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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 #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 #11 – June Construction Spending Update

Construction Spending thru June year-to-date is still UP 5% over Jan-Jun 2019.

Here’s the Census Release of June Construction Spending census.gov/construction/c

Q2 2020 spending is down 4.8% from Q1 2020. Prior to the Pandemic impact, Q2 was predicted to be up 1% over Q1. So, then the drop is -5.8% from the initial forecast.

Comparing 2020 spending to 2019 shows a different story. Q1 2020 is up 9.5% vs Q1 2019. Q2 2020 is up 1.2% vs Q2 2019.

The monthly rate of spending, seasonally adjusted (saar), has declined every month since the Feb peak. For 3 months Jan, Feb, Mar, the saar of spending stayed within 0.25% of the peak. Now in June, the saar is down -6%. Most of the decline was in April, -3.5%. May dropped <2% mo/mo, and June declined <1%.

Residential year-to-date (ytd) spending is up almost 8% over 2019 (80% of that is renovations). In fact, SF+MF is up ytd only 2.8%, while renovations, which went from 33% of the market last year to 36% of the market now, is up 18% ytd. Residential has more downside due to reduction in new starts before resuming growth next year. While the 2nd half of 2019 increased at an average rate of 1%/month, The 2nd half of 2020 will decline by an average 0.5%/month. Residential spending for 2020 is forecast to finish flat to down 1%.

Non-building Infrastructure sector ytd is up 7% over Jan-Jun 2019. Biggest mover is the Power market up 17% ytd. Every market but Conservation is up ytd. Non-building spending is forecast to close out 2020 up 6% over 2019 with strength in Power and Highway.

Nonresidential Buildings spending ytd is level with 2019. Big movers up are Comm/Rtl up 6.7% and Public Safety up 42%.

The construction sector did not experience a massive loss of spending from project shutdowns in Q2. Q2 was down 5%-6% from the pre-pandemic forecast. Jun is down only 0.7% from May with half of all markets posting monthly gains.

AIA Consensus Forecast Nonresidential Bldgs Construction Spending to decline 8.1% for 2020. Is there even a path to get there? In the 1st 6mo ytd is up 0.25%. What would nonres bldgs need to post yoy in the 2nd half to end the year down 8.1%? Spending would need to post declines every month (yoy) for the next 6mo at a rate of -16.7%/month. However, the worst decline in Q2 was only -3.2%. It’s not likely at all that Nonres Bldgs spending will fall to that extent.

Here’s an example of the path it would take to get to the AIA Consensus Forecast for Commercial/Retail. The AIA 2020 Forecast is down 7.7%. But year-to-date Comm/Rtl is up 6.7%, a spread of 14.4%. (I’ll remind you again, it’s almost all warehouses). To drop 14.4%, from 6.7% in the 1st 6 months, to end down -7.7% at year end, the monthly rate in the 2nd half would need to be -28.8% each month. That’s not very likely.

For the next 6 months my yoy forecast for Nonres Bldgs spending is up 0.4%.

The BIG question here is, How much of the decline in Q2 was delays and how much was canceled permanently? There is no good report available that defines the total value of work stoppages and work cancellations.

Q2 spending was down 5%-6% from the pre-pandemic forecast. If all of that was work canceled, and therefore we keep those monthly yoy declines of 5%-6% for the rest of the year, then we could see 2020 spending for Nonres Bldgs finish down 2.5% to 3%. But it is not even suspected that all of the Q2 decline was work canceled. Expect most of that was work delayed. Therefore, 2nd half should perform better than Q2 and the forecast for Nonres Bldgs for 2020 is flat to up 1%.

The forecast now has 6 months of actual spending and 6 months remaining of forecast based on new construction starts and backlog. Cash flow forecast from backlog is reduced by delays and cancellations. This forecast projects about 20% for delays and about 2% for cancellations. Also new starts are forecast to drop about 10% in 2020.

The Starts cash flow model has predicted the spending pretty well. The forecast side shows residential has not yet hit bottom, but will grow after Q3 into 2021, while nonresidential buildings falls for the next 12 months.

Starts CF 2015-2022 8-11-20

Currently, the outlook for total construction spending in 2020 is up 1% to 2%. Prior to March the forecast was 6%, so the forecast, although still up 1-2%, has fallen about 5%.

Both Residential and Nonresidential Buildings are forecast within +/- 1% of 2019. Non-building Infrastructure is forecast up 6%-7%.

Currently, inflation in 2020 is expected to range about 3%-4%. If total construction spending grows only 1%-2%, real growth in volume (spending after inflation) is falling. For 2020 and 2021, volume is down. That will not support jobs growth.

Jobs vs Volume 2015-Jul 2021 8-4-20

Mid-August this forecast will be updated with input from Dodge midyear construction starts. See Pandemic #12 for Jobs & Starts Update

Pandemic Impact #8 – Construction Outlook 6-1 April data

For up-to-date Outlook 

See Pandemic #13 – Midyear Construction Outlook published 8-14-20

See Pandemic #12 – Jobs & Starts Updated Aug 8 and 

Pandemic #11 – June data Construction Spending Update Aug 3 and 

Pandemic #10 – June New Construction Starts July 30 

 

Analysis of a Recession Scenario 2020-2022

based on 6-1-2020 data

This analysis relies on the first available hard data reports to forecast the impact of a construction recession scenario caused by the current Covid-19 pandemic. This scenario does not assume a catastrophic failure of the U.S. economy, but does assume a large decline in construction activity in 2020 and 2021. Data always gets revised in the following months.

This analysis generates spending cash flows from current and assumed reduced new construction starts to then determine how new starts and spending may affect future construction activity.

6-1-20 What We Know Today

The revised construction spending report for March, released June 1st, showed no decline in spending from February. Census revised March construction spending from the initial report of up 1% to, still remarkably, level with February. https://census.gov/construction/c30/pdf/release.pdf

This was the estimated growth before the pandemic. Shutdowns began March 15th. This report seems to indicate construction was totally unaffected in March! This is hard to grasp. Just the shutdowns in Boston and San Francisco starting Mar 15. affected 300,000 jobs and would calculate to have erased over $2 billion in work from March total spending. By one estimate, we had already lost 300,000 to 400,000 construction jobs by Mar.31st. How spending could have increased is baffling.

The first hard jobs data reflecting Coronavirus impacts on the construction industry was the jobs report released in the first week in May which covers jobs from mid-March through mid-Apr. From March 15th to April 12th, construction lost 975,000 jobs, 13% of the workforce. Construction unemployment, which was below 5%, as low as 3.2%, is now at 16.6%. https://bls.gov/web/empsit/ceseeb1a.htm . I expect to see downward revisions to March spending. In addition to a 13% drop in the number of jobs, hours worked also dropped 3%, so the total worker manpower and hours worked output dropped 16%.

Ten states account for 80% of the 975,000 construction jobs lost between March 15th and April 12th. CA, FL, MA, MI, NJ, NY, OH, PA, TX & WA. Eight of those states are in top ten states for total number of construction jobs, MA and WA are not. https://www.agc.org/news/2020/05/22/construction-employment-shrinks-49-states-and-dc-april-new-association-survey-finds?

The next jobs report due out June 5th covers the period from April 13th through May 17th. Expect more downward movement in the jobs numbers. I expect most construction jobs were lost early and are included in the April report, so next report June 5th we may see only 400,000 more construction jobs losses for the period April 13 through May 17. (This report will be edited to reflect the June 5th jobs data.)

The loss of 975,000 jobs in a single month (if all jobs were lost for a full 30 days) at a rate of 60,000 jobs needed to put-in-place $1 billion in construction in one month, equates to a loss of $16 billion in spending between March 15th to April 12th.

In one of the most baffling reports I’ve seen, Census posted April Construction Spending down only 3%. It is beyond explanation that construction spending for March was flat and April declined only 3% from March, while we’ve lost 16% of worker output.

Jobs vs Volume 2001-2020 monthly 6-2-20

The change from March to April Construction Spending versus Construction Jobs varies by the most in 30 years. This is highly suspect! Jobs (and hours) are down 16% but spending is down only 3%, for a variance of 13%. The largest variances on record back to Jan 1991, most of which occurred in 2005-2006, are: in 360 months, jobs and spending growth varied by >4% only 10 times, >5% only twice. The 20 yr average 0.1%.

Variances like what the data show for this month have never occurred. A more likely explanation is there is an anomaly in the data. Either construction did not lose 975,000 jobs in a month or spending in April dropped a lot more than 3%. I suspect the later.

6-8-20 Another way of looking at the jobs data is this simple metric. The total number of construction jobs divided by the amount in $billions of work put-in-place each month = Jobs/$billion PIP. This value sometimes spikes or dips by 3% or 4%, but usually changes month to month by less than 1%. You can easily see the April construction jobs/spending data changed by what normally would take several years. The change in April spending data does not agree with the change in jobs data. It’s one thing to see a spike like this when jobs are increasing in excess of work put-in-place. But it is much more suspect to see jobs decline without a decline in work put-in-place. Who’s putting the work in place?

Here’s what that April variance would mean. If construction jobs+hours drop by 16% but spending drops by only 3%, then productivity as measured by amount of work put in place per job increased by 13%, IN A MONTH, DURING A PANDEMIC.

If there is essentially no change in productivity, but due to restrictions and higher overhead, costs go up, then you must accept construction inflation just increased by 13% in one month. But there is no data yet showing unusual labor or material cost increases.

Or, if some portion of this discrepancy is due to a change in productivity and some part due to rapid inflation, the 13% variance is somehow split between these two issues.

6-5-20 The May Construction Jobs report issued today for the period April 13 through May 17 shows an increase of 464,000 jobs (and hours worked). I missed that estimate. So did everybody else. Jobs and hours worked output is now down net 13% for March and April. Spending is down only 3%. I still expect April spending to be revised down.

6-5-20 The May jobs data today is indicating an initial month (April) of stop work down 975,000 jobs (16%) is now down only 10%, net 600,000 jobs as of mid-May. That’s equates to a two-month average of jobs and hours worked down by 13%.  My forecast was based on about 25% of work stopped for two months. If jobs is a better indication, the lesser extent of work stopped means the adjusted forecast will post higher spending in 2020 and will move less spending into 2021. The next important data date is July 1, when the May construction spending is released. With that May report every year, Census revises all previous months data back 5 years. We’ll see if April data gets revised down.   

6-9-20 “In total, the construction sector recorded almost 1.3 million layoffs during March and April.” NAHB  https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/68887359/posts/28427

6-5-20 There is a scenario in which jobs decline with little to no reduction in volume. But, it accepts that there was a very large number of nonproductive jobs in the workforce. I’d been writing about the increasing disparity for the last few years between volume growth and jobs growth Expect Construction Jobs Growth to Slow in 2020.  Since 2017 jobs have been increasing but volume of work has been decreasing or level. It’s possible a large portion of the jobs losses in April are resetting this balance with little to no impact on volume output. These would be jobs that would probably not come back.

6-5-20 For Mar-Apr, 975,000 jobs were lost for a single month (if all jobs were lost for a full 30 days). For Apr-May, we regained 464,000 jobs. Net jobs loss for two months is about 600,000 jobs. April spending was down only 3% or $40 billion seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) . At a rate of 60,000 jobs needed to put-in-place $1 billion in construction in one month, this equates to a loss of $10 billion in not seasonally adjusted (NSA) spending PER MONTH for both April and May. That would be a decline in the SAAR of spending of $120 billion. March posted no decline. April posted a $40 billion decline and we will get May spending on July 1st. The spending data remains suspect.

The pre-pandemic construction seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) spending forecast was for a rate of $1,395 billion from March through July. Assuming no unusual changes in jobs, productivity or inflation, the spending can be calculated from the number of jobs available to perform work. For pandemic impact based on job losses, we should see March SAAR spending at $1,350 billion. April construction spending should drop to under $1,200 billion from a high of $1,386 billion in February. I expect to see March spending get revised downward. I expect April spending to be revised down 6% to 10%. For these reasons, my forecast is not using the reported April spending data.

Pandemic Impact on Construction

This was the baseline forecast pre-pandemic. It shows considerable strength in Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure starts and spending. There is weakness in residential.

This plot shows actual spending through January 2020 and forecast spending for 2020 through 2022 based on the predicted cash flow from existing starts and projected starts pre-pandemic.

PRE-RECESSION SCENARIO FORECAST SPENDING

Spend Sector 2015-2021 monthly 3-5-20

Backlog leading into 2020 was up 30% in the last 4 years, at all-time high. Although spending was forecast up only 4%/yr. the next two years, spending is at an all-time high. 80% of all nonresidential spending in any given year is from backlog. If new starts drop by 10%, that has only a 1.5% to 2% impact on total spending in the first year. The following year spending would be down 4% to 5%. Residential spending is far more dependent on new starts than backlog. Only about 30% of residential spending comes from backlog and 70% from new starts. If residential new starts drop 10% that impacts total spending by 7% in that year.

Residential construction starts peaked in 2018. Starts in 2019 are level yoy, but have been flat or in moderate decline since mid-2018. Spending was forecast up 5% in 2020 but down 1% in 2021.

Nonresidential Buildings starting backlog increased 10%/year for the 4 years 2017-2020. Starts have moved sideways or in slight decline since mid-2018. 2019 starts are down 9% from 2018. Spending was forecast up 3% in 2020 and 2021.

Infrastructure starting backlog, by far the most robust, has increased 15%/year for the 3 years 2018-2020. Spending was forecast up 6% in 2020 and up 8% in 2021.

Recession Scenario

Regardless what may lead to a construction recession, in this case a global pandemic, it is the current high amount of work in backlog that will work hard to mute its effect.

When a recession occurs, new construction starts would be substantially reduced. Although some projects will be canceled or delayed mid-schedule, most projects already in construction would move on to completion.

Construction projects will most likely experience delays. Potential product shortages, delivery delays and shutdowns will drive up costs and extend project schedules.

Projects in planning may be canceled due to drop in demand, decline in capital or slowdown in economy. Retail stores may cancel expansion, educational facilities may delay starting new construction, transportation facilities may postpone later phases of long planned growth.

This recession scenario does not assume a catastrophic failure of the economy.

This pandemic recession forecast is based on the following:

  • April spending is forecast and not carried as reported due to reasons cited.
  • New Construction Starts in 2020 canceled, Residential -15%, Nonresidential Buildings -8%, Non-building Infrastructure -11%, Total Construction starts canceled -11%.
  • Work in backlog that has been delayed, minimum 2 month delay, restart build up over a period of 8 months; Residential -30%, Nonresidential Buildings -28%, Non-building Infrastructure -22%, Total Construction delays -25%.
  • Work in backlog that has been canceled, Residential -3%, Nonresidential Buildings -3.4%, Non-building Infrastructure -2.2%, Total Construction backlog canceled -2.8%.

This plot shows the resulting change in spending. Only the estimated spending to the right of the dateline changes.

RECESSION SCENARIO FORECAST SPENDING

Spend Sector Recession 2015-2022 6-3-20

 

6-20-20  Data on most recent Construction Starts

Dodge Construction Starts average for Apr+May 2020 compared to Avg Jan-Feb-Mar 2020 Nonresidential Bldgs 66%, Nonbldg Infra 96%, Residential 73%.

Dodge Construction Starts average for Apr+May 2020 compared to Avg Apr+May 2019 Nonresidential Bldgs 82%, Nonbldg Infra 85%, Residential 97%.

So, while Nonresidential buildings starts were down 34% in Apr+May compared to Q1 2020, that’s down 18% compared to the same months 2019. Residential Apr+May starts are down 27% compared to the avg in Q1 2020, but that’s down only 3% compared to Apr+May 2019.

Nonbuilding Infrastructure starts in Apr+May are down only 4% from Q1 average, but Q1 is already 15% lower than last year.

What impact does that have on the year? if Nonres Bldgs starts are down 34% for 2 months, that reduces starts by 6% (34 x 2/12) for the year (from the prior trend). if Residential starts are down 27% for 2 months, that reduces starts 4.5% (27 x 2/12) for the year. Most of the impact in nonresidential occurs from 12 to 24 months out. Most of the residential impact occurs in the first 12 months.

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

Construction Spending Forecast 2020 – Residential -2%, Nonresidential Buildings -4%, Non-building Infrastructure <-1%, Total Construction Spending 2020 -2.3%.

Residential construction spending would drop 11% from $566 billion to $506 billion in 2020 and then drop 18% from $550 billion to $453 billion in 2021. Residential is far more dependent on new starts within the year for spending than on backlog.

Nonresidential Buildings spending drops 8% in 2020 from $469 billion to $434 billion and then drops 2% from $475 billion to $468 billion in 2021.

Non-building Infrastructure spending drops 5% in 2020 from $348 billion to $330 billion and then drops <1% from $378 billion to $376 billion in 2021.

By 2022, nonresidential buildings and infrastructure are back within 1% to 2% of baseline pre-pandemic spending. However, residential spending is set back $100 billion, back to the level of 2016.

About 300,000 of the jobs lost do not return. While about 75% of the initial jobs lost have returned by the end of 2020, we then slowly lose jobs for the next two years.

Spend Recession 2020 Summary 6-2-20

Total all spending would drop from the current 2020 forecast of $1.380 trillion to $1.270 trillion. In 2021 and 2022, instead of baseline spending of $1.400 trillion, spending would drop to near $1.300 trillion, back to the level of 2018. The losses in the Great Recession, a total drop of almost $400 billion, set construction spending growth back 12 years.

The difference with shutdown vs a reduction in new starts is that work shut down is delayed. It will reduce total spending in that month in 2020 but will simply shift all remaining months and the end of the projects, which could occur in 2020, 2021 or later. If 50% of all U.S. construction shut down for two months, it would delay $100 billion worth of work, most of it from 2020 into 2021.

7-3-20  updated spending data    on 7-1 Census released spending data for May and revised all monthly data back two years. 2018 and 2019 spending was revised up by 2% and 4%. But more important, the data for Mar-Apr-May 2020 shows that shut down delays were far less than anticipated. More than 90% of all work continued unabated through April and may. The result is fewer reductions in spending in 2020 and less delayed work pushed out into 2021. This shifts the balance of work to now show slight growth in 2020 and only a minor increase in 2021. SEE PANDEMIC #9

 Inflation

When we see spending increasing at less than the rate of inflation, the real work volume is declining. With typical construction inflation between 3% and 5% annually, a spending drop of -2.8% in 2020 may reflect a work volume decline of 6% to 8%. Spending growth of 2% when inflation is 3% is really a decline in volume of work by 1%. The extent of volume declines would impact the jobs situation.

Historically jobs declines of the same magnitude do not follow immediately after volume of work declines, therefore after the initial delayed job losses return to work, we would not expect to see much reduction in workforce in 2020.

What this will do to the construction inflation rate is hard to predict. Typically, when work volume decreases, the bidding environment gets more competitive and prices go down. However, if materials shortages develop, that would cause prices to increase.

There have been reports that scrap steel shortages may result in a steel cost increase and numerous imported products are not available or in short supply. Some firms that manufacture goods used in construction were closed temporarily, so their production was disrupted.

Steel Statistics and Steel Cost Increase Affect on Construction?   2/3rds of all steel manufactured in the U.S. is EAF steel made from scrap steel. Almost 100% of steel used in construction is EAF steel. The Pandemic is causing scrap steel shortages.

U.S. Steel production through May is down 13% compared to the same period 2019. Steel imports are down 20%. The U.S. imports about 30% of all the steel it uses. 40% of all steel used in the U.S. is used for construction. So through May, total steel available in the U.S. is 13% + (20% x 30%) = 19% less than 2019.

Add to these issues the fact that many projects under construction may have been halted for a period of time and many more may have experienced disruption. The delays may add several weeks to perhaps a month or two to the overall schedule and management cost goes up. I think in this case the materials availability issues and schedule delays will outweigh any decline in work available for bid.

Only twice in 50 years have we experienced construction DEflation, 2009 and 2010. That was at a time when business volume was down 33% and jobs were down 30%. I expect inflation to range between 4% and 5% for 2020 and 2021, lower for residential work.

You can visit Ed Zarenski’s website,

Construction Analytics – Economics Behind the Headlines

at https://edzarenski.com/

Pandemic Impact #5 – Restarting Construction

4-18-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemic Impact on Construction – Recession in 2020?

Pandemic Impact on Construction – Part 2

Pandemic Impacts – Part 3 – Jobs Lost, Inflationary Cost

Pandemic Impact #4 – Construction Jobs Recovery

 

 

Pandemic Impact #4 – Construction Jobs Recovery

4-15-20  How will each of the 4 shutdown impacts affect construction?

An estimate of the amount of construction volume lost between March and April could be on the order of 10% to 12%. We won’t see April construction spending #s until June 1st, but a loss of 10% equates to about $10-$12 billion work stopped in a single month.

Associated General Contractors of America reported 40% of construction firms had furloughed or terminated workers by April 10.

  • 30% of firms said they had been asked by government officials to shut down jobs.
  • 53% of respondents said their projects have been delayed by owners.
  • 7% said owners had canceled their projects.

NAHB 4-15-20 Builder Confidence Posts Historic Decline

If they stop buying them, next they stop building them. I’m forecasting temp shut down of 15% of residential backlog and a 10% drop in new starts.

U.S. manufacturing output posts largest drop since 1946

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

Pandemic Construction Forecasting needs to account for 4 types of impacts.

  • 1 Work stoppage – stay at home, how deep is the work stoppage
  • 2 Work restart – % restart/month, how slow does work restart
  • 3 Work canceled – some work never restarts, how severe
  • 4 New Starts – future capital spending plans canceled, how cautious

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

The initial shutdown cumulative total spending lowest point is in April-May 2020 due to the abrupt shut down. When work rebounds, it restarts gradually over a period of months. Some of the work that shut down will not restart. Also, reduced new starts lowers the cumulative total spending again in the first half of 2021, where residential spending hits it’s low point. Here’s the jobs impact of each.

  • 1 Work stoppage – stay at home, how deep is the work stoppage

From March 15th to April 15th, it is estimated that about 10% to 12% of all construction work stopped, or about $10-$12 billion work stopped in a single month. This work remains on hold as we assess when it is appropriate to reopen the economy. A $10 billion/month work stoppage shuts down 600,000 jobs/month from Mar 15 to Apr 30, perhaps longer.

  • 2 Work restart – % restart/month, how slow does work restart

For a number of reasons, all work will not restart immediately. I’ve modeled the work to restart over 6 months. If only 33% of the stopped work resumes in May, only 33% or 200,000 of the 600,000 lost jobs return, 400,000 remain shut down. If each month 100,000 more jobs restart, the net lost time over 6 months is 1,800,000 man-months or an average of 300,000 jobs for 6 months.

  • 3 Work canceled – some work never restarts, how severe

It’s possible some work will be put on hold for a long time or outright canceled. If 10% of all work that was forced to shut down does not restart, then about 1.5% of all work in backlog disappears. There was $1.3 trillion in starting backlog leading into 2020. A 1.5% decline in backlog amounts to almost $20 billion in work that might not restart. That workload would have taken place over the next 20-30 months, so it is equivalent to about $1 billion a month. Jobs lost would equate to 4000 to 5000 jobs for 20 to 30 months.

  • 4 New Starts – future capital spending plans canceled, how cautious

Dodge is now forecasting a 10% to 15% decline in new construction starts in 2020. (Prior to the pandemic, Dodge was forecasting a 4% drop in new 2020 starts). If new starts drop by 10%, that equates to a decline of about $130 billion in future work. That would be spread out over the next 3 years or so. On average that reduces jobs by about 20,000, but that loss lasts for the next 3 years.

 

Construction spending varies from month to month, but total annual rate of spending will not return to the Jan-Feb 2020 level until at least 2023. Construction jobs may not reach the Feb 2020 level again until 2024.

See also Pandemic Impacts – Part 3 – Jobs Lost, Inflationary Cost

Pandemic Impact #3 – Jobs Lost, Inflationary Cost

4-9-20

See Also Pandemic Impact on Construction – Recession in 2020  3-20-20

See Also  Pandemic Impact on Construction – Part 2   3-31-20

See Also Pandemic Impact #4 – Construction Jobs Recovery  4-15-20

Today, with the unemployment claims report, we get an indication of the 3rd out of 4 weeks of the total April monthly jobs report. When the April jobs report is released on May 8th, it will cover the period March 15 through April 12. For the first two weeks, there were 10 million new unemployment claims and within that data, the Economic Policy Institute estimated there were 310,000 construction jobs lost. Today’s report show the three-week total is now 16 million claims. That could potentially indicate a total 500,000 construction jobs lost in three weeks, and that represents only 3/4ths of the April jobs report. There are still areas of the country that are just beginning to issue stay-at-home orders, so this trend will likely continue next week. When we see the next jobs report May 8th, we could see a total monthly loss of more than 600,000 construction jobs, a loss of more than 8% of the workforce. In the worst months of the 2008-2009 recession it took 5 months to lose over 600,000 jobs.

See Pandemic Impact #7 for an update on Jobs Lost

Jobs Recession Scenario thru 2021 4-11-20

History dating back 30 years shows that construction companies have always reduced jobs by less than the reduction in work volume lost. In the previous recession, work volume fell by 50% but jobs declined by only 35%. In other words, companies tend to retain more staff than the remaining workload will support. As a result, work put in place per job, a simple measure of productivity, goes down. This drives cost up.

Given the above, we can estimate the amount of construction volume lost between March and April could be on the order of 10% to 12%. We won’t see April construction spending #s until June 1st, but a loss of 10% equates to about $10-$12 billion work stopped in a single month. After four months averaging above a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of $1.360 trillion, we could see March SAAR spending drop to $1.320 trillion and April down to $$1.280 trillion.

Pandemic Construction Forecasting needs to account for 4 types of impacts.

  • 1 Work stoppage – stay at home, how deep is the work stoppage
  • 2 Work restart – % restart/month, how slow does work restart
  • 3 Work canceled – some work never restarts, how severe
  • 4 New Starts – future capital spending plans canceled, how cautious

The initial Pandemic Recession Scenario developed in my 3-20-20 article included  a greater reduction in new starts, but did not factor in the widespread shutdown of commerce in March-April. This plot shows the shutdown, the big dip in the first half of 2020. The initial shutdown cumulative total spending (deepest) low point is in April-May 2020 due to the shut down which then rebounds with the restart of most, but not all, work. Then the cumulative total spending low point due to reduced new starts occurs in the first half of 2021, where residential spending hits it’s low point.

Spend Sector monthly 2015-2022 4-10-20 recession

 

Will Construction Experience Inflation or Deflation?

Although as of yet there is no solid information available on materials pricing or national reports on inflation, these issues may come up;

There is a cost to temporarily shutting down a job and then re-mobilizing. That cost definitely was not included in any budgets on any projects. That cost, already incurred, will be absorbed into the final cost of projects, inflating the original projected cost. That will become a factor adding to 2020 inflation.

Some analysts are suggesting there will be a large surplus of materials that will drive cost down. However, there are reports cautioning to expect shortages or long delays of materials due to the fact that some manufacturers have experienced the same shut downs as the industries that use their products. Production of all types of products has slowed with the lack of workforce. One recent article cited expectations of many shortages of electronic, mechanical and technology components, a large volume of which are imported. So there may be difficulties in getting components of electrical, plumbing, mechanical, controls or technology products needed to complete manufacturing of the products needed on jobs in the near future.

Worldwide shipping and moving of all types of products that arrive in shipping containers has been drastically disrupted. By Mar 1 shipping at the Port of Los Angeles was already down 25%. This will cause delays in imported product deliveries which will either result in the need to use alternate products, time extension to completion or need for accelerated schedule.

There will be some difficulty associated with staffing back up to previous levels. As workers are cut from jobs, some will immediately begin to seek other available work with some potentially leaving the construction industry permanently. Although wage negotiations may be held in check, some contractors may offer incentives to secure sufficient labor to support the completion of their projects, driving up the cost of labor. Also worker productivity will be reduced to accommodate new rules instituted to insure worker health safety and distancing.

The restart is going to cause bottlenecks. Every job will be requesting delivery of needed products at the same time. The supply-side system is not designed to handle that massive influx of all-at-the-same-time orders and deliveries. This will result in materials delivery delays and/or priority order added premiums.

Along with materials issues, we can expect once projects come back on-line, some owners are going to ask for accelerated schedules to meet critical end dates. Any move to accelerate project schedules will add cost to labor. In fact it could add considerable cost. If a project is shut down for two months and the owner asks to make up 1 month, it takes more than one month of overtime to accomplish that.  All overtime, including second shift work, has some lost productivity associated with it, so you never get hour for hour production on overtime hours. If the owner wants to try to meet the original scheduled end date, or make up even some of the delay, all the cost of overtime and lost productivity inflates the original cost.

Management cost to see the projects through delay, ramp back up and finally reach completion, probably at a time extension, increases beyond the original proposed staffing and time on the job.

It will take several months, perhaps even the remainder of the year, to see a trend in new construction starts. Expect capital investment plans in new building projects to increase in some markets (i.e., healthcare) but to decline in others (hospitality). Many companies will experience dramatically reduced revenues and profits which will cause them to reassess plans for future capital investment. If capital investment declines overall, which I expect it will, the amount of construction activity next year will decline. Early discussions of infrastructure investment, if increased investment comes to be reality, could change this outcome. Markets could be a bit more competitive next year if the volume of work out for bid declines. That would have a tendency to offset some of the inflationary measures listed above.

Dodge Data & Analytics on 4-9-20 released their  first indications of recession analysis. Dodge predicts a 10% to 15% decline in new construction starts in 2020, but then an increase in all sectors in 2021. Dodge tracks new starts only, so does not project the spending impact of a decline in starts or of project delays.

Repeating what I stated in a previous article, What all this will do to the construction inflation rate is hard to predict. If materials shortages or delivery delays develop, that would cause prices to increase. Also, many projects that were already under construction were halted for an undetermined period of time. The delays may add several weeks to a few months to the overall schedule. These issues all add cost to a project as describe above. Looking to the future, if new starts work volume decreases, then the bidding environment gets more competitive and prices go down. However, I think in this case the materials availability issues, potential labor availability, productivity and schedule delays will outweigh any decline in work available for bid. For the short term, I would suggest to add a minimum of 1% to all baseline inflation rates for 2020 and 2021. Further assessment of future bidding environment will be required.

The first hard data on construction jobs won’t be issued until May 8th when we will get mid-March to mid-April jobs, and not until June 1st for April construction spending activity. April activity will be revised to a better number on July 1st. So the construction industry is really at a disadvantage not knowing the real impacts for several months.

 

 

Pandemic Impact #2 – Canceled vs Delayed

 

3-31-20

Pandemic Impacts – Part 2 – Delayed Jobs vs Canceled Jobs

See Also  Pandemic Impact on Construction – Recession in 2020 3-20-20

See Also Pandemic Impacts – Part 3 – Jobs Lost, Inflationary Cost 4-9-20

Construction spending for February will be released tomorrow. It will not show any impacts yet from Coronavirus shutdowns. We will see the first indications of impact when March spending gets released on May 1st.

 

There will be two distinct and very different impacts reflected in the construction starts, spending and jobs numbers. 1st will be project delays. These are projects that were put on temporary hold for a month or several months. These have an immediate impact of reducing current activity. But at some point activity resumes. 2nd will be canceled projects due to companies that lost revenues and curtailed capital spending.

Consider an example: A delayed project that has 10 months remaining to completion gets put on hold for 3 months, Mar, Apr and May. If it resumes in June, the end date, instead of finishing in December 2020 as the original schedule indicated, gets pushed out to March 2021. Most of the spending still occurs in 2020 with only the final 3 months going into 2021. The months of Mar, Apr and May experience large reductions in spending, but 2020 experiences only a small reduction in spending for the final 3 months of closeout that get pushed in 2021. That adds a small amount to spending in 2021. Big reduction in Mar, Apr, May spending. Small reduction in 2020 spending. Small increase in 2021 spending.

Now consider the example of a canceled project: Companies that lost revenues due to shutdowns will quickly begin to reassess plans for capital expenditures. Some projects planned for a new start in 2020 or 2021 will be canceled. Companies will need to regain solid footing before reestablishing plans for expansion and growth. For every 10% drop in new construction starts, total construction spending drops by $125 billion, spread over a period of approximately 3 years. A 20% drop in new starts is a $250 billion drop in new spending. On average 20% of the lost spending occurs in the 1st year, 50% in the 2nd year and 30% in the 3rd year. Canceled projects have a dramatic impact on the construction industry, and the greatest impact (except for residential projects which have a shorter duration) is not felt in the first year, it’s felt in the second year.

Each loss of $1 billion of spending in any given year equates to a loss of 5000 jobs in that year. That’s 5000 job-years. A loss of $1 billion in spending in one month would be a loss of 60,000 jobs for a month.

A 10% drop in new construction starts, or $125 billion over three years, could be spread out in this manner: down $25 billion in year 1: down $62.5 billion in year 2 and down $37.5 billion in year 3.  In the 1st year, we could see a loss of 125,000 jobs. But in the 2nd year, jobs are down over 300,000, so an additional 175,000 jobs are lost. In year 3 jobs are down only 187,000, less of a decline than in year 2, so we start to recover jobs. The average jobs loss is 200,000 jobs for 3 years.

Current spending is about $120 billion per month in the most active months, less in winter months. A delay of 10% of current workload, about $12 billion in a single month, would temporarily sideline 12 x 60000 = 720,000 jobs for one month, a massive disruption in a month. If the delay goes for two months, the average job loss for the year would show up as equivalent to 720,000 / 12 x 2 = 120,000 jobs for 1 year.

Jobs delayed due to work delayed would eventually be added back at a later point in time. Not that more jobs get added, but that the end-date of the project gets pushed out, so jobs delayed up front get pushed later, with some perhaps pushed into next year. 

Pandemic Impact on Construction – Recession in 2020?

This analysis attempts to develop the resulting impact of a construction recession scenario caused by the current Covid-19 pandemic. The scenario presented does not assume a catastrophic failure of the U.S. economy, but does assume a large drop in construction activity in 2020 and 2021.

This analysis generates spending cash flows from current and assumed reduced new construction starts to then determine how spending may affect future construction activity.

Impact of Pandemic on Construction

Analysis of a Recession Scenario 2020-2022

by Ed Zarenski  3-20-20

The change around us is happening so fast, in my opinion, no one is ready for what comes next.

The world is struggling to get the upper hand in a pandemic, travel is coming to a near halt, stock markets are down 30% in a month, universities have sent students home, schools and businesses are closed until further notice, events all around the country are being canceled and people are being instructed to stay home and limit social contact.

We won’t get the first hard data of Coronavirus impacts on the construction industry spending and jobs until reports released in first week in May which will cover jobs mid-March thru mid-Apr and spending for March. The first hint at what we might expect regarding slowdown could be the Dodge construction starts for March which comes out around Apr 20. But spending and jobs from work in backlog coming out in the May reports could be better 1st indicator.

Firms that manufacture goods used in construction may be closed temporarily, so they are producing less. Shipping of products on world markets has slowed or stopped completely. Materials supplies will soon be affected. Construction projects will most likely experience delays. Product shortages, delivery delays and shutdowns will drive up costs and extend project schedules.

Projects in planning may be canceled due to drop in demand, decline in capital or slowdown in economy. Retail stores may cancel expansion, educational facilities may delay starting new construction, transportation facilities may postpone later phases of long planned growth.

As I sit here writing this, the city of Boston this morning announced that ALL non-essential construction projects are to shut down today. That’s nearly all projects. Boston accounts for $22 billion/year in construction spending, 80% of all construction in the state of Massachusetts, 60% of all work in MA-CT-RI, 50% of all New England. This affects well over 100,000 jobs.

Also, the San Francisco Bay area has been directed to shelter-in-place, essentially shutting down all nonessential construction work. This impacts approximately 200,000 construction jobs and amounts to about double the volume of work as Boston.

We can expect more locations to issue directives such as these in the near future.

How Can We Measure the Effects Due to Covid-19 Impacts?

Let’s first establish the baseline. The starting baseline is my current construction spending and backlog forecast for 2020-2021 which includes 2019 total spending and new construction starts through February. There is considerable strength in Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure starts and spending. There is weakness in residential.

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

This plot shows the correlation between projected cash flow from starts and actual spending.

Starts CF 2015-2022 3-17-20 BASELINE
baseline forecast

Recession What If? Starting Baseline 

To begin, we can look at the current forecast of new starts, backlog and spending.

Construction Starts in 2018 were up 4% and prior to that were up 10%/yr. 2019 starts including revisions are up 4%. 2020 starts are forecast down 4%. Current Backlog is up 30% in the last 4 years, at all-time high. Although spending is forecast up only 4%/yr. the next two years, spending is at an all-time high.

Residential construction starts peaked in 2018. Starts in 2019 are level yoy, but have been flat or in moderate decline since mid-2018. Spending is forecast up 5% in 2020 but down 1% in 2021.

Nonresidential Buildings starting backlog increased 10%/year for the 4 years 2017-2020. Starts have moved sideways or in slight decline since mid-2018. 2019 starts are down 9% from 2018. Spending is forecast up 3% in 2020 and 2021.

Infrastructure starting backlog, by far the most robust, has increased 15%/year for the 3 years 2018-2020. Spending is forecast up 6% in 2020 and up 8% in 2021.

It is important to understand when spending from backlog occurs. Average cash flow curves for nonresidential work show about 15%-20% of spending from new starts occurs in the year started and about 40%-50% occurs the following year. 80% of all nonresidential spending in any given year is from backlog. If new starts drop by 10%, that has only a 1.5% to 2% impact on total spending in the first year. The following year spending would be down 4% to 5%.

Residential spending is far more dependent on new starts than backlog. Only about 30% of residential spending comes from backlog and 70% from new starts. If residential new starts drop 10% that impacts total spending by 7% in that year.

Recession Scenario

When a recession occurs, new construction starts would be substantially reduced. Although some projects will be canceled or delayed mid-schedule, most projects already in construction would move on to completion. Most of the cut back comes from a reduction in new starts.

In the great recession, residential starts dropped 70% from 2005 to 2009, down from $400 billion to $110 billion.  Nonresidential Buildings starts dropped 35% from 2008 to 2010. Nonbuilding starts fell only 6% in 2009. Total All Spending declined 30% from $1.160 trillion in 2006 to $788 billion in 2011.

Regardless what may lead to a construction recession, in this case a global pandemic, it is the current high amount of work in backlog that will work hard to mute its effect.

No analyst had been indicating huge declines in new construction starts within the next few years. At worst, some suggested a moderate slowdown. Prior to today, data seemed to agree with a moderate slowdown.

Although Dodge is forecasting the $ value of housing starts down 6% in 2020, Housing Starts # of units as reported by US Census in Q4 2019 are at a post-recession high, reducing the likelihood of such a decline.

Dodge 2020 forecast for new nonresidential buildings starts is down 2.5%.

This recession scenario does not assume a catastrophic failure of the economy.

It is unknown how much existing or new work might get canceled. To get an idea how a recession might impact construction spending, this analysis reduces new construction starts by 20% in 2020 and 10% in 2021 from the baseline. That’s about the average of what occurred in the great recession, although then it was far greater in residential and much less in non-building infrastructure. Only once in the last 20 years, other than the great recession, did new construction starts drop more than 5% in any sector in a year.

So initially, compared to the baseline forecast, there would be 20% less work to bid on in 2020 and 10% less in 2021. But that is not how spending, or revenues, would react. Backlog and spending schedule curves determine the impact on spending, or revenues.

Here’s the resulting change in the spending plots. Only the estimated spending to the right of the dateline changes.

Starts CF 2015-2022 3-17-20 RECESSION
RECESSION SCENARIO

Residential construction spending would drop about 14% in 2020 and then drop 13% in 2021 below the baseline scenario. Residential is far more dependent on new starts within the year for spending than on backlog. That’s why residential spending drops quicker than all other work.

Nonresidential Buildings spending ends 2020 4% lower than it would have under the baseline scenario but then drops 12% in 2021 and 10% in 2022. Backlog going into 2020 in this sector is strong and therefore, even though spending is 4% lower than baseline, 2020 still posts a spending gain of 1.5%. 2021 declines 8% and 2022 gains 1%.

Non-building Infrastructure spending ends 2020 3% lower than it would have under the baseline scenario but then drops 9% in 2021 and 10% in 2022. Non-building Infrastructure has so much work in backlog that this sector still posts a spending gain of 6% in 2020 and 1% in 2021. It declines by 2% in 2022.

The major declines in 2020 are residential since most residential spending comes from new starts within the year, but for all other work, the strength of backlog going into 2020 pushes most of the declines out to 2021 and 2022.

Total all spending would drop from the current 2020 forecast of $1.365 trillion to $1.260 trillion. In 2021 and 2022, instead of baseline spending of $1,370 trillion, it would drop to $1.230, back to the level of 2016. The losses in the Great Recession, a total drop of almost $400 billion, set construction spending growth back 12 years.

Not only did Boston shut down non-essential construction projects but also New York and California have done the same. Boston accounts for about $20 billion/year in construction spending, but NY and CA together account for about $280 billion. Let’s assume CA and NY and Boston shut down all but critically essential construction for 1 month. Let’s say that is 80% of all construction. That represents a shutdown of $20 billion of construction in one month’s time.

The difference with temporary shutdowns vs a reduction in new starts is that work shut down is delayed. It will reduce total spending in that month in 2020 but will shift the entire schedule of spending out by some number of months. Upon resuming, some will still occur in 2020, and some very likely gets pushed into 2021 or later, but eventually all of the delayed work will get completed. If 20% of all U.S. construction shut down for one month it would delay $25 billion worth of work by one month. If 20% of all 2020 U.S. construction new starts get canceled, it would reduce future workload by $250 billion, spread over the next three years. 

The magnitude of spending declines would impact the jobs situation. History shows that job declines of the same magnitude do not follow immediately with volume declines, therefore we would not see an equivalent reduction in workforce in 2020. But spending declines in 2021 and 2022 could lead to a loss of about 500,000 to 750,000 jobs. Over the course of the great recession we lost 2.3 million jobs.

You can read more about the job situation here.

To summarize:

This is a WHAT IF? Analysis.

Assumption that new construction starts drop 20% in 2020 and 10% in 2021 lower than the baseline forecast.

This would cause total construction spending to drop 8% in 2020, 12% in 2021 and 7% in 2022 from the previously established baseline forecast.

The spending declines measured in dollars, measured from the previously established baseline forecast, are: down $100 billion in 2020, down $140 billion in 2021 and down $100 billion in 2022.

This could lead to a loss of about 500,000 to 750,000 jobs for three years.

 

What this will do to the construction inflation rate is hard to predict. Typically when work volume decreases the bidding environment gets more competitive and prices go down. However, if materials shortages develop, that would cause prices to increase. Add to these issues the fact that almost every project currently under construction may be halted for a period of time, the delays may add several weeks to perhaps a month or two to the overall schedule. I think in this case the materials availability issues and schedule delays will outweigh any decline in work available for bid. I would add a minimum of 1% to all baseline inflation rates for 2020 and 2021.

“None of us have much of a sense what the economy will be in 2021.” Fed Chair Jerome Powell 12-11-19

See Also   Pandemic Impact on Construction – Part 2   3-31-20

See Also Pandemic Impacts – Part 3 – Jobs Lost, Inflationary Cost   4-9-20

 

2020 Construction Economic Forecast – Jan 2020

Construction Analytics 2020 Construction Economic Forecast

This January, 2020 Construction Economic Forecast addresses New Construction Starts, Inflation, Cash Flow or distribution of construction work over time, Backlog, Spending or Revenue, and Volume. New Construction Starts is new work entering Backlog. Cash Flow gives the pattern of Spending. Spending adjusted for Inflation differentiates between Revenue and Volume. Backlog can be referenced to assess expected future Volume and Spending. Cash flow provides an indication of when Volume occurs or in what year Revenues occur.

Starts data is from Dodge Data & Analytics. Spending data is from the U.S. Census Bureau. Jobs data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Inflation data is from the source labeled. Cash flow, Backlog and Inflation forecast data are developed internally. All data in this report is national level data. All forecast data is by Construction Analytics

Click here for a downloadable PDF of 2020 Construction Economic Forecast Feb 2020

Click here for a downloadable PDF of SUMMARY – 2020 Construct Econ Forecast 2020

Summary of 2020 Construction Outlook

Total of All construction spending in 2019 is forecast to decrease -0.2% to $1.305 trillion. For 2020, spending increases by 4.6% to $1.365 trillion.

Spend Forecast 2018-2022 1-21-20

Nonresidential Buildings construction spending is forecast to finish 2019 at $455 billion, level with 2018. For 2020 the forecast is a gain of 3% to $467 billion. Educational and Commercial/Retail held down gains in 2019. Office (which includes data centers) and Lodging gained 7% each. Office, Healthcare and Educational all support growth in 2020.

Residential construction spending forecast is down 5% to $521 billion in 2019 and up 6% to $552 billion in 2020. New starts are recovering from a 10% drop in the 1st half of 2019 and are now expected down only slightly for 2019 after the latest three-month average starts were the highest ever. Residential spending peaked in Q1 2018 and dropped 11% to a low in July 2019. Although spending has since recovered half of that drop, growth in 2019 slowed to less than inflation. Residential construction volume in 2019 dropped 8%, the largest volume decline in 10 years. 2020 volume is forecast to increase 2%.

Non-building Infrastructure construction spending is forecast to increase 7% to $329 billion in 2019 and 5% to $345 billion in 2020. Transportation spending gets strong growth from three years of record new starts. Half of all transportation spending in 2021 comes from projects that started in 2017-2019. Both Public Works and Highway starts have been increasing modestly to reach new highs in 2019. Non-building Infrastructure projects have the highest share of multi-billion dollar projects that spread spending out over longer duration.

Spend Sector monthly 2015-2021 2-10-20

Spending data for the previous two years gets revised in July of the following year. Those revisions are always up, although some markets may increase while others decrease. So, even though the current forecast for 2019 spending is down -0.2% to $1.305 trillion, that will most likely increase to a net gain.

In their October annual report, Dodge Data forecast 2019 construction starts to total $809 billion, down 1% from 2018. However, starts are always revised up in the following year. In just the last three years, nonresidential starts have been revised up by 7.5%/yr and residential starts by 2.4%/yr. I expect revisions will show 2019 starts increased by 3% to 4% over 2018. However, even with revisions, 2019 starts will post the slowest annual growth since 2011.

Dodge Data and Analytics new construction starts for November 2019 advanced to the highest seasonally adjusted annual rate ever, resulting in the three months Sep-Oct-Nov 2019 posting the highest 3-mo average ever, 10% higher than the total average for 2018.  Several long duration projects started, so a lot of the spending from these new starts will occur in 2021-2022. Dodge is forecasting 2020 starts down 4%. This forecast includes only 1% to 2% growth in new starts for 2021-2022.

Starting backlog, which increased 5% leading into 2020 is currently at an all-time high, up 20% since 2017. 80% of all Nonresidential spending within the year will be generated from projects in starting backlog. More than 20% of all spending in 2020 is from projects that started more than 3 years ago. 

While a few markets will outperform in 2020 (transportation, public works, office), predicted cash flow (spending) from backlog is up only 1% to 2%. Long duration projects added to backlog and will spread spending out over the next few years. Current indications are that 2020 backlog will be up 4% for residential work, 6% for nonresidential buildings and 7% for infrastructure work.

  • Starts increased 8%/yr. in 2016 and 2017, but only 4% in 2018.
  • Starts are forecast to decline slightly in 2019 and 2020.
  • Spending increased 9%/yr. from 2012 to 2016, then slowed to 4%/yr. in 2017 and 2018.
  • Spending declined 1% in 2019 and is forecast up 4% for 2020 and 1% in 2021.
  • Backlog reaches a post-recession high in 2020, up 20% from 2017, up 100% from 2013.

Since early 2018, jobs have been increasing while construction volume is declining. A declining volume of work does not support jobs growth. When volume of work decreases, jobs should also decrease. If jobs increase, then it results in more workers to produce the same amount of work. In other words, productivity is declining. This could result in one or more of these outcomes:

  • Labor demand on hiring drives labor cost up by unexpected amounts.
  • New labor coming into the workforce has less experience, lowering productivity.
  • Contractors cannot meet schedules, extending project duration.
  • Contractors work overtime to meet schedules, adding cost.

All scenarios either extend project duration or drive up the cost of projects or both, which could lead to some unforeseen inflation.

General construction cost indices and input price indices that don’t track whole building final cost do not capture the full cost of inflation on construction projects. Residential and Nonresidential Buildings inflation indices developed by Construction Analytics are final cost selling price indices.

Nonresidential buildings inflation, after hitting 5% in both 2018 and 2019, is forecast for the next three years to fall from 4.4% to 3.8%, lower than the 4.5% average for the last 4 years.

Residential construction inflation in 2019 was only 3.6%. However, the average inflation for six years from 2013 to 2018 was 5.5%. It peaked at 8% in 2013 but dropped to 4.3% in 2018 and only 3.6% in 2019. Forecast residential inflation for the next three years is level at 3.8%.

Non-building infrastructure indices are so unique to the type of work that individual specific infrastructure indices must be used to adjust cost of work.

This link points to comprehensive coverage of the topic inflation. Click Here for Link to a 20-year Table of 25 Indices

This link points to articles related to the Construction Outlook for 2020. Click Here for Link to Construction Economic Outlook 2020

 

Some Signs Ahead – Economic Indicators

The following reports can be accessed by clicking on the hyperlinks provided.

AIA Consensus January 2020 Construction Forecast is a semi-annual survey of construction economists’ projections for future nonresidential buildings spending. The January 2020 Consensus report of expectations for nonresidential construction shows predicted growth for 2020 at 1.5%. All major markets show growth expectations between -2% and +4%. Office, Healthcare and Education are projected to gain 3% to 3.9%. Commercial/Retail, Lodging and Amusement/Recreation are expected to fall 1.3%-1.9%.

Architectural Billings Index (ABI) measures monthly work on the boards in architectural
firms. It is a nine to twelve month leading indicator to construction. Index values above 50 show increasing billing revenues, and below 50 indicates declining revenues. All ABI indices were above 50 from Jan. 2017 through Jan. 2019. However, from Jan. 2018 through 2019, contrary to the index, spending posted the largest drop in six years.

Dodge Momentum Index (DMI) is a monthly measure of nonresidential projects in
planning, excluding manufacturing and infrastructure. It is a leading indicator of specific nonresidential construction spending by approximately 12 to 15 months. This plot moves the DMI ahead to show when the index would have an affect on construction spending. The DMI is indicating a slow decline in new spending for the 1st half of 2020 but then a rapid increase in the 2nd half. From July 2019 onward, the DMI does not agree with the Starts Cash Flow which is a forecast of  the movement in the spending forecast.

DMI Starts Spend 2015-2021 1-15-20

Producer Price Index indices for 2019 materials average Inputs to construction in 2019 posted a gain of only 1.5%. up 2.1% for nonresidential buildings and up only 0.9% for residential. However, selling price indices for nonresidential buildings and nonresidential trades averages 4% with Industrial buildings, warehouses and schools all over 4.5%. The difference between these indices is the combined affect of labor cost and contractor margins which are not tracked in the PPI inputs.

FMI Q4 2019 Nonresidential Construction Index (NRCI) is 50.4, the lowest reading in eight years. The NCRI is a diffusion index based on a survey of opinions submitted by nonresidential construction executives. With only one slight bump up in Q2 2019, it dropped every other quarter since Q2 2018. Construction spending has been lower every quarter since Q2 2018. Construction spending in 2018 and 2019 declined to the two lowest years since 2011.

Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Non-Manufacturing Index (NMI) Report
for December 2019 is a better indicator of activity in the construction industry than the
ISM manufacturing report. The NMI measures economic activity in 13 industries
(including construction) not covered in the manufacturing sector. The December NMI is
55.0, above 50 for 126 consecutive months, indicating continued economic growth.
Construction shows growth in business activity and increased backlog. Construction shows slower deliveries but no change in prices paid. Construction reports contractors in short supply. A comment from a construction respondent, “While demand is outstripping supply in the housing market, business is down due to global trade insecurity causing affordability, labor and cost pressures.”

 

Construction Starts > Cashflow > Backlog > Spending

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

Construction starts data is needed to predict spending or the level of market activity. This provides insight into market costs and inflation. To predict spending activity from new construction starts, the starts data must be spread over time using appropriate cash flow curves. On average about 20% of new construction starts gets spent within the year started, 50% is spent in the next year and 30% is spent in year three or later. Applying an expected duration for all starts depending on market type to produce a forecast cash flow from starts data, the expected pattern of spending is developed.

The starts data is a survey. As in any survey, starts data captures a share of the total market or a portion of all construction spending, on average about 60% of all construction. The easiest way to understand this is to compare total annual construction starts to total annual spending. National starts from 2016 to 2019 range from $750 billion/year to $800 billion/year, while spending in this period ranges from $1,200 billion/year to $1,300 billion/year. From this comparison we can see starts captures a share of about 60% of the total market. 

This table shows Office starts in 2016 did not drive up spending in 2017, the 2nd year, when most spending occurs. Manufacturing had two huge years of growth in starts but very little growth in spending the following years. The cash flow curves for starts determine when spending occurs. The forecast shows Office spending up 9% in 2020 and Manufacturing up 10% in 2021.

Starts vs Spending Cash Flow 1-27-20 shorter

All construction starts data in this report references Dodge Data & Analytics Starts Data.

Backlog at the beginning of the year or new starts within the year does not give an indication of spending within the year. New starts within any given year could contribute spending spread out over several years. Total cash flow in the year, or spending, could include cash flow from projects that started or entered backlog years ago. An increase in backlog could represent a level rate of market activity, but for a longer duration.

Cash flow provides the best indicator of how much and when spending will occur. Cash flow from all previous starts gives a prediction of how spending will change monthly from all projects in backlog. Cash flow totals of all jobs can vary considerably from month to month, are not only driven by new jobs starting but also old jobs ending, and are heavily dependent on the type, size and duration of jobs.

 

New Construction Starts

Total of all construction starts increased every year from 2010 through 2019. Average growth from 2012 to 2017 was 8%/year. New starts slowed to +2% in 2018 and are forecast up +1% in 2019 and +2% in 2020. Backlog is still up leading into 2020 but after that starts and backlog are forecast to remain below 2% gain or decline over the next few years. Total spending has only slight gains in 2021 and 2022.

CF Forecast Total All Markets Table National 1-27-20

Nonresidential Buildings starts (excluding Terminals) increased every year since 2010. Only Manufacturing declined slightly in 2017. Commercial/Retail declined 6% in 2018. Commercial, Lodging and Amusement posted declines in 2019. The last three years (adjusted) starts are up only 2% to 3% per year. 

Backlog for Office Buildings and Lodging is up 100%+ since 2016. Office includes data centers. Commercial/Retail backlog is down 14% in the last two years. Spending is still up 4% in 2020 but then with the slowdown in starts forecast in 2020, backlog growth stalls and spending slows in 2021-2022.

75%-80% of all Nonresidential Buildings spending within the year will be generated from projects that were booked in starting backlog at the beginning of the year.

CF Forecast Nonres Bldgs Table National 1-27-20

Non-building Infrastructure two markets with the largest share of new starts are Highway/Bridge and Transportation. Transportation terminals and rail starts are up 35% in the last three years, but backlog has doubled because a large portion of those starts is very long duration projects.

CF Forecast NonBuilding Table National 1-27-20

Non-building Infrastructure starts can be erratic with a long pattern of up then down years. Starts (including Terminals) gained only 4% in 2019 but are at an all-time high. Even though starts gain less than 2% in 2020, backlog peaks in 2021. Spending increases are in the 5% to 8% range at least for the next two years. Infrastructure projects typically have the longest duration. Projects contribute spending sometimes up to 5 or 6 years. Spending in recent years has been boosted by Transportation terminals and Highway projects.

Most of the residential spending in any year is cash flow from new starts. For short duration residential spending, single-family residential and renovations work, approximately 75% of spending in the year comes from project starts within the year.

CF Forecast Residential Table National 1-27-20

For long duration residential spending, typical of multifamily residential, approximately 50%-55% of the spending occurs in the year of the start, 35%-40% in the next year and only 5%-10% occurs two years out.

  • 75% to 80% of short duration Residential spending within the year will be generated from projects that are recorded as new starts within the year.
  • 50% to 55% of long duration Multifamily Residential spending within the year will be generated from projects that are recorded as new starts within the year.

Dodge releases its first forecast of next year’s starts every year in the 4th quarter. Dodge initial forecast for 2019 starts was $808 billion, no change from 2018. Starts are currently at $818 billion and will be subject to more revisions. 

  • Previous year starts always later get revised upwards. Therefore, current year starts YTD growth is always understated. This analysis compensates for that.
  • New starts will generate record high starting backlog for every sector in 2020.

Revisions for the last 8 years averaged more than +6%/yr., with most of the upward revision in nonresidential buildings. However, for the last 3 years revisions added only 4%. Revisions to nonresidential buildings have been greater than 7%/year for the last 3 years, non-building revisions average 8%/yr and residential revisions average 2.4%/yr. Therefore, 2019 starts growth is very likely under-reported.

For nonresidential buildings spending, long duration jobs can sometimes have a 5 to 6-year schedule. On average most years have at least some projects start that will be under construction for at least 4 years. For an entire year’s worth of starts, approximately 20% of the spending occurs in the year started, 50% in the next year, 25% in the third year and only 5% in the fourth year or later year. Residential starts contribute spending into the third year. This means that nonresidential spending growth in 2019 was affected by starts from 2016 and residential growth from starts in 2017. This also means that nonresidential spending growth in 2020 is still being affected by starts from 2017.

The Estimated Spending plot below is an index. The plot shows greater accuracy in the cash flow forecast when the slope of the predicted cash flow and actual spending plot lines move in the same direction at the same slope. It’s not the spread between the lines that gives any indication. If the slope of the lines is the same, then the cash flow is accurately predicting the spending.

The light green line for nonresidential buildings spending estimated from starts cash flow shows smooth spending, even though actual monthly starts can be erratic. The actual spending often follows close to the pattern estimated from cash flows.

Starts CF 2015-2022 1-18-20

Starts are sometimes misinterpreted in common industry forecasting articles. Starts dollar values represent a survey of about 60% of industry activity, therefore Starts dollar values cannot ever be used directly to indicate the volume of spending. Also, Starts do not directly indicate changes in spending per month or per year. Only by including an expected duration for all Starts and producing a forecast Cash Flow from Starts data can the expected pattern of spending be developed. Finally, it is the rate of change in Starts Cash Flows that gives an indication of the rate of change in spending.

 

Starting Backlog

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.

  • 75%-80% of all Nonresidential Buildings spending within the year will be generated from projects in starting backlog.
  • 80%-85% of all Non-Building Infrastructure spending within the year will be generated from projects in starting backlog.
  • 70% of All Residential spending within the year is generated from new starts, but this is weighted because 85% of all residential work is short duration single family and renovation work.
  • 65% on long duration Multifamily Residential spending within the year will be generated from projects in starting backlog.

Nonresidential Buildings starting backlog at the beginning of 2020 reached an all-time high. For purposes of this analysis, I’ve set only moderate or low increases in starts for 2020 and 2021, so this forecast may hold down the future backlog and spending forecast. However, backlog leading into 2020 is up 60% in 5 years.

CF Forecast Nonres Bldgs Table National 1-27-20

Non-building Infrastructure starting backlog at the beginning of 2020, up 10% from 2019, reached an all-time high. Some of this is very long-term work that started construction in 2016-2017 and it will contribute spending for the next several years. In fact, about half of all spending in 2020 comes from projects that started prior to Jan 2019. 2021 Backlog is forecast to increase 9%. Backlog is up 25% in the last 3 years. 

CF Forecast NonBuilding Table National 1-27-20

Residential starting backlog, unlike nonresidential, does not contribute nearly as much short-term residential spending within the year. Multifamily residential has a longer duration and a greater percentage of spending comes from backlog. But, due to the shorter duration of projects, about 75% of single family and residential renovation spending within the year is generated from new starts. 

CF Forecast Residential Table National 1-27-20

The plot below shows that backlog has been increasing since 2011-2012. Many projects in backlog extend out several years in the schedule to support future spending, so backlog growth in not an indicator that tracks directly yr/yr with spending. Without any new construction starts in 2020 or beyond, 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.

Start Backlog Res Starts 1-27-20

For Nonresidential Buildings, 68% of 2020 Backlog will get spent within the 1st year. 27% of 2020 Backlog will get spent next year. 2020 backlog will last for 58 months.

For Non-building Infrastructure, 53% of 2020 Backlog will get spent within the 1st year. 32% of 2020 Backlog will get spent next year. 2020 starting backlog will last for 72 months

For Residential construction, 95% of 2020 Backlog will get spent within the 1st year. 2020 backlog would run out in 18 months. Residential construction is far more dependent on new construction starts. If no new work started, the backlog workload would run out quickly.

How much of the spending forecast is supported by starting backlog. For all construction, 62% of 2020 total spending comes from starting backlog. If no new work starts after December 2019, then only 24% of the 2021 spending forecast would be supported from 2020 starting backlog.

Cash Flow

Simply referencing total new starts or backlog does not give an indication of spending within the next calendar year. Projects, from start to completion, can have significantly different duration. Whereas a residential project may have a duration of 6 to 12 months, an office building could have a duration of 18 to 24 months and a billion-dollar infrastructure project could have a duration of 3 to 4 years. New starts within any given year could contribute spending spread out over several years. Cash flow totals of all jobs can vary considerably from month to month, are not only driven by new jobs starting but also by old jobs ending, and are heavily dependent on the type, size and duration of jobs.

Cash flow from all previous starts still in backlog plus cash flow from new starts supports a 2020 spending forecast of $1,365 billion, an increase of 4.6% over 2019. Dodge initial November 2019 forecast for construction starts in 2020 is $776 billion, down 4% from 2019. However, subsequent revisions may increase that a few percent.

There are sometimes vast differences between amounts of Starts, whether already in Backlog at beginning of year or New Starts within the year, and Cash Flow from Backlog and New Starts. The highlighted examples below, Office and Manufacturing, show starts is not a good indicator of expectation for spending. 

Starts vs Spending Cash Flow 1-27-20 shorter

Note that new manufacturing starts were up 29% in 2017 and 26% in 2018, yet 2019-2020 spending is forecast to increase only 3%. This is due in part to the share of market captured in the starts survey having increased, but also to very large projects that started but that have much longer than normal duration to complete, therefore moving the largest monthly cash flows further out into the future.

The following table clearly shows there is not a correlation between starts in any year with spending in either the current or the following year. The practice of using construction starts directly to predict spending can be very misleading in an industry that relies on data for predictive analysis to plan the future. Not only does it not predict the volume of spending in the following year, it does not even consistently predict the direction spending will take, up or down, in the following year. It’s a false indicator and it’s not a good use of data.

Starts vs Spending 2011-2019 1-27-20

Spending

Total of All construction spending is forecast to increase 0.2% to $1.305 trillion in 2019, 4.6% to $1.365 trillion in 2020 and 0.9% to $1.377 trillion in 2021.

Spend Forecast Sectors 2016-2022 1-27-20

Construction spending is strongly influenced by the pattern of continuing or ending cash flows from the previous two to three years of construction starts. Current month/month, year/year or year-to-date trends in starts often do not indicate the immediate trend in spending.

 

Residential Buildings Spending

Residential construction spending is forecast down -4.6% to $521 billion in 2019, but strong new starts in Q4 increases spending by 6.0% to $552 billion in 2020. A 5% decline in 2020 new starts lowers spending in 2021 by -3.79% to $532 billion.

New starts are recovering from a 10% drop in the 1st half of 2019 and are now expected down only slightly for 2019 after the latest three-month average starts were the highest ever. Residential monthly rate of spending peaked in Q1 2018 and dropped 11% to a low in July 2019. Although spending has since recovered half of that drop, there was no overall growth in 2019. 

Residential spending average growth from 2011 through 2017 was 12%/year. Although spending increased 2.7% in 2018, growth was less than inflation of 4.3%, therefore 2018 volume after inflation decline by 1.5%. In 2019 residential spending decreased 4.5%. After accounting for 3.6% inflation, real volume decreased by 7.8%. Residential construction volume in 2019 posted the largest volume decline in 10 years. 2020 volume is forecast to increase only 2%.

Single Family Residential spending is more dependent on new starts within the most recent 12 months than on backlog from previous starts. Multi-Family Residential spending is more dependent on backlog.

CF Forecast Residential Table National 1-27-20

Total residential new starts for the last 3 months and the last 6 months posted the highest rates of growth since 2006. Growth for 2019 is initially down -2.5%, but that is because 2018 has already been revised up by 2.1% and 2019 is yet to be revised. Revisions are usually up. Dodge predicted 2019 starts would fall 5%, however my current forecast is a drop of only 1.3%. 2020 starts are forecast up 2.6%.

CF Forecast Residential MFonly Table National 1-27-20

Residential current$ spending reached a 12-year high in 2018 of $580 billion but that was still far below the 2006 peak of $690 billion. In constant$, adjusted for inflation, all years from 1998 through 2007 were higher than 2018. In constant$, 2018 spending is still 28% below the 2005 peak. As of Dec 2019, constant$ spending is 37% below the 2005 peak.

Spend current vs constant Residential 2020 2-10-20

 

Nonresidential Buildings Spending

Nonresidential Buildings construction spending for 2019 is forecast to finish at $455 billion, up only 0.3% from 2018. Spending is forecast to increase 2.9% to $467 billion in 2020 and 1.2% to $473 billion in 2021. Healthcare, Educational and Office (which includes data centers), support the 2020 forecast. There is downward pressure the next two years from slowdowns in Amusement/Recreation, Commercial/Retail and Lodging.

Spend Forecast NonresBldgs 2016-2022 1-27-20

Current$ spending for Nonresidential buildings reached a monthly high of $470 billion in mid-2018 but then fell slightly and remained between $450 and $460 billion in 2019. Both 2018 and 2019 totals averaged new annual high marks just slightly above 2008. Average annual 2019 spending grew only 0.3% from 2018. 2020 is forecast up 2.9%.

Spending in constant$ (inflation adjusted $) peaked in mid-2018 at $450 billion but by Dec. 2019 it’s down 10% to only $406 billion. It’s expected to remain at this level throughout 2020. Constant $ spending or real volume growth shows all years from 1995 through 2010 had higher volume than the 2020 forecast.

Spend current vs constant Nonres Bldgs 2020 2-10-20

Non-building Infrastructure Spending

Non-building Infrastructure construction spending is forecast to increase 6.8% to $329 billion in 2019 and 4.9% to $345 billion in 2020. Transportation spending gets strong growth from three years of record new starts. In 2017, transportation terminals  increased more than 100%. Half of all transportation spending in 2021 comes from projects that started in 2017-2019. Both Public Works and Highway starts have been increasing modestly to reach new highs in 2019. Non-building Infrastructure projects have the highest share of multi-billion dollar projects that spread spending out over longer duration.

Current infrastructure backlog is at an all-time high and spending is expected to follow the increased cash flows from the elevated backlog. Transportation terminals new starts jumped 100%+ in 2017 . Starting backlog for all transportation work is the highest ever, up 100% since 2017. Transportation spending is projected to increase 20-25%/year for the next two years.

Spend Forecast Nonbldg Infra 2016-2022 1-27-20

Current$ spending for Non-building Infrastructure reached a high annual rate of $340 billion in mid-2019 but then fell slightly to only $325 billion by year end.  Spending in 2020 is expected to increase slowly from $330 billion to $350 billion. Total 2020 spending is expected to increase 5%.

Non-building Infrastructure construction spending in constant $ (inflation adjusted $) peaked at reached $330 billion in 2016, an all-time high, but then dropped to $280 billion in 2018. In 2020 it will average $300 billion. Constant $ spending or real volume growth dropped 10% in 2017-2018 but is forecast to gain 6% in 2019-2021.

Spend current vs constant Non-bldg Infra 2020 2-10-20

 

Public Infrastructure and Public Institutional

Just 60% of all Non-building Infrastructure spending, about $194 billion, is publicly funded. That public subset of work averages growth of less than $10 billion/year.

About 30% of all Nonresidential Buildings spending, about $134 billion, is publicly funded, mostly Educational. Nonresidential buildings spending makes up just over 40% of Public spending.

  • Infrastructure = $328 billion, ~25% of all construction spending.
  • Infrastructure is about 60% public, 40% private. In 2005 it was 70% public.
  • Public Infrastructure = $194 billion. Private Infrastructure = $134 billion.
  • Power and Communications are mostly privately funded infrastructure.

 

  • Nonresidential Buildings is 30% public (mostly institutional), 70% private.
  • Educational, Healthcare and Public Safety are Public Nonres Institutional Bldgs
  • Public Commercial construction is not included.
  • Public Institutional = $110 billion, mostly Education ($80b).

 

Spend PubPriv 2019 totals detail 2-10-20

Public Infrastructure + Public Institutional = $300 billion, 23% of total construction spending.

Public Infrastructure + Institutional average growth is $12 billion/year. It has never exceeded $30 billion in growth in a single year.

See also Publicly Funded Construction

See also Down the Infrastructure Rabbit Hole

24 pub prv share

The two largest markets contributing to public spending are Highway/Bridge (33% of total public spending) and Educational (27%), together accounting for 60% of all public construction spending. At #3, Transportation is only 13% of public spending. Environmental Public Works combined makes up 17% of public spending, but that consists of three markets, Sewage/Waste Water, Water Supply and Conservation. Office, Healthcare, Public Safety and Amusement/Recreation account for about 3%-4% each.

Highway is 100% public and Public Works 99%. Educational is 80% public, Transportation 70%, Amusement/Rec 50% and Healthcare 20%. 

Public Starts and Backlog

The Public markets with the largest share of growth in new starts the last two years are Transportation and Public Works. Transportation terminals and rail starts are up 30% in the last three years, but backlog has doubled because a large portion of those starts is very long duration projects. Public works starts are up 20% and backlog is up 40%. Infrastructure projects typically have the longest duration. Projects contribute spending sometimes up to 5 or 6 years.  

CF Forecast PUBLIC Table National 1-27-20

Public spending backlog is up an average 9%/year for the last three years. Some of this is very long-term work that started construction in 2016-2017 and it will contribute spending for the next several years. 40% of all public spending in 2020 comes from projects that started prior to Jan 2019. Backlog is up 25% in the last 3 years and is forecast to increase another 9% to start 2021. 

Public Spending

Total public spending for 2019 is projected to finished up 8% at $332 billion. Every major public market is projected to finish up in 2020. By far, the largest Public spending increases measured in dollars for 2020 are Transportation, Highway and Educational.

Spend Forecast PubPriv 2016-2022 1-27-20

Public work construction spending in constant $ (inflation adjusted $) reached $318 billion in 2016, short of the highs reached in 2002 and 2008. Constant$ value work then dropped to $300 billion in 2017 and has been level through 2019. In 2020 it will increase only 1%.

Spend current vs constant Infrastr PUBLIC 2020 2-10-20

Construction Inflation

The level of construction activity has a direct influence on labor and material demand and margins and therefore on construction inflation.

Nonresidential buildings inflation, after hitting 5% in both 2018 and 2019, is forecast for the next three years to fall from 4.4% to 3.8%, lower than the 4.5% average for the last 4 years.

Residential construction inflation in 2019 was only 3.6%. However, the average inflation for six years from 2013 to 2018 was 5.5%. It peaked at 8% in 2013 but dropped to 4.3% in 2018 and only 3.6% in 2019. Forecast residential inflation for the next three years is level at 3.8%.

Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure backlog are both at all-time highs. 75% to 80% of all nonresidential spending within the year comes from starting backlog. Most spending for residential comes from new starts in the year.

2020 starting backlog is up 5.5% across all sectors. However, while a few markets will outperform in 2020 (transportation, public works, office), predicted cash flow (spending) from backlog is up only 1% to 2%. Long duration projects added to backlog and will spread spending out over the next few years.

Residential new construction starts in 2019 (number of units started) gained 4% over 2018. In 2018, starts dropped every quarter after Q1, but then increased every quarter in 2019 and closed out the 2nd half of 2019 at 9% higher than the average of the previous six quarters. New starts measured in dollars dropped slightly in 2019. Spending from new starts fell 5% in 2019 but is forecast up 6% for 2020. Residential construction volume (spending after inflation) in 2019 dropped 8%, the largest volume decline in 10 years. Volume in 2019 dropped to a 4-year low. A volume gain of 2% in 2020 leaves residential still at a 4-year low.

General construction cost indices and Input price indices that don’t track whole building final cost do not capture the full cost of inflation on construction projects.

To differentiate between Revenue and Volume you must use actual final cost indices, otherwise known as selling price indices, to properly adjust the cost of construction over time.

Selling Price is whole building actual final cost. Selling price indices track the final cost of construction, which includes, in addition to costs of labor and materials and sales/use taxes, general contractor and sub-contractor margins or overhead and profit.

Consumer Price Index (CPI), tracks changes in the prices paid by consumers for a representative basket of goods and services, including food, transportation, medical care, apparel, recreation, housing. This index in not related at all to construction and should not be used to adjust construction pricing.

Producer Price Index (PPI) for Construction Inputs is an example of a commonly referenced construction cost index that does not represent whole building costs. Engineering News Record Building Cost Index (ENRBCI) and RSMeans Cost Index are examples of commonly used indices that do not capture whole building cost.

Producer Price Index (PPI) Material Inputs (which excludes labor and margins) to new construction increased +4% in 2018 after a downward trend from +5% in 2011 led to decreased cost of -3% in 2015, the only negative cost for inputs in the past 20 years. Input costs to nonresidential structures in 2017+2018 average +4.3%, the highest in seven years. Infrastructure and industrial inputs were the highest, near 5%. But input costs for 2019 are coming in at less than +1%. Material inputs accounts for only a portion of the final cost of constructed buildings.

Materials price input costs in 2019 slowed to an annual rate of less than 1%.  

Labor input is currently experiencing cost increases. The National construction unemployment rate was recently posted below 4%, the lowest on record with data back to 2000.  The average has been below 5% for the last 18 months. During the previous expansion it hit a low average of 5%. During the recession it went as high as 25%. An unemployment rate this low signifies a tight labor market. This may cause contractors to pay premiums over and above normal wage increases to keep valued workers from leaving. Some premiums accelerate labor cost inflation but are not recorded in published wage data, so aren’t easily tracked. Lack of experienced workers and premiums to keep labor drive labor cost increases higher than wage growth.

Although many contractors report shortages due to labor demand, labor growth may slow due to a forecast 2019-2020 construction volume decline. We might see a labor growth decline lag spending/volume decline.

When construction activity is increasing, total construction costs typically increase more rapidly than the net cost of labor and materials. In active markets overhead and profit margins increase in response to increased demand. These costs are captured only in Selling Price, or final cost indices.

Construction Analytics Building Cost Index, Turner Building Cost Index, Rider Levett Bucknall Cost Index and Mortenson Cost Index are all examples of whole building cost indices that measure final selling price (for nonresidential buildings only). The average annual growth for all these indices over the past five years is 4.7%/year. For the last two years, average nonresidential buildings inflation is 5.3%.

  • Long-term construction cost inflation is normally about double consumer price index (CPI).
  • Average long-term nonresidential buildings inflation excluding recession years is 4.2%.
  • Average long-term (30 years) nonresidential construction cost inflation is 3.5% even with any/all recession years included.
  • In times of rapid construction spending growth, nonresidential construction annual inflation averages about 8%. Residential has gone as high as 10%.
  • Nonresidential buildings inflation has average 3.7% since the recession bottom in 2011. It has averaged 4.2% for the last 4 years.
  • Residential buildings inflation reached a post-recession high of 8.0% in 2013 but dropped to 3.4% in 2015. It has averaged 5.8% for the last 5 years.
  • Although inflation is affected by labor and material costs, a large part of the change in inflation is due to change in contractors/supplier margins.
  • When construction volume increases rapidly, margins increase rapidly.
  • Construction inflation can be very different from one major sector to the other and can vary from one market to another. It can even vary considerably from one material to another.

Residential construction inflation in 2019 was only 3.6%. However, the average inflation for six years from 2013 to 2018 was 5.5%. It peaked at 8% in 2013 but dropped to 4.3% in 2018 and only 3.6% in 2019. Residential construction volume in 2019 dropped 8%, the largest volume decline in 10 years. Typically, large declines in volume are accompanied by declines in inflation. Forecast residential inflation for the next three years is level at 3.8%.

A word about Hi-Rise Residential. Most of the cost of a hi-rise residential building would remain the same whether the building was for residential or nonresidential use. On the contrary, this type of construction is totally dis-similar to low-rise residential, which in large part is stick-built single family homes. Therefore, a more appropriate index to use for hi-rise residential construction is the nonresidential buildings index.

Nonresidential inflation, after hitting 5% in both 2018 and 2019, is forecast for the next three years to fall from 4.4% to 3.8%, lower than the 4.5% average for the last 4 years. Spending needs to grow at a minimum of 4.4%/yr. just to stay ahead of construction inflation, otherwise volume is declining. Spending slowed dramatically in 2019. However, new starts in 2018 and 2019 boosted backlog and 2020 spending will post the strongest gains in four years.

Several Nonresidential Buildings Final Cost Indices averaged over 5% per year for the last 2 years and over 4% per year for the last 5 years. Nonresidential buildings inflation totaled 22% in the last five years. Input indices that do not track whole building cost would indicate inflation for those five years at only 12%, much less than real final cost growth. For a $100 million project escalated over those five years, that’s a difference of $10 million, potentially underestimating cost.

Notice in this next plot how index growth is much less for ENR BCI and RSMeans, both input indices, than for all other selling price final cost indices. From 2010 to 2019, total final price inflation is 110/80 = 1.38 = +38%. Input cost indices total only 106/85 = 1.25 = +25%, missing a big portion of the cost growth over time.

 Nonresidential Buildings Selling Price Indices vs Input Indices

BCI 2010-2020 Firms 12-9-19

Non-building infrastructure indices are so unique to the type of work that individual specific infrastructure indices must be used to adjust cost of work. The FHWA highway index increased 17% from 2010 to 2014, stayed flat from 2015-2017, then increased 15% in 2018-2019. The IHS Pipeline and LNG indices increased 4% in 2019 but are still down 18% since 2014. Coal, gas, and wind power generation indices have gone up only 5% total since 2014. Refineries and petrochemical facilities dropped 10% from 2014 to 2016 but regained all of that by 2019. BurRec inflation for pumping plants and pipelines has averaged 2.5%/yr since 2011 and 3%/yr the last 3 years.

Anticipate 3% to 4% inflation for 2020 with the potential to go higher in rapidly expanding Infrastructure markets, such as pipeline or highway.  This link refers to Infrastructure Indices.

 Construction Analytics Building Cost Index

BCI 2005-2022 12-9-19

In the following plot, Construction Analytics Building Cost Index annual percent change for nonresidential buildings is plotted as a line against a bar chart of the range of all other nonresidential building inflation indices. Bars represent the predicted range of inflation from various sources with the solid line showing the composite final cost inflation. Note that although 2015 and 2016 have a low end of predicted inflation of less than 1%, the actual inflation is following a pattern of growth above 4%. The low end of the predicted range is almost always established by input costs (ENR BCI is plotted), while the upper end of the range and the actual cost are established by selling price indices.

 Construction Analytics Nonresidential Buildings Cost Index

vs Range of Input Indices

Inflation Range 1993-2020 plot vs ENR 1-18-20

As noted above, some reliable nonresidential selling price indexes have been over 4% since 2014. Currently most selling price indices are over 5% inflation since 2018.

Reference Inflation PCT 12-17-19

Every index as published has its own base year = 100, generally the year the index was first created, and they all vary. All indices here are converted to the same base year, 2017 = 100, for ease of comparison. No data is changed from the original published indices.

Reference Inflation INDEX 12-17-19

Non-building Infrastructure indices are far more market specific than any other type of index. Reference specific Infrastructure indices rather than any average.

A word about terminology: Inflation vs Escalation. These two words, Inflation and Escalation, both refer to the change in cost over time. However escalation is the term most often used in a construction cost estimate to represent anticipated future change, while more often the record of past cost changes is referred to as inflation. Keep it simple in discussions. No need to argue over the terminology, although this graphic might represent how most owners and estimators reference these two terms.

Inflation Escalation with text

This link points to comprehensive coverage of the topic inflation and is recommended reading. Click Here for Link to a 20-year Table of 25 Indices

 

Current$ vs Constant$ – Spending vs Volume

Comparing current $ spending to previous year spending does not give any indication if business volume is increasing. The inflation factor is missing. If spending is increasing at 5%/year at a time when inflation is 4%/year, real volume is increasing by only 1%.

Nonresidential buildings spending increased 3.3% in 2017, 4.4% in 2018 and 0.3% in 2019. But nonresidential buildings inflation for those three years was 3.7%, 5.0% and 5.0%. Nonresidential volume therefore declined for three consecutive years by a total of 5.5%. The current nonresidential buildings forecast spending growth is 3%/yr or less for the next three years. With inflation near 4%, that would suggest inflation adjusted nonresidential buildings construction volume is declining.

Residential spending increased from 2011 through 2017 by average growth of 13%/year.  With average residential inflation during that period of 5%/year, inflation adjusted residential volume increased by 8%/year. That changed in 2018. 

Residential spending increased only 2.7% in 2018 and dropped 4.6% in 2019. Residential inflation for 2018 and 2019 was 4.3% and 3.6%. Residential volume therefore declined by 1.6% in 2018 and 8% in 2019. Current residential forecast spending growth is +6% in 2020 but then -3.7% in 2021. With inflation just under 4%, that indicates inflation adjusted residential construction volume will grow only 2% in 2020 but may drop 7% in 2021.

In 2018 and 2019, total construction volume declined 6%. Residential volume declined 10%. Construction spending forecast for 2020 is $1,365 billion, an increase of 4.6% from 2019. But 2020 inflation is forecast at 4%. So, after inflation real volume growth in 2020 is forecast up less than 1%. It’s down 1.4% for nonresidential buildings but up 2% for residential.

Spend Sector 2015-2021 1-4-20

Nonresidential Buildings will post declines in volume in 2020 & 2021. Non-building Infrastructure volume will increase 1% in 2020 and 4% in 2021. If residential starts hold as forecast at only 1% to 2% growth, residential volume will decline sharply by 7% in 2021 after a moderate 2% gain in 2020. Overall, total construction volume has declined in 4 out of the last 6 quarters and is forecast to drop slightly in 3 of 4 quarters in 2020.

The plot below, comparing inflation adjusted constant dollars with current spending dollars for all construction, clearly shows that although spending is at an all-time high, volume is down the last two years and is lower than all years from 1998 through 2008. 

Spend current vs constant 2019 1-22-20

Spending after adjusting for inflation shows volume never got closer than 13% less than the previous 2005 high. Currently, volume is 17% lower than the 2005 peak.

 

Jobs and Volume

Construction requires about 5,000 workers for a year for every added $1 billion in construction “volume”. But construction jobs growth seems to closely follow growth in spending. Construction jobs have increased by 400,000 in a year only four times in the last 50 years, each time accompanied by one of the four highest spending growth increases in 50 years. However, spending is not the same as volume, and jobs needed is based on volume.

Construction added 1,400,000 jobs in the 5 years 2014-2018, an average of 280,000 jobs/year. The only time in history that exceeded jobs growth like that was the period 1993-99 with the highest 5-year growth ever of 1,483,000 jobs. That same 1993-99 period had the previous highest 5-year spending and volume growth going back to 1984-88.

Although 2020 spending will increase 4.6%, construction inflation has been hovering between 4% and 5% for the last five years. Real volume growth in 2020 after inflation is expected to be only 0.6% or only $7 billion. That would mean the need, if there are no changes in productivity, is to add only about 35,000 additional jobs in 2020.

But the results are much different for Residential than Nonresidential.

Nonresidential spending increased 50% since Jan. 2011 with 35% inflation. Nonresidential volume increased by only 15%. Jobs increased by 27%, 12% in excess of volume growth.

Residential spending increased by 125% since Jan. 2011, but after 40% inflation, real residential volume increased by 85%. Jobs increased by only 40%, 45% short of volume growth.

There are a few reasons why residential construction labor might not be compared easily to residential spending; 

  • Some residential high-rise jobs, for example structure, are performed by firms whose primary activity is commercial construction. Those jobs are classified as nonresidential.
  • Buildings that are multi-use commercial retail and residential, even lo-rise, may be built by contractors whose firms are classified nonresidential labor. The construction spending would be broken out to residential and nonresidential, but the labor would not.
  • Some undocumented labor is not counted, and it’s primarily residential.

For these reasons, it is best to simplify comparisons of spending activity to total labor.

Jobs should follow volume growth, yet history shows that in non-recessionary periods, even with volume declining, jobs usually continue to increase, but perhaps at a slower rate.

From 1997 to 2004, it took 4800 jobs to put-in-place $1 billion of construction in one year. By 2008 that increased to 5500 jobs to do $1 billion of work in one year. It remained level at 5500jobs/$1 billion/yr until 2016. In 2018 it jumped to 5800 jobs and in 2019, 6100 jobs, the highest ever recorded.   

There has not been any volume growth in the last two years to support jobs growth. In constant$, there was no volume growth in any sector in 2018. In 2019 only Non-building Infrastructure shows 2% growth. Total construction volume is down 1.4% in 2018 and 4.4% in 2019. 

In the last two years, spending increased only 2.5%, but construction inflation totaled 9%, therefore, real volume declined by more than 6%, yet jobs increased by 7.5%. From 2006 to 2017, jobs and volume growth were nearly equal. Since 2017, volume and jobs growth is diverging. Construction volume has been declining while jobs have been increasing. That can’t be sustained. 

This plot shows predicted 2020 jobs growth of 1.5% or just over 100,000 jobs. Since volume is forecast to gain less than 1%, any jobs growth in 2020 beyond 1% will increase the disparity between jobs and volume growth. The disparity has been increasing since early 2018. It’s a 15% difference right now. Within a year that could be 20%.

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

By resetting the baseline of this next plot to 2006, the year of the last major divergence in jobs growth vs volume, it shows all other years from 2007 to 2017 were pretty well-balanced growth. With the exception of 2006 and now 2018-2019, for almost every year from 1997 to 2019 jobs grew pretty closely aligned with volume. A big 15% spread occurred in 2006, then growth remained balanced through 2017. The spread now is near the same as it was in 2006.

See post for development of this plot Expect Construction Jobs Growth to Slow in 2020

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

Volume declines will drive jobs to slower growth. We had 6 years of annual growth of 250,000-300,000/yr. Jobs increased by only 150,000 in 2019. In 2020, growth may be lower to 100,000.

Construction jobs growth slowed substantially the last two quarters. I  predicted jobs growth would slow because volume growth had already been declining since early 2018 when volume reached a peak of $1,300 billion. Volume is now $1,200 billion, down 8% in 22 months.  After 6 years of jobs increasing at an average 280,000/year, jobs are up only about +150,000 in 2019, but only +70,000 in the last 8 months. The rate of jobs growth is now the slowest in 7 years. I expect this trend to continue.

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 labor cost growth will add to inflation.

Jobs trailing 12mo growth 2013-2020 1-10-20

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

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

 

Predicted Reliability of Construction Forecasting

For any future forecast month, the most information is in hand the month before. Assessing the amount of actual data (jobs in backlog) versus the amount of predicted data gives an indication of how much weight can be placed on the forecast. Obviously, the balance of actual data versus predicted data gets less the further out in time we view the forecast.

For Nonresidential work, most of the spending in any given year comes from projects already in backlog. For nonresidential forecasting, 80% of all the spending in the year comes from projects in backlog. Only 20% of spending in the year is generated from new project starts within the year.

For Residential work, most of the spending in any given year comes from new project starts within the year. Only about 30% of the spending in the year comes from projects already in backlog.

The total amount of work in backlog supports 98% of the forecast in the following month for nonresidential and 94% of the forecast for residential. The amount of known work that will generate spending in the month 12 months out from the forecast date is only 80% for nonresidential work. It’s only 30% for residential work.

For the period only 12 to 24 months out from the forecast date, actual nonresidential data drops from 80% to 30%. Residential actual data drops from 30% to zero.

For all markets combined, accounting for the weighted averages of residential and nonresidential work, once all construction starts are reported to include the data as of Dec. 2019, the 2020 forecast includes 78% actual data and 22% predicted data. The 2021 forecast includes only 40% actual data from starts that have been booked.  All the rest of the 2021 forecast is predicted.

Three years out from the current date the reliability of the forecast is dependent entirely on economic outlook and the predictive methodology of the analytic tools, not on actual data. It’s important to know, when you are looking at a forecast that projects three years out past the current year, there may be no “actual” data in that forecast.

Reliability of Data 10-2-18

 

Questions regarding this analysis can be addressed to: Edward R. Zarenski – Construction Economics Analyst – Construction Analytics – edzarenski@gmail.com – 401-330-6152

Data used in this report is accessed from the following data sources:

Construction Analytics Economics Reports  https://edzarenski.com/

Construction Analytics Inflation https://edzarenski.com/2016/10/24/construction-inflation-index-tables-e08-19/

Associated General Contractors of America AGC https://www.agc.org/learn/construction-data/construction-data-producer-prices-and-employment-costs

Dodge Data and Analytics Construction Starts  https://www.construction.com/news

Engineering News Record  https://www.enr.com/

Mortenson https://www.mortenson.com/cost-index

Rider Levitt Bucknall  https://www.rlb.com/en/index/publications/?geolocation=americas

RSMeans data from Gordian https://www.rsmeans.com/landing-pages/2019-rsmeans-cost-index.aspx

S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index  https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/CSUSHPINSA

Turner  http://www.turnerconstruction.com/cost-index

U.S. Census Construction Spending https://www.census.gov/construction/c30/release.html

U.S. Census Housing Construction Index https://www.census.gov/construction/nrs/pdf/price_uc.pdf

U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics https://www.bls.gov/ppi/ppinrbc.htm

U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics Construction Labor U. S. https://www.bls.gov/iag/tgs/iag23.htm

 

Click here for a downloadable PDF of 2020 Construction Economic Forecast Feb 2020

Click here for a downloadable PDF of SUMMARY – 2020 Construct Econ Forecast 2020

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