1: Ready-Mix Concrete -1.8%, Brick +10%, Steel Items -1% to -5%, Framing Lumber +32%, Plywood +8%, Roof Membrane +5%, Insulating Glass +12%, Drywall +3%, Metal Studs +23%, Plumbing Pipe and Fixtures +1%, Sheet Metal +20%. https://www.rsmeans.com/landing-pages/2020-rsmeans-cost-index

U.S. manufacturing output posts largest drop since 1946. Think of all the manufactured products that go into construction of a new building: Cement, steel, doors, frames, windows, roofing, siding, wallboard, lighting, heating systems, wire, plumbing fixtures, pipe, valves, cabinets, appliances, etc. We have yet to see if any of these will be in short supply leading to delays in completing new or restarted work.

There have been reports that scrap steel shortages may result in a steel cost increase. Scrap steel prices are up 27% in the last quarter and up 40% for the year 2020. Scrap is the #1 ingredient for new structural steel. The U.S. steel industry experienced 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% in January 2020 to 56% in April. In mid-August, CapU was up to 61%, still very low. As of January 23, 2021 CapU is up to 76%, well above April’s 56% but still below desired levels. Steel manufacturing output is still down compared to pre-covid levels. Until production ramps back up to previous levels there may be shortages or longer lead times for delivery of steel products.

Steel Prices at mill in the U.S. are up 60% to 100% in the last 6 months. All prices are 50% to 75% higher than Feb 2020. http://steelbenchmarker.com/files/history.pdf . This is mill price of steel which is about 25% of the price of steel installed. What affect might a steel cost increase have on a building project?  It will affect the cost of structural shapes, steel joists, reinforcing steel, metal deck, stairs and rails, metal panels, metal ceilings, wall studs, door frames, canopies, steel duct, steel pipe and conduit, pumps, cabinets and furniture, and I’m sure more. Assuming a typical structural steel building with some metal panel exterior, steel pan stairs, metal deck floors, steel doors and frames and steel studs in walls, then all steel material installed represents about 14% to 16% of total building cost. Structural Steel only, installed, is about 9% to 10% of total building cost, but applies to only 60% market share being steel buildings. The other 6% of total steel cost applies to all buildings. https://www.thefabricator.com/thefabricator/blog/metalsmaterials/steel-prices-reach-levels-not-seen-since-2008 At these prices, if fully passed down to the owner, this adds about 1.5%-2% to building cost inflation. With demand in decline for nonresidential buildings, I would expect to see all these steel price increases recede. Also, take note, none of this steel price movement appears captured in the PPI data or RSMeans data.

Contractors have been saying they have difficulty acquiring the skilled labor they need. This has led to increased labor cost to secure needed skills. I expect the decline in nonresidential work volume in 2021 to result in as much as a decline of 250,000 nonresidential jobs in 2021.

This SMACNA report quantifies that labor productivity has decreased 18% to meet COVID-19 protocols. https://www.constructiondive.com/news/study-finds-covid-19-protocols-led-to-a-7-loss-on-construction-projects/583143/ Labor is about 35% of project cost. Therefore, just this productivity loss would equate to -18% x 35% = 6.3% inflation. Even if, for all trades, the average lost time due to COVID-19 protocols is only half that, the added inflationary cost to projects is 3% above normal. But that may not remain constant over the entire duration of the project, so the net effect on project cost would be less.

Post Great Recession, 2011-2020, average nonresidential buildings inflation is 3.7%. In 2020 it dropped to 2.5%, but for the six years 2014-2019 it averaged 4.4%. Residential cost inflation for 2020 reached 5.1%. It has averaged over 5% for the last 8 years. The 30-year average inflation rate for nonresidential buildings is 3.75% and for residential it’s over 4%.

This survey of members by AGC https://www.agc.org/sites/default/files/2021_Outlook_National_1221_.pdf just published provides some insight into construction firms outlook for 2021. 

Almost every construction market has a weaker spending outlook in 2021 than in 2020, because approximately 50% of spending in 2021 is generated from 2020 starts, and 2020 nonresidential starts are down 10% to 25%, several markets down 40%. Nonbuilding starts are down 15%, but will increase 10% in 2021.

Typically, when work volume decreases, the bidding environment gets more competitive. We can always expect some margin decline when there are fewer nonresidential projects to bid on, which typically results in sharper pencils. However, if materials shortages develop or productivity declines, that could cause inflation to increase. We can also expect cost increases due to material prices, labor cost, lost productivity, project time extensions or potential overtime to meet a fixed end-date.

Constant $ = Spending minus inflation = Volume

Many projects under construction had been halted for some period of time and many experienced at least short-term disruption. The delays may add either several weeks to perhaps a month or two to the overall schedule, in which case, not only does labor cost go up but also management cost goes up, or it could add overtime costs to meet a fixed end-date. Some of these project costs have yet to occur as most would be expected to add onto the end of the project.

Some projects that were put on hold (nonresidential buildings starts in 2020 dropped 24%) just prior to bidding in 2020 may now re-enter the bidding environment. The rate at which these projects come back on-line could impact the bidding environment. If several months worth of projects that delayed bidding last year all come onto the market at once, or at least all in a more compressed time span than they would have, the market could be flooded with work and bidding contractors now have more choice, can bid more projects than normal and could potentially raise margins in some bids. This would have an inflationary effect. Also, there can be difficulty in starting many projects at the same time, rather than more staggered starts. It burdens subcontractors and suppliers with too much of the same type of work all going on at the same time. This could exacerbate labor issues and could lead to project time extensions.

The hidden inflationary costs of bidding environment, project time extensions, potential overtime and lost productivity haven’t all yet appeared in the data. Some of these could still add to 2020 inflation. Also, the huge loss of new starts in 2020, which meant fewer projects to bid on in 2020, probably reduced margins in 2020. Nonresidential starts are projected to increase 4% in 2021, so that could lead to some recovery of margins, however, even with 4% growth in new starts, that comes after a 24% drop in 2020, so remains still 20% below 2019. Total volume of work is declining and new projects available out to bid is still depressed, so pressure on margins still exists.

I expect non-residential buildings inflation in 2021 to range between 3.5% to 3.75%, with potential to be held lower. Expect inflation of 3.75% to 4% for residential work with potential to push slightly higher.

See Construction Inflation Index Tables for indices related to Nonbuilding Infrastructure work.

The tables below, from 2011 to 2020 and from 2015 thru 2023, updates 2020 data and provides 2021-2023 forecast. The three sectors, highlighted, are plotted above.

NOTE, these tables are based on 2019=100. Nonresidential inflation, after hitting 5% in both 2018 and 2019, and after holding above 4% for the six years 2014-2019, is forecast to increase only 2.5% in 2020, but then to 3.8% in 2021 and hold near that level the next few years. Forecast residential inflation for the next three years is level at 3.8%. It was only 3.6% for 2019 but averaged 5.5%/yr since 2013 and returned to 5.1% in 2020. 

How to use an index: Indexes are used to adjust costs over time for the affects of inflation. To move cost from some point in time to some other point in time, divide Index for year you want to move to by Index for year you want to move cost from. Example : What is cost inflation for a building with a midpoint in 2022, for a similar nonresidential building whose midpoint of construction was 2016? Divide Index for 2022 by index for 2016 = 110.4/87.0 =  1.27. Cost of building with midpoint in 2016 x 1.27 = cost of same building with midpoint in 2022. Costs should be moved from/to midpoint of construction. Indices posted here are at middle of year and can be interpolated between to get any other point in time.

All forward forecast values, whenever not available, are estimated by Construction Analytics.

Construction Jobs 2020 down 207,000

edited 2-5-21 to include 2020 revised jobs and 2021 revised outlook.

Construction closes 2020 down 141,000 jobs comparing Dec 2020 to Dec 2019. Average jobs lost over the year is down 207,000, down 2.9%. Also, average hours worked in 2020 is down. The equivalent jobs lost over the year (jobs x hours worked) is down 3.8% or a loss of 288,000 jobs equivalent.

While construction spending in 2021 is forecast up 1.3%, after inflation construction volume is expected to decline 2.5%. Residential construction spending is forecast up 13%, volume up almost 9%, but 2021 nonresidential buildings spending is forecast down -11% leading to a decline in volume after inflation of -14%. Nonbuilding Infrastructure spending in 2021 declines -2.5%, volume drops -6%.

Nonresidential buildings volume declines of 14% project to a loss of over 400,000 jobs next year and non-building infrastructure is projected to drop 60,000 jobs, but Residential could experience growth next year of 250,000 jobs. That could net annual average jobs losses to -200,000. Job losses continue into 2022 with net volume declines of 4%.

It is notable though, even with residential spending and volume increasing, due to large losses in nonresidential buildings, total construction volume declines every month for the next 9 months. Nonresidential buildings volume declines for the next 18 consecutive months.

There is an unusual occurrence in the data for 2021. Annual average jobs in 2021 may decline in total by only 100,000, but from Dec. 2020 to Dec. 2021, jobs decline may be nearer to 400,000. The annual average change is much less due to the massive decline in jobs in April 2020, which by itself caused the 2020 average to drop by almost 100,000. Most months in 2021 will show jobs about 3% to 4% or more below the same month in 2020, except for April, which will show 2021 jobs 10% higher than 2020.

Some who read this post will question how I forecast such a drop in nonresidential work, when some other analysts predict far less declines and even some who predict nonresidential work increases in 2021. I would say, it will be very difficult to support a forecast for increased spending in 2021 given a 22% drop in new construction starts in 2020 for nonresidential buildings work, most of which would have occurred in 2021.

https://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/ceseeb1a.htm

Where is Construction Outlook Headed?

The greatest impact to construction spending from fewer new starts in 2020 comes in 2021 or early 2022, when many of those projects would have been reaching peak spending, near the midpoint of the construction schedule. Nonresidential starts in 2020 are down 15%-25%. Residential starts are up 2%.

Construction Spending for October https://census.gov/construction/c30/pdf/release.pdf…

Up 1.3% from Sept. Sept rvsd up 0.4%. Aug rvsd up 1%

Year to date (ytd) spending is up 4.3% over Jan-Oct 2019. Oct SAAR is now only 2% below Feb highpoint.

However, residential spending ytd is up 9.6%, nonresidential building spending is down -1.2%. Both are expected to keep heading in the direction currently established.

Nonresidential Buildings construction will take several years to return to pre-pandemic levels. Although nonresidential buildings spending is down ytd only -1.2% (as of October data), the gapping hole left by the 15%-25% drop in 2020 construction starts will mostly be noticed in 2021 spending. Project starts that were canceled, dropping out of revenues between April and September 2020, would have had midpoints April to September 2021. Nonbuilding project midpoint could be even later. The impact of reduced new starts in 2020 is reduced spending and jobs in 2021 and 2022.

Construction Jobs are projected to fall in 2021. While 2021 Residential spending will climb about 10%, Nonresidential building spending is forecast to drop -10% and Non-building spending drops -4%.

After adjusting for inflation, Residential volume is up about 4% to 5%, Nonresidential buildings volume is down about -14% and Non-building volume will finish down -8%. Jobs should follow suit.

If jobs increase faster than volume, productivity is declining. Also that means inflation is increasing.

Spending is approximately 50% residential, 30% nonresidential buildings and 20% nonbuilding infrastructure.

Residential Construction Booming

RESIDENTIAL Construction Spending for October Up 2.9% from Sept

Sept spending rvsd up 1.5%, Aug rvsd up 3.5%

August highest new starts monthly total ever.

Year to date Oct. spending now up 9.6% over Jan-Oct 2019

Oct monthly SAAR now 2% higher than Feb highpoint.

Residential construction starts for Jul-Aug-Sep-Oct’20 posted the highest 4mo total ever. 2nd highest was Nov-Dec’19-Jan-Feb’20. In the last 12 months residential construction starts have posted 7 of the top 10 best months ever. Also, spending in Aug, Sep and Oct is the highest since the previous residential boom in 2005-2006. Spending is now already +2% higher than previous high in Feb and 2020 finishes up +10%. Spending climbs +10% higher in 2021.

Advanced Preconstruction Presentation – Construction Economics 11-4-20

Attached

EdZ Presentation Construction Economic Forecast 11-4-20 HW w notes

Here’s a few short notes

  • 2020 spending will close the year UP.
  • 2021 will get dragged down by declines in nonresidential buildings.
  • Reduced new construction starts in 2020 impact 2021 far more than they impact 2020.
  • Residential spending has returned to now only 2% less than the pre-pandemic peak in February.
  • There will be hidden inflation not showing up in wages or material costs – lost productivity, acceleration.

There are other analysts reports that 2020 total construction spending will finish the year down -2%. Here’s why that will not happen.

Through August, year-to-date spending is up +4.2%. To finish the year down -2% (with only 4 months to go) would require each month of the final 4 months spending to come in at -14% year-over-year (yoy =compared to the same month last year). Not a single month this year has posted spending yoy lower than last year. Also, -14% yoy for 3 months would idle more than 1 million jobs for 4 months. That would make the final 4 months of 2020 the absolute worst period ever recorded.

September data is in (not included in the presentation) and makes it even more unlikely. Year-to-date September spending is up 4.1%, so Oct, Nov, and Dec would have to each post yoy spending of -20% for the year to end down 2%. 

Similarly, the data show by an even wider margin, nonresidential buildings spending will not end 2020 down -10%. 

This table updates the slide included in this presentation. It includes September spending year-to-date and Dodge Outlook 2021 for new forecast on construction starts in both 2020 and 2021.

Spend YTD 2020 plus Markets 2020 2021 11-11-20

 

Construction Forecast Update 10-16-20

UPDATES to Construction Outlook 10-16-20 based on

  • Forecast includes US Census Aug 2020 year-to-date spending 10-1-20
  • Forecast includes Dodge September construction starts 10-15-20
  • Actual Jobs data includes BLS Jobs to Sept (12th) issued 10-2-20

This update accompanies pandemic-13-midyear-construction-outlook

Total construction starts year-to-date for 9 months through September are down 14%. Total starts have registered down -14% to -15% YTD for the last four months.

Residential new starts are down year-to-date only 1% from 2019. However, the last three months total residential starts posted the 2nd highest 3mo total in 15 years. The highest 3mo total since 2005 was for the period Dec’19-Jan-Feb’20. So two of the best 3mo periods of new residential construction starts in the last 15 years have occurred in 2020.

Nonresidential buildings starts are down 26% and non-building infrastructure starts are down 18%.

This chart shows a comparison of the cash flows predicted from new all construction starts vs the actual spending. Over time, the cash flows do a very good job of predicting where spending is headed. Note the divergence of residential in Jun-Jul-Aug 2020. Actual spending finished on avg 3%/mo higher than predicted. In 3 months the actual spending pushed 10% higher than predicted. This may be a reflection of forecasting too high an amount for delays and cancelations.

Starts CF 2015-2022 10-16-20

Construction Spending drives the headlines. Construction Volume drives jobs demand. Volume is spending minus inflation. Inflation $ do not support jobs. Current outlook shows (recent) peak volume was 2017-2018. Volume is forecast to decline every year out to 2023.

Construction jobs gained slightly in Sept, but are still down 5% (400,000) from Feb peak. Construction may experience only slight jobs improvement in 2020 (residential spending is increasing), but nonresidential buildings declines through 2021 will drive construction jobs lower over next 18 months.

Jobs are supported by growth in construction volume. We will not see construction volume return to Feb 2020 level in the next three years. This time next year, volume will be 5% lower than today, 14% below the Feb 2020 level.

This is why the construction industry will have a hard time justifying growth in jobs. After 12 years of fairly even growth in jobs vs volume, that relation broke in 2018. Volume is currently at a 5-year low, well below jobs. Declining work volume is indicating by this time next year we may be down 600,000 jobs below the Feb 2020 high.

Jobs vs Volume 2015-Jan 2022 dashed 10-16-20

The following table shows which markets have the largest (and smallest) changes in new construction starts. With the exception of residential, due to longer durations, spending in all other markets is most affected by a decline in new starts, not in this year, but in years following. Residential spending hit bottom in May, will post an increase in 2020. Nonres Bldgs spending won’t hit bottom until 2022.

A recent AGC survey of construction firms asked the question, How long do you think it will be before you recover back to pre-Covid? The survey offered “longer than 6 months” as an answer choice. My current forecast is longer than 6 years.

Some effects have not even begun to show up in the data. A 20% decline in new nonres bldgs starts in 2020 means a huge decline in spending and jobs in 2021-2022. How long before construction returns to the level it was at in Feb? 6 to 8 years.

Many nonresidential buildings have durations that last 24 to 36 months, with peak spending 12 to 18 months from now. With the drop in new starts this year, that peak spending 12 to 18 months from now will be impacted. Some nonbuilding markets have project durations that go out 5 or 6 years, so the impact of a decline in 2020 starts may be felt at least until 2025.

If construction starts in 2020 do not outperform 2020 construction spending, then starting backlog Jan. 1, 2021 will be lower. My current forecast (starts down 11%) is indicating 2021 starting backlog will be down by almost 10%. Spending declines into 2021 and remains depressed through 2023.

The last time starting backlog decreased was 2011. Starting backlog will fall 10% in 2021 and 2% in 2022. Except for residential, about 80% of annual spending comes from starting backlog.

The next table shows spending year-to-date through August (released 10-1-20) and the spending forecast for the year. 2nd quarter construction spending activity low-point is down only 5.5% from the Feb peak. Construction spending in August YTD is up 4.2%.

Residential ytd is up 7.2%. Single Family is +3.0%, multifamily is +2.7% and renovations is Reno +15.6%. Nonresidential buildings ytd is down -0.3% and Nonbuilding Infrastructure ytd is +5.8%.

Take note here, the YTD spending for Nonresidential Buildings is currently -0.3% and my 2020 forecast shows Nonres Bldgs ending the year down -2.6%. Some forecasters are predicting spending for nonresidential buildings will end the year down much worse than -2.6% compared to 2019.

With only 4 months remaining, in order for Nonres Bldgs spending to finish down even -5%, the monthly rate of spending compared to 2019 would need to drop to -14%/mo for each of the remaining 4 months of 2020. (8mo x avg -0.3% + 4 mo x avg -14%) / 12mo = -5% total for the year. To end the year down -8%, nonres bldgs spending for the next 4 months would need to come in 25% lower than 2019. That’s “Great Recession” territory.

How unlikely is this to occur? The greatest monthly declines in 2020 so far are July and August in which the monthly rate of spending dropped -3% to -4% compared to same month 2019. Essentially, for nonresidential buildings spending to end the year down -5%, the bottom would need to drop out of the nonresidential markets, beginning back on Sept 1 and continuing for the final 4 months of the year.

Not sayin’ it can’t happen. This is 2020!

Pandemic #14 – Impact on Construction Inflation

8-27-20 What impact will the pandemic have on Construction Inflation in 2020? Here’s Several inputs.

In April, and again in June, I recommended adding a minimum 1% to normal long-term construction inflation, to use 4% to 5% for 2020 nonresidential buildings construction inflation. Some of my peers were suggesting we would experience deflation. Only twice in 50 years have we experienced construction cost deflation, 2009 and 2010. That was at a time when business volume was down 33% and jobs were down 30%. Currently business volume and jobs are down 10% and by mid-2021 are forecast down 15%.

The Turner Construction Cost index for the Q2 is down 1% from Q1, effectively reporting 0% increase in the index year-to-date. But the Turner index year-to-date (avg Q1+Q2=1183) is still 3.6% higher than the average of Q1+Q2 2019 and 2.3% higher than the avg for all of 2019 (1156). So, while the index appears to show no gains in 2020, through the first six months it is already up 2.3% above the average 2019 index. http://turnerconstruction.com/cost-index

The Rider Levitt Bucknall Q2 2020 index is up 1.6% ytd, up 4.6% from the Q1+Q2 2019 average and up 3.1% above the 2019 average. https://s28259.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Q2-2020-QCR.pdf

The U.S. Census Single-Family house Construction Index is up 3.6% year-to-date through July. July 2020 is up 4.2% over July 2019. https://www.census.gov/construction/nrs/pdf/price_uc.pdf

Producer Price Index items for July construction reported by AGC on 8-11-20. Inputs to Nonres construction are down ytd -1.0% through July. Final Demand Nonres Bldgs is up 1.8% ytd through July. See https://www.agc.org/learn/construction-data/construction-data-producer-prices-and-employment-costs and https://edzarenski.com/2020/07/14/producer-price-index-year-to-date-june-july-2020/

UPDATE 10-14-20 NAHB reports thru September (Residential) Building Materials Up 4.4% in 2020. See PPI charts. Increases for lumber and ready-mix concrete are noted. LUMBER “Over the last five months, the PPI for softwood lumber has nearly doubled (+90.9%).  Sharply higher lumber prices have added more than $17,000 to the price of an average new single-family home since mid-April.” CONCRETE “Prices paid for ready-mix concrete (RMC) rose 1.5% in September (seasonally adjusted), a monthly increase the magnitude of which is atypical of the commodity.  The national PPI for RMC has increased by more than 1% just five of the 135 months since the end of the Great Recession.  The average annual change in prices paid for RMC was 2.6% over the last decade.” https://www.eyeonhousing.org

R.S.Means quarterly cost index of some materials for the 2nd quarter 2020 compared to Q1: Ready-Mix Concrete 0%, Brick and Block +3%, Steel Items -2%, Wood products +3%, Roof Membrane +7%, Insulating Glass +6%, Interior Finishes -2%, Plumbing Pipe and Fixtures +7%, Sheet Metal +7%. https://www.rsmeans.com/landing-pages/2020-rsmeans-cost-index

U.S. manufacturing output posts largest drop since 1946. Think of all the manufactured products that go into construction of a new building: Concrete, steel, doors, windows, roofing, siding, wallboard, lighting, heating systems, wire, plumbing fixtures, pipe, valves, cabinets, appliances, etc. We have yet to see if any of these will be in short supply leading to delays in completing new or restarted work?

There have been reports that scrap steel shortages may result in a steel cost increase. 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% in April. Now in mid-August, CapU is up to 61%, still very low. Steel manufacturing output fell by a third and is still down more than 25%. Until production ramps back up to normal levels there may be shortages or delays in delivery of steel products.

Since Q1, the cost of lumber has increase 120%, so expect residential inflation to increase faster than nonresidential. https://eyeonhousing.org/2020/08/average-new-home-price-now-14000-higher-due-to-lumber/ and revised http://nahbnow.com/2020/08/average-new-home-price-now-16000-higher-due-to-lumber/

Contractors have been saying they have difficulty acquiring the skilled labor they need. This has led to increased labor cost to secure needed skills.

But most important, this SMACNA report quantifies that labor productivity has decreased 18% to meet COVID-19 protocols. https://www.constructiondive.com/news/study-finds-covid-19-protocols-led-to-a-7-loss-on-construction-projects/583143/

Labor is about 35% of project cost. Therefore, just this productivity loss equates to 18% x 35% = 6.3% inflation. Even if, for all trades, the average lost time due to COVID-19 protocols is only half that, the added inflationary cost to projects is 3% above normal. I expect the Turner Nonres Bldgs index will reflect some added labor cost in the next two quarterly releases.

Post Great Recession, average nonresidential buildings inflation is 3.9%. For the last five years it’s 4.5%. Residential cost inflation averaged 4.1% and 4.5% for those periods. The 30-year average inflation rate for nonresidential buildings is +3.75%.  

Almost every construction market has a weaker spending outlook in 2021 than in 2020, because approximately 50% of spending in 2021 is generated from 2020 starts and 2020 starts are down.

Typically, when work volume decreases, the bidding environment gets more competitive and prices go down. However, if materials shortages develop or productivity declines, that could cause prices to increase.

Add to these issues the fact that many projects under construction have been halted for some period of time and many more have experienced at least short-term disruption. The delays may add either several weeks to perhaps a month or two to the overall schedule, in which case management cost goes up, or it could add overtime costs to meet a fixed end-date.

We can expect some cost decline due to fewer projects to bid on, which typically results in sharper pencils. But we can also expect cost increases due to materials, labor cost, lost productivity, project time extensions, and/or potential overtime to meet fixed end-date.

I expect non-residential buildings inflation to range between 4% and 5% for 2020 and 2021, perhaps 5% to 6% for residential work.

Pandemic #13 – Midyear Construction Outlook

See Also this update   Construction Forecast Update 10-16-20

SEE ALSO   Pandemic #14 – Impact on Construction Inflation

Midyear Construction Outlook 8-14-20 based on

  • Actual Spending data includes revisions 2018-2019 issued 7-1-20
  • Actual Jobs data includes BLS Jobs to July (12th) issued 8-7-20
  • Forecast includes US Census June 2020 year-to-date spending 8-3-20
  • Forecast includes Dodge construction starts Midyear Update 8-6-20

The first important thing to note is that the US Census, on 7-1-20, revised all spending data back several years. This is an annual occurrence. This analysis includes all revised data, which adds about $30 billion to 2018, $60 billion to 2019, half of all adding to residential, and revises 2020 data. Not everyone has yet updated to this recently revised data, so you may see differences when comparing forecast reports among several firms. If needed, refer to the percent.

Initial impact on spending from project delays/shutdowns

This compares the current construction spending data to a 2020 Forecast from April 1 before any Pandemic Impacts were recorded. It compares actual to what was expected Pre-Pandemic. The change in year-to-date (ytd) all occurred in 2nd quarter data. In fact, 1st quarter ytd growth was forecast at 7% and it came in at 9.5%. 2nd quarter growth was forecast at 6.8% and it came in at 1%.

Construction Spending 2020 year-to-date (ytd) thru June vs 2019

Actual ytd vs Pre-Pandemic Forecast ytd. Nearly all this change is due to projects delayed/shutdown.

  • Nonres Bldgs down 2.4% ytd in 6mo vs pre-pandemic forecast
  • NonBldg UP 3.0%
  • Residential down 4.9%
  • TOTAL down 1.9%

The measure of decline due to Pandemic delays and shutdowns is not the difference between Q1 and Q2 growth in ytd spending. Nor is the impact measured by the current difference in ytd performance vs 2019. It’s the difference between what was forecast for ytd growth pre-pandemic vs actual ytd growth.

For instance, Residential construction spending thru Q2, as reported in the US Census June construction spending release, is up ytd 7.8%. But pre-pandemic it was forecast to be up 12.7% ytd after 6 months. Hence, residential spending has been impacted by a 12.7% – 7.8% = 4.9% decline from original forecast thru June.

Future impact on spending from lost construction starts

Part one of the decline in construction spending was due to delays/shutdowns. Part two will be the impact of reduced construction starts. That has very little affect right now, but will play out over the next few years. But remember once again, the impact in 2021 is not measured by the difference between 2020 and 2021, its the difference between current forecast for 2020/2021 and the pre-pandemic forecast for 2020/2021.

Year-to-date, total construction starts are down 14%. Residential new starts are down 5%, nonresidential buildings down 22% and non-building infrastructure starts are down 14%.

Dodge updated their forecast to show 2020 construction starts for nonresidential buildings fall on average 20%, less in some markets, but -30% to -40% in a few. Only warehouses is up. Non-building starts fall on average 15%. Only Highway/Bridges is up. Residential starts may fall only 5%-10%.

How those lowered starts affect spending is spread out over cash flow curves for the next few years. This has a major impact on jobs later in 2020 and all of 2021 into 2022. For nonresidential buildings, the greatest impact to spending and jobs affected by a reduction of new starts in 2020 occurs from 2021 into 2022 when many of those lost starts would have been reaching peak spending.

Only about 20% of new starts gets spent in the year they started. 50% gets spent in the next year. The effect of new starts does not show up immediately. If new nonresidential buildings starts in 2020 are down 22%, on average, the affect that has on 2020 is reduced spending by -22% x 20% = – 4.4%. But the affect it has on 2021 is -22% x 50% = -11%.

Construction Spending FORECAST 2020 vs Pre-Pandemic Forecast

This change in forecast incorporates reduced new construction starts for 2020 but also includes the impact from delays and shutdowns.

  • Nonres Bldgs down 5.4% for 2020 vs pre-pandemic forecast
  • NonBldg down 0.3%
  • Residential down 6.5%
  • TOTAL down 4.5% vs pre-pandemic forecast

Construction Spending FORECAST 2021 vs Pre-Pandemic Forecast

Nearly all this change due to a reduction in new construction starts in 2020. Notice, it is nonresidential buildings that are impacted the most, down 10% from the pre-pandemic forecast.

  • Nonres Bld down 9.9% for 2021 vs pre-pandemic forecast
  • NonBldg down 6.4%
  • Residential UP 5.8%
  • TOTAL down 2.5% vs pre-pandemic forecast

Future impact on backlog from delays/cancellations and reduced starts

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 several years ago. Many projects in backlog extend out several years in the schedule to support future spending, so backlog growth in not an indicator that tracks year over year with spending. Current backlog at the start of 2020 would still contribute some spending for the next 6 years until all the projects in backlog are completed.

The last time starting backlog decreased was 2011. Starting backlog will fall 10% in 2021 and 2% in 2022. Except for residential work, about 80% of annual spending comes from starting backlog.

Some of the projects delayed or canceled started before Jan. 2020. When one of those projects is delayed, the portion of the project delayed gets removed from 2020 backlog, but then gets added to future backlog. When one of those projects is canceled, the portion of the project not yet put-in-place gets removed from 2020 and future backlog. Not only does that reduced future backlog but also that retroactively reduces the backlog that was on record at the start of 2020. Therefore, 2020 backlog is reduced by delays and cancellations and future backlog is increased by delays, but reduced by cancellations and a loss of new construction starts.

The following is the difference between what was forecast for backlog pre-pandemic and currently projected backlog based on delays, cancellations and reduced starts.

Backlog projected for the start of 2020:

  • Total Construction down 3.6% vs pre-pandemic forecast
  • Nonresidential buildings down 8.3%
  • Non-building infrastructure up 0.5%
  • Residential backlog down 2.2%, new starts down 5.4%

Although two thirds of Residential spending comes from new starts within the year, 2020 backlog is down 2.2%. 2020 new starts are down 5.4%.

The biggest changes to 2020 backlog are Manufacturing, Commercial/Retail and Amusement/Recreation, all down 10% to 15%.

Backlog projected for the start of 2021:

  • Total Construction down 9.8% vs pre-pandemic forecast
  • Nonresidential buildings down 15.1%
  • Non-building infrastructure down 9.4%
  • Residential backlog up 3.6%, starts up 8.4%

For 2021, Power and Environmental Public Works are down 20% and 10% respectively, but Nonresidential Buildings shows most of the losses. Lodging -40%, Amusement -28%, Manufacturing -26%, and Office and Commercial both down about 15%.

  

Spending Forecast 2020 – 2021

Now that we have highlighted the change in the forecast compared to the pre-pandemic forecast, let’s look at the current spending forecast for 2020 and 2021.

Spend Recession 2020 Summary 8-14-20

See Pandemic #11 – June Construction Spending Update  for coverage of midyear spending year-to-date through June.

Spend Sector monthly 2015-2022 8-11-20

For 2020, the biggest declines are Manufacturing, Lodging and Amusement/Recreation, all down -8% to -10%. Commercial/Retail ends up +3.9% (this market is 60% Warehouse). Office and Educational are down -3% and -1%. Nonresidential buildings takes the brunt of declines in both 2020 and 2021.

In 2021, every nonresidential building market is down from 2020, some markets down 10% to 20%. Educational, Healthcare and Office are all down 3% to 5%. Non-building infrastructure Power market is down -11%, but Highway and Transportation are up +10% to 20%.

Spend YTD 2020 plus Markets 2020 2021 8-14-20

Almost every market has a weaker spending outlook in 2021 than in 2020, because of lower starts in 2020. Starts lead to spending, but on a curve, a good average for nonresidential buildings is 20:50:30 over three years. 20% of the total of all starts in 2020 gets spent in 2020 (yr1) and that represents also about 20% of all spending. 50% of the total value of 2020 starts gets spent in the following year, 2021. So, 50% of spending in 2021 is generated from 2020 starts. If starts are down 20% and 50% of spending comes from those starts, spending will be down 20% x 50% of the work.

Although starts are forecast down 15% to 20% in 2020 and UP 5% to 15% in 2021, the drop in starts in 2020 has the greatest impact on reducing spending in 2021. By June of 2021, spending is down 10% from Feb 2020 and volume is down 14%.

Before we can look at the effect on jobs, we need to adjust spending for inflation. The plot above “Spending by Sector” is current dollars. Here that plot is adjusted for inflation and is presented in constant $. Constant $ show volume. Notice residential remains in a narrow range after adjusting for inflation. No sector shows improvement in volume through Jan. 2023.

Spend Sector Constant2019 monthly 2015-2022 8-16-20

By far the greatest decline in volume is in the nonresidential buildings sector. Volume declines follow in line with spending declines. The greatest losses in 2020 are Amusement/Recreation, Lodging and Manufacturing. In 2021, every major nonresidential building market drops in volume.

Why 400,000 construction jobs are not coming back

Reduced starts in 2020 has a major impact on jobs later in 2020 and all of 2021 into 2022. For nonresidential buildings, the greatest impact to spending and jobs occurs from 2021 into 2022 when many of those lost starts would have been reaching peak spending.

Jobs data show construction added 20,000 more jobs in July. After losing almost 1,100,000 jobs in March and April (out of a prior total 7,600,000), we regained 450,000 jobs in May and 160,000 in June. That leaves construction down 440,000 jobs from the February high point.

Jobs are down 6% from Feb to July, but construction spending is down 7% through June and volume (spending adjusted for inflation) is down 9%.

Although we may get slight jobs growth in the next few months, there is little to no volume growth to support it. Spending is currently down 7% from the Feb high and volume is down 9%. More spending declines are minimal through Q1 2021. Due to the large declines in new construction starts, we will begin to see additional spending and volume declines by spring 2021. Most of the decline will be in nonresidential buildings.

This annual plot back to 1999 shows construction spending vs construction volume. Volume is spending minus inflation.  Notice, volume never recovered to peak 2005. Also notice, recent volume began to decline in 2018.

Spend current vs constant thru 2021 8-11-20

The long-term view of jobs vs volume shows an important point. With few exceptions jobs and volume grow equally. Setting a baseline to zero in 1990, there was a spread in 1992 that was nearly equalized by 1998. Jobs and volume growth remained near equal until 2004. Leading into 2006, spending increased by the most in 30 years. Jobs, which seem to lag slightly, grew 15% from 2004 thru 2006. But inflation posted the highest rate in 30 years. While jobs grew to meet spending growth, almost all the spending growth was inflation. By 2006, jobs growth exceeded construction volume by more than 15%.

Jobs vs Volume 1991-2022 2006 deficit 8-14-20

As I said, with few exceptions, jobs and volume grow equally. If we modify history to reset the baseline to 2006 by increasing volume, the plot now shows that all years from 2006 to 2017 remained consistent in jobs growth vs volume growth. So, with exception of 1992 and 2004-2005, all years from 1990 to 2017 had consistent growth in jobs and volume.

Leading into 2017, spending once again reached a rate of near record growth, second only to 2004-2005. Again, jobs, which seem to lag slightly, grew to meet spending growth. But inflation posted the highest rate since 2006. Once again, jobs grew rapidly, but almost all the spending growth was inflation. By 2019, for the second time, jobs growth exceeded construction volume by almost 15%.

Jobs vs Volume 1991-2022 2006 deficit reset 8-14-20

Jobs are supported by growth in construction volume, spending minus inflation. We will not see construction volume return to Feb 2020 level at any time in the next three years. This time next year, volume will be 5% lower than today, 14% below the Feb 2020 level.

We are currently down 440,000 construction jobs from the Feb high. We may regain 40,000 to 50,000 more jobs before the end of the year. But the declining work volume due to a reduction in new starts in 2020 is indicating by this time next year, not only is there no volume to regain 400,000 lost jobs, but we may lose another 200,000 jobs and be down 600,000 jobs below the Feb 2020 high.

The following plot is the same jobs and volume data as above, only plotted monthly rather than annually. Much of the fear decline of jobs in April has been corrected, but jobs are still down 440,000 from the February high. And yet, the plot shows jobs in excess of construction volume by about 12%.

Jobs vs Volume 2015-Jul 2021 dashed 8-14-20

Volume is set to decline at least for the next two years. There will be no volume growth to support jobs growth and long-term jobs growth already exceeds volume growth by 12%. This is not an environment that supports jobs growth.

Pandemic #12 – Jobs & Starts Updated

8-7-20

Jobs data released today show construction added 20,000 more jobs in July. After losing almost 1,100,000 jobs in March and April (out of a prior total 7,600,000), we regained 450,000 jobs in May and 160,000 in June. That leaves construction down 440,000 jobs from the February high point.

Jobs are down 6% from Feb to July, but construction spending is down 7% through June and volume (spending adjusted for inflation) is down 9%.

Year-to-date, total construction starts are down 14%. Residential new starts are down 5%, nonresidential buildings down 22% and non-building infrastructure starts are down 14%. In April, I estimated jobs losses based on Dodge April forecast that new construction starts in 2020 would fall by 10-15% (see Pandemic Impact #4). Yesterday Dodge updated their forecast to show 2020 construction starts for nonresidential buildings fall on average 20%, less in some markets, but -30% to -40% in a few. Only warehouses is up. Non-building starts fall on average 15%. Only Highway/Bridges is up. Residential starts may fall only 5%-10%.

That lowers my forecast for 2021 and 2022.

How those lowered starts affect spending is spread out over cash flow curves for the next few years. This has a major impact on jobs later in 2020 and all of 2021 into 2022. For nonresidential buildings, the greatest impact to spending and jobs occurs from 2021 into 2022 when many of those lost starts would have been reaching peak spending.

Although we may get slight jobs growth in the next few months, there is little to no volume growth to support it. Spending is currently down 7% from the Feb high and volume is down 9%. More spending declines are minimal through Q1 2021. Due to the large declines in new construction starts, we will begin to see additional spending and volume declines by spring 2021. Most of the decline will be in nonresidential buildings.

Spend Sector monthly 2015-2022 8-11-20

Revisit Pandemic Impact #8 – Construction Outlook to compare this plot above to the forecast as of June 3 and to the original forecast at the start of this year.

Jobs are supported by growth in construction volume, spending minus inflation. We will not see construction volume return to Feb 2020 level at any time in the next three years. This time next year, volume will be 5% lower than today, 14% below the Feb 2020 level. In fact, volume began it’s decline in Q2 2018.

Spend current vs constant thru 2021 8-11-20

Almost every market has a weaker spending outlook in 2021 than in 2020. That’s because only about 20% of spending in the year is from new starts in the year. About 50% of spending from new starts in 2020 is spent in 2021. Although starts are forecast down 15% to 20% in 2020 and UP 5% to 15% in 2021, the drop in starts this year has the greatest impact in reducing spending in 2021.

Only about 20% of new starts gets spent in the year they started. 50% gets spent in the next year. The affect of new starts does not show up immediately. If new nonresidential buildings starts in 2020 are down 22%, on average, the affect that has on 2020 is reduced spending by -22% x 20% = -4.4%. But the affect it has on 2021 is -22% x 50% = -11%.

By June of 2021, spending is down 10% from Feb 2020 and volume is down 14%.

Jobs vs Volume 2015-Jul 2021 8-11-20

We are currently down 440,000 construction jobs from the Feb high. We may regain 40,000 to 50,000 more jobs before the end of the year. But the dropping work volume is indicating by this time next year we may lose another 200,000 jobs and be down 600,000 jobs below the Feb 2020 high. 

 

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