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Seldom do two sources present information the same way!
In the construction industry, a disconnect exists in the reporting of construction starts data and spending data. Problems may arise when data is used to perform comparisons or forecasts. New starts and backlog may be listed in one category and spending for the same markets may be listed in another.
The U.S. Census Construction Put-in-Place (Construction Spending) Release follows these definitions. I adjust all other input/forecasting data that I use to conform to these Put-in-Place definitions. Some pitfalls to be aware of:
Residential spending data is about 35% renovations and improvements that has no units associated with the dollars, so cannot be included in a comparison to housing starts.
Demolition is not included in renovations/improvements. Partial repair of flood damaged homes is NOT included in residential improvements. Full replacement of flood damaged homes is included as improvements, not new single family.
Offices includes pubic buildings such as city halls and courthouses. Also includes data centers and bank buildings but excludes medical office buildings, offices at manufacturing sites and offices at educational facilities.
Commercial includes all retail buildings, warehouses, parking lots and garages. Excludes parking at educational/healthcare facilities. Census DOES separate the costs for buildings that are mixed use retail/office/residential.
Educational, along with K-12, includes administrative offices, health centers, parking, residence halls, classrooms, labs, food service and sports/recreation facilities at colleges and universities and all associated infrastructure and maintenance facilities at the educational site. Also includes public libraries, science centers and museums.
Healthcare includes similar support and infrastructure to educational. Also includes non-manufacturing and non-educational research labs.
Amusement and Recreation includes performing arts centers, civic centers, convention centers, sports and recreation facilities not located at schools or colleges.
Transportation includes air freight and passenger terminals, runways, bus and railroad passenger terminals, light rail and subway facilities, railroad track, railway structures and bridges, docks and marine terminals and maintenance facilities and infrastructure associated with each.
Some sources of design or new construction starts data carry terminal buildings as institutional buildings or other public nonresidential buildings, but Census caries the building cost of all terminals grouped in with the non-building infrastructure costs of Transportation. Some sources carry public buildings such as city halls and courthouses as Public Safety but Census carries cost data for public buildings such as city halls and courthouses in Offices. Some sources classify laboratories as commercial and warehouses as industrial/manufacturing but Census includes warehouses in Commercial and labs, depending on use, can be either Educational, Healthcare or Manufacturing.
Similar discrepancies may exist when comparing starts or spending to indexes, such as the Architectural Billings Index, which broadly classifies projects as commercial, institutional or residential. Some resources classify Amusement/Recreation as institutional and some as commercial. Labs are sometimes classified as commercial but in many cases are included in educational or healthcare, both institutional.
As you can see, there are several instances where the data are often mixed up. From the point of view of the forecaster, initial input data cannot always be used directly to forecast or match spending output. Some manipulation of the data is required to make input and output match. For example: I move starts for terminals from nonresidential buildings to non-building infrastructure Transportation, so that really changes my totals by sector.
What does your source for data take into consideration? Know your data!
Total Construction Starting Backlog is at a record high, up 30% from the previous high in 2008.
Infrastructure and Residential sectors dropped to a decade low backlog in 2010. In 2013, nonresidential buildings hit the lowest starting backlog since 2004. Combined, total backlog hit a low-point in 2011, the lowest since 2003. Total Starting Backlog has been increasing since 2011, up 65% in 2018.
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. Residential backlog is at a post-recession high, although as will be explained later, it is new residential starts that are more important and starts have tripled since the 2009 low. 70% of all residential spending in the year comes from new starts. Residential starts are still 20% below the 2004 peak.
Starts Generate Backlog
New Starts increased at an average rate of 11%/year from 2012 to 2016. 2017 starts slowed to less than half that pace.
Nonresidential Buildings starts, even though there was a 1% decline in 2015, averaged 13%/year growth for the last 4 years. 2017 will post an 8% increase. The 6 months from Aug 2016 to Jan 2017 was the highest starts since Jan-Jun 2008, also the year nonresidential buildings spending peaked. The 6 months Apr-Sep 2017 just surpassed both those previous peak highs.
Non-building Infrastructure starts were the highest in the 1st 6 months of 2015 than any 6-month period in history. Total 2015 starts increased 26%. 2016 is down just 2% from the peak 2015 starts and 2016 is the 2nd highest starts on record. Those early 2015 starts will still generate 10% of all spending in 2018. 2017 starts are level with 2016. After revisions, 2017 starts may set a new peak high.
Residential starts in 2016 posted the best year since 2005-2006. New starts in 2016 were revised up to show an increase of 10% over 2015. That follows five years of growth averaging 20%/year. New starts in Q1’17 reached an 11 year high.
New Backlog is added every month from New Construction Starts. When projects first enter backlog, the amount counted to backlog is the total value of project revenues under contract that are about to start construction, or the same as the new start values. For purposes of predicting future construction spending, as each month of project construction passes, work that has been put-in-place is subtracted from the total value to get the amount remaining in 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 three years ago. The amount counted in backlog is the value of the project that remains or that has not yet been put-in-place. Backlog is the total amount of future spending that will be generated by the project, commonly referred to as the ETC. The sum of all ETCs represents current backlog.
- Nonresidential buildings 2018 starting backlog is up 10%
- Non-building Infrastructure 2018 starting backlog is up 12%
- Residential buildings 2018 starting backlog is down 3%
- Starting Backlog is at an all-time high for nonresidential buildings and non-building infrastructure.
Typically, starting backlog is a reference to the amount of work in backlog on January 1st. It is referred to as the Starting Backlog for the coming year. The sum of all ETCs as of December 31st represents Starting Backlog.
For any project that has a remaining duration going out past year end, backlog at the start of year does not represent the amount that will be spent within the year. Some of that project backlog will be spent in future years. For this reason, backlog is not representative of spending within the year and the change in Starting Backlog from year to year is not an indication of a change in spending from year to year.
Values and duration of projects that make up backlog help to better predict spending activity over time, particularly in the coming year.
A cash flow schedule of all ETC backlog and predicted new starts provides a tool to predict future spending. It is not enough to look at just the change in backlog to get an indication of the strength of the market. While continued growth in backlog is important, the predicted cash flow from backlog and cash flow from new starts is necessary for predicting spending.
Construction spending is strongly influenced by long duration projects in backlog, more-so than normal monthly starts growth rate. The pattern of continuing or ending cash flows from the long duration backlog projects causes fluctuations in spending that supersede the balance cycle of one month of old jobs ending for every new month of jobs starting. This often can be responsible for some of the monthly fluctuations of construction spending.
The following table shows predicted cash flow from backlog on record as of October 1, 2017 and predicted starts that will generate future backlog in 2018.
Look Ahead to 2018
Buildings and Infrastructure will both hit new all-time highs for starting backlog in 2018. For four years, from 2010 to 2013, all nonresidential backlog remained nearly constant. Since then, growth has been similar to the pre-recession construction boom of the early 2000s.
Nonresidential buildings 2018 starting backlog is 50% higher than at the start of 2014, the beginning of the current growth cycle. Starting backlog has increased for 5 years at an average 10%/year. Spending from starting backlog, up 10% in 2018, increased for 5 years at an average 9%/year. Buildings will reach a new high for spending in 2018.
Non-building Infrastructure 2018 starting backlog is up 35% since 2014 but spending from backlog is up only 10%. Infrastructure starting backlog has been increasing for more than 10 years, sometimes only a fraction of a percent per year. Since 2010, backlog increased only 3%/year for the first 5 years then it jumped 35% in the last 3 years. Spending within the year from starting backlog is up 8% in 2018. Infrastructure spending will hit a new high in 2018.
Due to the shorter duration of projects, nearly 70% of residential spending within the year is generated from new starts. Unlike nonresidential, backlog does not contribute nearly as much residential spending within the year. New residential starts in Q1’17 reached an 11 year high.
- Cash flow models of construction projects in backlog are indicating substantial acceleration in nonresidential spending over next year, perhaps most notable in infrastructure.
- 75% to 80% of nonresidential spending within the year comes from Starting Backlog.
- 70% of residential spending within the years comes from New Starts. Residential starts are at a post-recession high.
- Share of spending within the current year from backlog is at an all-time high for nonresidential buildings and non-building infrastructure.
Nonresidential buildings experienced a decline in starting backlog as recently as 2013. Since 2013, nonresidential buildings starting backlog is up 60%. Backlog will hit a new all-time high for 2018, 5% over the previous high in 2009 . Not only is starting backlog higher coming into 2018, but also spending from backlog is predicted up by 10%. This will produce a new high in current dollar spending.
Revenues from starting backlog account for 75% of all nonresidential buildings construction spending within the year.
Educational starts, backlog and spending has been increasing for 5 years or longer. 2018 starting backlog is up 16% from 2017. Starts for 2018 are predicted to go up 13% and this will push 2019 starting backlog even higher. This should produce good spending growth for the next few years.
Office construction starting backlog for 2017 was the highest in at least 8 years, more than double at the start of 2014 when the current growth cycle of office construction spending began. For 2018 it’s up 27% over 2017. Office starting backlog increased an average of 28%/year for the last 5 years. Actual spending increased an average of 17%/year. Backlog growth looks like it will support very strong spending increases into 2019.
Commercial Retail backlog will hold steady from 2017 into 2018. This should level off spending after 7 years of strong growth. 2018 backlog still produces a spending increase but current projections show a slight drop in 2019.
Lodging backlog increases slightly for 2018. Beyond 2018, spending will decline, but this is after 6 years of growth totaling 300%.
Manufacturing posted a 100% increase in new starts in 2014 that drove starting backlog to new highs for the next two years. With new starts slowing back to normal by 2016, starting backlog dropped 20% in 2017 and spending dropped 12%. That was expected. What was unexpected is that 2017 posted another very strong year of new starts and that pushed 2018 starting backlog again to a new high. This will support a spending rebound in 2018-2019 after a drop of 18% in the last two years.
Non-building infrastructure backlog stood at $180 billion in 2008, the last pre-recession year. At the beginning of 2017, non- building infrastructure backlog hit an all-time high, $260 billion, up 45% from 2008. For the last three years, starting backlog is up 40%. In 2018, it’s up 13%, another new high.
Revenues from starting backlog account for 80% of all non-building infrastructure construction spending within the year.
Power backlog has doubled since 2014. It’s up 11% for 2018. Starts are down 14% from the 2015 peak, but spending from backlog is increasing. Most relevant is that backlog increased much stronger than spending. Backlog is being driven higher by very long duration projects that started in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Highway starts declined the last two years from the peak in 2015, but starting backlog increased the last 3 years and is now 25% higher than 2015. The last three years of highway starts are still feeding spending in 2018. There is very little change in the amount of spending from backlog, so 2018 spending won’t change very much from 2017.
Transportation new starts shot up by 70% in 2017, pushing 2018 starting backlog to a new high, up 75% from 2017. That will help increase 2018 spending by more than 15%, but a larger spending increase could come in 2019.
Environmental Public Works, Sewer/water/Conservation is experiencing declining starts, declining backlog and declining spending from backlog. All are at the lowest since 2014. We may not see any increase in construction spending until 2019.
Public vs Private starts are not tracked separately, but the public share of markets is known. Therefore a projection of public backlog is possible. Highway and Environmental Public Works are 100% public. Educational is 80% public, Transportation is 70%, Amusement/Rec is 50%, Healthcare is 20% and Power is 10% public, along with few other smaller shares. Starting backlog for 2018 is up 40% from 2014 due to the predominantly long duration projects that make up public work. This is a post-recession high and is nearing the all-time high of 2008. Increased backlog is indicating the best construction spending increases since 2008 for the next two years.
Residential new starts hit bottom in 2009 and starting backlog hit bottom in 2010. Residential on average has the shortest duration and new starts has a dramatic impact on the amount of available work. Both new starts and backlog are now 3x higher than the lows. New residential starts have increased every year since the 2009 bottom, but are still 25% lower than 2004-2005. Residential spending reached its peak of $630 billion in 2005. Current spending is still 15% below that peak. In constant $, spending is 30% below that peak.
Due to the shorter duration of projects, nearly 70% of residential spending within the year is generated from new starts. Unlike longer duration nonresidential projects, backlog does not contribute nearly as much. If no new work started within the year, within a matter of a few months there would be no backlog ETC left to support the residential construction industry.
New starts slowed in 2017 to only 4% growth and similar growth of 6% is expected for 2018. This is not unexpected after 5 years (2012-2016) of new starts growth at an average 20%/year. This leads to a prediction of 2018 spending up only 6%.
All construction starts data in this report references Dodge Data & Analytics starts data.
See this companion post for Starts Trends Construction Forecast Fall 2017
Also see 2018 spending forecast Spending Summary Construction Forecast Fall 2017
It all starts here! Construction Starts Generate Construction Spending.
2017 construction starts through September total $557 billion Year-to-date (YTD), even with 2016. If/when 2017 gets revised as expected it will then show +3% to +4% growth over 2016, but we won’t see that growth in the revision data until next year.
- Previous year starts always later get revised upwards. Therefore, current year starts ytd growth is always understated.
- Revisions for the period 2012-2015 averaged +4%.
- Revisions to 2016 year-to-date through September are +10%.
- Starts have been increasing at an average rate of 11%/year for the last 5 years.
- Nonresidential Buildings and Nonbuilding Infrastructure are at or near all-time highs.
- Residential starts are at a post-recession high.
- New starts will generate record high 2018 starting backlog for every sector.
Nonresidential Buildings starts, averaged 13%/year growth for the last 4 years, even though there was a 1% decline in 2015. 2017 will post an 8% increase. The 6 months from Aug 2016 to Jan 2017 was the highest period of starts since Jan-Jun 2008, the year nonresidential buildings spending peaked. The 6 months Apr-Sep 2017 just surpassed both those previous peak highs. This will help support increases in nonresidential buildings spending for the next two years.
Infrastructure starts posted a higher value of new construction projects in the 1st 6 months of 2015 than any 6-month period in history. 2016 is down just 2% from the peak 2015 starts and 2016 is the 2nd highest starts on record. Those early 2015 starts will still generate 10% of all spending in 2018. After revisions, 2017 starts may set a new peak high. This would set up infrastructure as the strongest growth sector for the next two years.
Residential starts in 2016 posted the best year since 2005-2006. New starts in 2016 were revised up by 5% to show an increase of 10% growth over 2015. That follows five years of growth averaging 20%/year. Initial values posted for 2017 show starts up by only 3.5%, however, the average revision for the past few years has been +2% to +4%, so 2017 will get revised higher. New starts in Q1 2017 reached an 11 year high.
All construction starts data in this report references Dodge Data & Analytics Starts data.
Retail/Commercial starts may finish flat for 2017 but that is compared to peak starts in 2016. Starts for the 12 months Aug 2016 – June 2017 posted 10% growth over the previous 12 months. Commercial starts have been increasing every year since 2010.
Office construction starts have been increasing since 2010 with the strongest growth period of new starts in the 12 months July 2016 – June 2017, the highest 12 months on record, 60% higher than the previous 12 months. That high-volume period of starts is going to elevate spending in both 2018 and 2019 to come in higher than 2017. Office starts averaged year-over-year (YOY) growth of 20%/year for the last five years. Data centers are included in Office.
Educational starts are up 15% in 2017. Starts have averaged YOY growth of 8%/year for the last two years and have had slow but steady growth since 2012. The growth in starts will support growth in spending or the next three years.
Office, Retail and Educational markets comprise 60% of all nonresidential buildings. They are collectively responsible for 70% of the increase in 2017 nonresidential buildings starts.
Healthcare starts have quietly increased to a record high over the last 12 months, up 30% for the 12 months through August vs the previous 12 months.
Lodging starts will be down ~10% in 2017, but from 2013 to 2016 averaged over 25%/year for 4 years.
Manufacturing is the only nonresidential building market that will NOT finish 2017 with new starts totals at or near post-recession highs. Manufacturing reached record high starts in 2014 and record spending in 2015. However, 2017 will post new starts 50% higher than initially predicted by Dodge.
Manufacturing spending was expected to fall in 2017 after peaking in 2015 from massive growth in new starts in 2014. Based on cash flows from starts, spending was expected to decline in 14 of the last 18 months. It did decline in 11 of those months. We are at the point of turn-around with only 1 monthly decline predicted in the next 3 months and no spending declines expected next year.
Sewer/Water/Conservation, the three Environmental Public Works markets, posted declines in new project starts in 3 (sewer) or 4 of the last 4 years. Collectively, new starts in 2017 are the lowest in 5 years. Cash flow predicted from starts has been indicating spending declines since Q2-2016. In fact, spending has declined in 12 of the last 18 months. Cash flow still predicts more spending declines over the next 8 months.
Highway/Bridge/Street starts in the 2nd half of 2014 recorded the slowest rate of growth in the last 6 years. Starts that would normally be contributing spending through 2017 and into 2018 contributed a lower than normal volume of spending which will end in 2017. Had it not been for the extremely high volume of starts in the 1st 4 months of 2014, the most ever recorded in 4 consecutive months, 2017 spending would have dropped more than double the 4% spending decline now forecast.
Highway starts in the 1st 6 months of 2015 posted the next highest growth to early 2014. Spending in 2018 will benefit from those projects that started in 2015 but that have unusually long duration. They will contribute a higher rate of spending in 2018 beyond the duration that typical projects would have ended. It is not recent new starts but old backlog that is influencing 2017 and 2018 highway spending.
Transportation Terminal starts in the first three months of 2017 were more than three times higher than any three-month period in the previous five years. While this helped turn 2017 spending positive, 2017 is still affected by uneven starts from two to three years ago holding down gains in the 2nd half. Transportation will show only a 1% gain in 2017 spending but will post double digits gains in 2018. The high volume of 2017 starts has the most effect on 2019 spending. Terminal buildings is reported in Dodge Starts in Other Institutional Bldgs. However Census reports terminal spending in Transportation along with rail and Dock spending. I adjust the starts data in my reports conform to Census organization.
Power market starts peaked in 2015 at an all-time high, up 142% from 2014 and more than the prior two years combined. The Power market was the prime contributor to the abnormally high infrastructure starts in the 1st 6 months in 2015. Power spending was down 6% in 2015 and up only 3% in 2016 because Power starts were also at an all-time high in 2012, just below the 2015 level, and those starts drove 2014 spending to an all-time high, but then spending from those old jobs tapered off in 2015.
Power starts dropped 11% in 2016 and are down slightly in 2017. Recently, there has been an unexpected large volume of power plant and pipeline starts that are driving 2017 power starts to come in about 40% higher than initially expected.
Even though Power starts have been declining since the 2015 high point, Power had several periods with an exceptionally high value of new starts, some of these periods 2x to 3x the normal rate of growth and a year or two longer duration than typical; late 2014, Jan-May 2015, Feb-Jun 2016 and again in Feb-Jul 2017. A large share of the cash flow, or monthly spending, from all those exceptional starts will occur in 2018 and 2019 and will drive spending to 10%+ gains.
Although starts are not tracked for Public vs Private, Highway, Educational, Environmental Public Works and Transportation make up more than 80% of all Public construction. Only Environmental Public Works starts are down. Educational, Transportation and Highway all have a positive outlook in new starts and predicted spending for 2018 which pushes public spending to post-recession highs.
Here’s how to use the Starts data and how it affects spending Construction Starts and Spending Patterns 9-26-17
Also after New Starts, dollars are tracked in Backlog, Backlog Construction Forecast Fall 2017 11-10-17
See the Spending Forecast Spending Summary Construction Forecast Fall 2017
On November 1, September construction spending will be released. The September spending release is always a solid turning point for the 2017 forecast. Here’s a few facts leading into the forecast which will incorporate this data and be posted soon after the 11-1-17 spending release.
2017 construction spending will come in at $1,250 billion, up 5.5% from 2016.
Largest $ contributors to growth in 2017 spending: Residential $56b, Commercial Retail $12b, Office $6b.
Largest $ declines in 2017 spending: Manufacturing -$8b, Public Works -$6b.
Total construction spending averaged 8%/yr growth last 6 yrs (2014 & 2015 at 11%). Expect 6% in 2018, 5% in 2019
Construction spending on Infrastructure leads growth for the next 3 years and it has nothing to do with an infrastructure spending bill.
Infrastructure spending in 2018 is led by Power and Transportation markets.
Most of the 2018 spending in the Power market will be generated from starts in 2016. Equally strong 2017 starts will generate most of the Power spending in 2019.
Public construction spending in 2018 will reach highest yr/yr growth rate in over 10 years powered by Educational spending.
Commercial/Retail spending in 2018 slows but most other nonresidential buildings still show strong growth, especially Office and Educational.
Residential spending slows to a crawl after more than 100% growth in last 6 years. Currently predicting only 5% to 6% growth over next 2 years.
Residential spending may change during the year because, while spending in all other markets is dependent on starting backlog, residential spending is primarily dependent on new starts within the year
Largest $ contributors to growth in 2018 spending: Power $22b, Office $15b, Educational $10b, Transportation $5b.
Largest $ declines in 2018 spending: none greater than -$2b.
Nonresidential Buildings and Infrastructure construction will both hit new all-time highs for starting backlog in 2017 and 2018. Both will see a 9% increase in spending in 2018.
Infrastructure construction spending never dropped due to the recession as much as Nonresidential Buildings or Residential.
Nonres Bldgs dropped 35% from $438bil in 2008 to $284bil in 2011.
Residential dropped 60% from $630bil in 2005 to $252bil in both 2010 and 2011.
Infrastructure declined only 8% from $274bil in 2009 to $251bil in 2011. It rebounded to $305bil in 2015, a new high.
Nonres Bldgs spending is just 3% below the previous high but residential is still 16% below 2005.
In constant$, adjusted for inflation, Nonres Bldgs peaked at $537bil in 2000 and Residential peaked at $755bil in 2005.
Nonres Bldgs is still 21% below the inflation adjusted peak. Residential is still 30% below.
Infrastructure reached an inflation adjusted peak in 2009 at $300bil. It hit a new high in 2016 at $313bil and in currently down 6% from that high. It will set a another new high in 2018.
Watch for the new 2017-2018 Spending Forecast to be posted within the week after the September data is released 11-1-17.
These other recently posted articles also have information relative to the 2017-18 forecast
Construction Starts and Spending trends may not be apparent unless you look deep into the last few years of data.
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.
Power market starts and spending provides a good example. Power starts peaked in 2015 at an all-time high, up 142% from 2014 and more than the prior two years combined. Yet Power spending was down 6% in 2015 and up only 3% in 2016. This happened because Power starts were also at an all-time high in 2012, just below the 2015 level, and those starts drove 2014 spending to an all-time high, but then tapered off in 2015. Those peak starts from 2015 will still be contributing spending for several years to come, long beyond typical jobs, and that drives up typical spending growth because it adds more than typical number of months that contribute spending.
Power starts dropped 11% in 2016 and continue to drop in 2017. Year-to-date and year over year comparisons to 2016 show Power starts down in all respects. For the 1st six months of 2017, Power starts are down four out of six months compared to same month in 2016 and year-to-date through June is down a total 20%.
Even though Power starts have been declining since the 2015 high point, Power had several periods with an exceptionally high value of new starts, some of these periods 2x to 3x the normal rate of growth and a year or two longer duration than typical; late 2014, Jan-May 2015, Feb-Jun 2016 and again in Feb-Jul 2017. When we have old, long duration jobs that are still contributing to monthly spending, spending goes up. A large share of the cash flow or monthly spending from all those exceptional starts will occur in 2018 and 2019. Those jobs will elevate Power spending 15% to 20% in 2018 and also in 2019.
- Pattern of cash flows from construction starts is indicating substantial acceleration in spending over next six months in all sectors, perhaps most notable in infrastructure.
- Infrastructure jobs from 2014 with longer than average duration will continue into 2018. These break the average balanced cycle of one month of old jobs ending for every new month of jobs starting. That will increase spending in 2018.
This simplified example shows what happens to monthly spending growth when a long duration job first influences spending past the typical duration and then when it ends. In the example here, starts grow at 1% per month and have a typical duration of 5 months. One month has an unusually large project start that will last for 10 months. A typical month of spending has cash flow from 5 months of starts, but the long duration project creates 6 months of cash flows for the period beyond typical duration.
Notice what happens and when it occurs. When the large project starts it has no unusual affect on spending. When it first extends beyond typical duration, it has a massive +20% growth effect on spending, even though starts had only been increasing at 1%/month for the previous 5 months. When it ends it has a similar downward effect, again, even though starts had been increasing at 1%/month.
Spending growth (or declines), both when an extra large job causes it to increase and then when the extra job ends, is almost entirely influenced by the long duration project, not by normal monthly starts growth rate.
2017 construction spending is expected to approach $1,250 billion, up 6% from 2016. Average annual rate of spending is going to increase 5% from $1,240 to $1,300 at year end. I wouldn’t be surprised to see future revisions to Mar-Apr-May spending smooth out that erratic period and add to total $ 2017.
- All sectors have already hit spending lows for the year and will increase 4% to 8% over the next six months.
- Infrastructure will finish the year with totals down 2% to 3%, but the annual rate of spending could potentially increase 8% from July to year end. 2018 shows 10% growth.
- Nonresidential Buildings are up 4% in 2017, the sixth consecutive year of growth. For 2018 expect 8% growth.
- Residential spending will be up more than 10% for 2017, the sixth year over 9%. Spending growth in 2018 slows to 5%.
2017 construction starts through August total $482 billion, down 1% compared to revised 2016. If 2017 gets revised as expected, even by only 4%, it will show +3% growth over 2016, but we won’t see that growth in the data until next year.
- Starts revisions for the period 2008-2015 averaged +5.8%/yr. For the period 2012-2015 revisions averaged +4.0%.
- The smallest revision to starts data since 2008 was +3.5%/yr. 2016 year-to-date through August revisions are +11%.
- Previous year starts are always revised upwards. Therefore, current year starts year-to-date growth is always understated.
- Starts have been increasing at an average rate of 11%/year for the last 5 years.
- After revisions, I expect 2017 will be the highest amount of new construction starts in 13 years.
Manufacturing spending was expected to fall in 2017 after peaking in 2015 from massive growth in new starts in 2014. However, a few months of exceptional 2015 starts will elevate 2018 spending and late 2016 starts will elevate 2019 spending.
Office spending, down slightly (temporarily) due to timing of completions from old jobs, is on track to reach 10% growth in 2017. Starts have been increasing since 2010 with the strongest growth period of new starts from Sept 2016 through June 2017. So, for the next 10 months we may see year/year comparisons negative, but that high volume of starts from Sept 2016 to June 2017 is going to elevate spending in 2018 and 2019.
Commercial spending early reports for June and July are both well below that predicted by starts cash flows and may be prone to substantial revisions. Commercial spending revisions have been up 17 of last 18 months an average of 6.0%/month. (10-2-17 Commercial spending was revised up by 4% for both June and July) Commercial starts have been increasing every year since 2010.
Educational has seen a slow but steady growth in new starts since 2012. Current dip in spending are not expected to continue. Cash flow from starts is indicating a steady climb in spending from now through the end of 2018.
Healthcare starts from 2015 are ending unevenly, rather than smoothly, causing temporary dips in spending. Growth resumes by Sept-Oct.
Transportation Terminal starts in the first three months of 2017 were more than three times higher than any three-month period in the previous five years. While this helped turn 2017 spending positive, 2017 is still affected by uneven starts from two to three years ago holding down gains in the 2nd half. Transportation will show only a 1% gain in 2017 but double digits gains in 2018. The high volume of 2017 starts has the most affect on 2019 spending.
Highway spending in 2018 will benefit from a scenario exactly as described above in the cash flow chart. Projects that started in 2015 but that have unusually long duration will contribute spending in 2018 beyond the duration that typical projects have ended. It is not recent new starts but old ongoing projects that will increase 2018 spending by 6%.
Public Works cash flow from starts has been indicating declines in spending since last summer. In fact, declines in public works spending (down 20% YTD in Sewage Waste Disposal) is the biggest drag on Infrastructure spending in 2017. However, now spending declines are expected to turn to growth in the 2nd half 2017 and continue growth through 2018.
(This analysis does not include any spending projections from an infrastructure investment bill).
See August Construction Spending 10-2-17 for more trends in spending.
See Starts Trends Construction Forecast Fall 2017 11-8-17 for updated trends in New Starts.
See Backlog Construction Forecast Fall 2017 11-5-17 for updated trend in Starting Backlog for 2018
The AIA recently published the Nonresidential Buildings Consensus Forecast Midyear 2017 report. The consensus of seven firms projects spending growth for nonresidential buildings at 3.8% for 2017 and 3.6% for 2018. The largest growth in the AIA forecast for any building type for both years is 10% for 2017 Retail & Other Commercial. The highest reported total annual prediction from any firm is 4.4% for 2017 and 5.5% for 2018. AIA Midyear Consensus Report July 2017
Construction Analytics forecast for nonresidential buildings construction spending growth is +7.3% for 2017 and +10.7% for 2018. Growth in 2016 was 7.5%.
Year-to-date (YTD) spending for the 1st 5 months of 2017 is up +5.2%, led by Office and commercial, both near 15%. Estimate-to-complete (ETC) for the final 7 months is forecast at +8.1%. Total spending for Nonresidential Buildings in 2017 is forecast to increase 7.3% = $438 billion.
If spending were to slow to 3.8% growth for 2017, since YTD growth is already 5.2%, the rate of growth in the final 7 months would need to fall to only 2.4%. However, the predicted cash flow from construction starts shows very strong spending growth in the 2nd half 2017 and into 2018. Nonresidential Buildings construction starts for the last 12 months posted the highest average since 2007-2008. This is helping boost spending.
Outside of recession years, nonresidential buildings construction spending for the year dropped below 4% annual growth only twice in 24 years, since data has been tracked. In fact, right now spending needs to grow at 4.5% just to stay ahead of construction inflation. So any forecast of spending growth below 4.5% actually might suggest that construction is not expanding, but is contracting. All indications are that there are no recessionary effects right now and economic activity does not suggest we are headed for a non-recession low spending for nonresidential building construction. I don’t expect spending to drop to 4% growth for the next three years.
The pattern of nonresidential buildings construction starts for the last 30 months is indicating spending increases in the 2nd half of 2017 and is setting up 2018 for the highest ever starting backlog and record spending. Even if starts crash to zero growth for the remainder of the year, 2017 spending would drop by less than 1% and we still begin 2018 with record backlog.
New Office construction starts for the last 12 months are the best ever recorded, on track to reach a total 50% growth over two years. Retail/Commercial starts have averaged year-over-year (YOY) growth of greater than 10%/year for the last three years. Educational starts averaged YOY growth of 8%/year for the last two years. These three markets comprise 60% of all nonresidential buildings. Healthcare starts have quietly increased to a record high over the last 12 months. Every market except manufacturing will finish 2017 with new starts totals near or at post recession highs. Manufacturing reached record high starts in 2014 and record spending in 2015. All construction starts $ data in this report references Dodge Data & Analytics starts data.
Construction spending for Commercial/Retail, Lodging and Office construction all remain very strong with 2017 total growth near 15%. Educational (+9%) and healthcare (+4%) both show sizable gains after years of little to no growth.
92% of all construction spending in 2017 is already in backlog projects.
A scenario that would have Office spending drop down to 8.9% annual growth from the track it is on today (+15.4% YTD) would require a highly improbable and unprecedented non-recessionary decline in spending in the remaining months of 2017. To grasp the enormity of the decline needed, it would take canceling 8% of all ongoing office projects or new starts for the remainder of the year would need to drop by 50%.
Educational will show an increase in YTD gains in the 3rd quarter because increasing spending in 2017 will be measured against the lowest quarter (3rdqtr) in 2016. Healthcare may not show sizable YTD gains until 4th quarter, for which 2016 reached lowest spending of the year and 2017 will reach highest.
Total nonresidential buildings spending growth accelerates to 10+% in 2018, led by institutional and office spending.
Nearly all nonresidential buildings construction starts in 2016 are still contributing to spending. Since originally posted they have been revised up by 16%. Since most spending from new starts (approximately 50%) occurs in the year following the start, early spending projections based on original posted starts $ may understate 2017 spending.
Nonresidential construction is comprised of two very different sectors, nonresidential buildings and non-building infrastructure. Infrastructure spending is quite erratic, while nonresidential buildings spending, with only slight variation, has been climbing at a strong steady pace for more than 4 years. Some analysts track nonresidential total spending, but these two sectors perform so differently it is important to break them apart to track trends. Buildings spending is up 2% from Q2’16 and up 5% YOY. In the 2nd half 2017 YOY spending is expected to reach 8% over the same months from 2016. Worthy of note is that non-building infrastructure spending, even though down slightly, just experienced two years of record highs. It will hold down the overall nonresidential total performance, but still finish 2017 near record highs.
See this article from February comparing my starting forecast compared to the Jan 2017 AIA Consensus Nonresidential Bldgs 2017 Forecasts Vary
Dodge released the Feb 2017 construction starts today. For the Jan and Feb reports, I think the most relevant piece of information in this report is that Jan and Feb 2016 values were revised up, in total by 15%. That alone has added 2% to total 2016 starts.
In the Dodge October Construction Outlook report, construction starts total for 2016 were predicted at $676 billion, and 2017 at +5%, or $713 billion. Revisions so far have increased 2016 actual to $692 billion. 2016 is on track to go above $700 billion, and at +5%, 2017 could reach $735 billion.
New 2017 starts are being compared to upwardly revised 2016 values. That understates 2017 performance. Dodge Data provides revised starts a month later and 12 months later. In every monthly release, the previous month is revised AND the last year’s year-to-date is revised. Dodge does incorporate other (minor) revisions at a later date, but the “12 month” revision to the previous year-to-date values captures the largest part of all revisions.
This February report includes revisions to the total 2016 YTD, Jan+Feb 2016. The 2017 values won’t get that equivalent “12 month” revision until next year. Therefore, Current year YTD values (not-yet-revised) are being compared to the previous year YTD revised values which has the affect of making current YTD growth appear lower than it should.
In the last 10 years the YTD revisions have always been up. Usually, most of the revisions occur to nonresidential buildings, about 5% to 6% per year, with only a 3% to 4% revision to infrastructure and only 2% to residential.
So far in 2017, year-to-date 2016 values for Jan+Feb have been revise up by 15%. That’s a 2% revision to the 2016 annual total. Already in just the first two months, on an annual basis, nonresidential buildings have been revised up 2%, non-building infrastructure up 4% and residential up 1.3%.
While the 2017 YTD value this month is noted as down 4% compared to last year, keep in mind last year’s value was just revised up by 15%. So, much of the reason 2017 is down is because 2016 values have had revisions applied and 2017 have not. To me, this latest report looks up.
A major construction industry news source has a series of articles referencing Dodge Data New Construction Starts, listing the starts data, but then incorrectly refers to the data as construction spending and looks at the yr/yr trend in values to predict % change that construction spending will rise or fall. This is incorrect use of starts data and misrepresents how to use Dodge Data New Starts. The starts data, as it is being used, isn’t a valid indicator to get a spending projection in the next year.
New Starts for the year is the total value of project revenues that came under contract in that year. The values reported by Dodge are a sampling survey of about 50% to 60% of the industry. The percent change in values is very useful. The total dollar volume is not comparable to actual spending.
The entire value of a project is considered in backlog when the contract is signed. That’s a new start. Projects booked on or before December 2016 that still have work remaining to be completed are in backlog at the start of 2017. Simply referencing total new starts or backlog does not give an indication of spending within the next calendar year, particularly for infrastructure and residential. 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. So new starts within any given year could contribute spending spread out over several years.
Backlog at the start of 2017 could include revenues from projects that started last month or as long as several years ago. For a project that has a duration of several years, the amount in starting backlog at the beginning of 2017 is not the total amount recorded when that project started, but is the amount remaining to complete the project or the estimate to complete (ETC). And all of that ETC may not be spent in the year following when it started, dependent on the duration remaining to completion.
The only way to know how much of total starts or total backlog that will get spent in the current year and following years is to prepare an estimated cash flow from start to finish for all the projects that have started over the past few years. The sum of the amounts from all projects in each month gives total cash flow in that month, or monthly spending in that year. Spending in any given month could have input from projects over the last 36 months. That’s what shows the expected change in spending.
Construction Starts provide the values entering backlog each month. Except for residential, new project starts within the year contribute a much smaller percentage to total spending in the first year than all the backlog ETC on the books at the start of the year. New residential projects contribute the most to spending within the year started because generally residential projects have the shortest duration. Residential projects started in the first quarter may reach completion before the year is over. New infrastructure projects generally have the longest duration and may contribute some share of project value to backlog spread over the next several years.
The following table clearly shows there is not a correlation between starts in any year with spending in the following year. The practice of using construction starts directly to predict spending in the following year can be very misleading in an industry that relies on data for predictive analysis to plan for 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.
Dodge Data New Construction Starts is powerful data if used properly.
Dodge Data New Construction Starts in December fell off the pace of growth we had in the previous few months due entirely to a large drop in Energy Infrastructure starts. Total of all starts for 2016 finished as the highest year since 2005. Un-adjusted 2016 totals are only 1% higher than 2015, but 2015 totals have already been adjusted up, so this is an unequal comparison. Annual adjustments are always UP and average about +4% per year. After 2016 totals get adjusted up we might see 2016 growth of 4% to 5% over 2015.
Residential starts in 2016 posted the best year since 2005-2006. Residential starts bottomed in 2009 and have now posted the 7th consecutive year of growth. New starts show an increase of only 6% for 2016, but that follows several years of growth averaging more than 20%/year. I expect after adjustments 2016 residential starts will be revised to 8% growth. Spending has bounced 90% off the bottom in large part due to 17%/year average growth in 2013-2014-2015. Because both starts and spending growth have been so strong, recent percent growth rates are smaller. Expect only 5% spending growth in 2017.
Nonresidential Building new starts in December remained consistent with October and November. Although well below the yearly highs reached in August and September, the final three months helped carry 2016 totals to an 8-year high. Nonresidential Buildings starts for the last six months averaged the highest since the 1st half of 2008. Total starts as posted are up only 4% from 2015 but nonresidential buildings has been subject to the largest adjustment of all sectors. I expect after adjustment nonresidential buildings will show a 2016 increase of about 8% to 9%.
These six Nonresidential Buildings markets, which make up 80% of all nonresidential buildings spending, posted the following growth in starts leading into 2017: Office +37%, Lodging +40%, Educational +11%, Healthcare +21%, Commercial Retail +11% and Amusement/Recreation +21%. For the last 3 years spending combined growth in these six markets has ranged between 9%/yr and 12%/yr. For 2017, expect spending growth of 14%.
Manufacturing, which has an 18% market share of nonresidential buildings, saw new starts decline by 38% in 2016. However, in 2014 and 2015 this market posted the fastest growth of any market in a decade and posted the two highest years on record. In 2015 spending increased 33% to the highest ever recorded for manufacturing buildings. Spending is down 4% in 2016 and is expected to decline 13% more in 2017, but 2017 will still be the 3rd highest year of spending on record.
Non-building Infrastructure monthly new construction starts in December fell to a 10-year low. However, due to strong performance throughout the year, and even though total starts fell 11% from 2015, total Infrastructure starts for 2016 came in at the second highest year on record. 2015 was up 27% from 2014. So, even though headlines will point to an 11% decline in 2016, due to the distribution of spending from backlog, 2017 will post the largest spending increase in 3 years. I expect after adjustments the 2016 decline will be revised up by 3 points to -8%.
Power and Highway/Bridge/Street make up two thirds of non-building infrastructure spending. Power project starts dropped 33% in 2016, but from the highest annual total of starts on record. In 2015, Power starts increased 150% to an all-time high and Highway/Bridge/Street finished just shy of a 6-year high. In the 1st five months of 2015, a years worth of Power projects started and they are not yet completed. That volume is still contributing to infrastructure spending in 2017. It was not unexpected that starts in these markets would be down for 2016. The amount of monthly spending from projects started in 2014 and 2015 in this sector will contribute to spending for several years to come. Spending in 2017 will be the highest ever in this sector, up 4% from 2016.
Dodge Data published new construction starts for January 2017 on Feb 22. Starts are up 12% from December; +1% in residential, +16% in nonresidential buildings and +44% in non-building infrastructure. December was revised slightly. Among the major changes for this January: electric utility +285%; misc public works +222%; transportation terminals +768% (mostly LaGuardia airport terminal); offices +26%; manufacturing -69%; educational -18%.
A major revision was posted to January 2016 starts. They were revised up in total by 23%, a huge move equal to about 1/3 to 1/2 of what we would normally see for a total annual revision. For the last 4 years the annual revision to new starts has averaged +4%. January 2016 residential starts were revised up 9%, nonresidential buildings up 21% and non-building infrastructure up 49%. Even with that, current January 2017 starts are up 10% from January a year ago.
Prior to the data release on Feb. 22, non-building infrastructure 2016 starts were down 11% from 2015. You will note in my commentary above I predicted that would be revised to show only an 8% decline. After one month it has already been revised to only an 8.6% decline. I now expect after all months of 2016 infrastructure starts are revised 2016 will show only a 6% decline from 2015.
2-1-17 Upated to include Decmber data
Non-building Infrastructure spending in 2016 will finish at $291 billion, down less than 1% from 2015. Spending based on projected cash flow from Dodge Data Starts predicted this drop. The negative drivers were Transportation, Sewage/Waste Disposal, Communications and Water Supply. Power, the largest infrastructure market at 34% of total sector spending, will finish up 3.3%. Highway/Street, 31% of total sector, will finish up 2%.
In 2017, Non-building Infrastructure, following two down years, will increase by 4.4% to $304 billion, due to growth in the highway and transportation markets. In the most recent quarter spending began to recover from 2016 lows posted in August and September. 2017 will be a record year for Infrastructure spending supported by spending generated from the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act and potentially the Water Resources Development Act.
Annual percent growth in new starts (backlog), by itself, is not necessarily a good indicator of spending in the following year. The duration of backlog must be known to forecast spending.
At the beginning of 2016, work in backlog had increased 9% over 2015, but because a large percentage was very long duration work, the amount of cash flow (work put-in-place) in 2016 from that backlog decreased from 2015.
At the beginning of 2017, work in backlog increased only 6% over 2016. What is significant though is that the amount of cash flow in 2017 from that backlog will be up 10%. That is being caused by long duration work-to-complete backlog from 2014 and 2015, which is dominated by spending in the power market. In the 1st five months of 2015, a years worth of Power work started and it’s not yet completed. It’s still contributing to infrastructure spending in 2017.
Although new starts in 2016 will finish down 6% from 2015, starts in 2015 were so strong that 2016 will still be a high volume of new starts. 2015 was up 25% from 2014. So, even though headlines will point to a 6% decline in new infrastructure starts in both 2016 and 2017, due to the distribution of spending from backlog, 2017 spending will post the largest growth in 3 years. 2017 will be a record year for spending on infrastructure, up more than 4% from 2016.
Infrastructure construction starts and spending is dominated by movements in Power and Highway markets. Power/Electric/Gas and Highway/Bridge/Street, about equally, comprise 65% of all infrastructure spending. Transportation/Air/Rail accounts for 15%. Sewage/Waste 8%, Communication 6%, Water 4% and Conservation 3%.
Power is 90% private, 10% public. Highway is 100% public. Transportation is 30% private, 70% public. Sewage, Water and Conservation are 100% public. Communication is 100% private.
Power project starts dropped 25% in 2016 but from the highest annual total of starts on record in 2015. In addition, power had very strong starts in late 2014. All of those very strong starts in late 2014 and all of 2015 are still ongoing in backlog and will contribute to strong spending in 2017. Almost half of all the spending in 2017 is generated from projects that started in 2014 and 2015. Power spending in 2017 will increase 2% over 2016 for a 6th consecutive year of near $100 billion in spending.
Highway/Street, the second largest public market, reached all-time highs in spending from the 3rd quarter 2015 through the 1st quarter 2016. After a 6 month slow down, spending in November again reached a new all-time high. Highway spending in 2017 will grow 5% over 2016.
Transportation hit all-time highs in spending all during the 2nd half of 2015. Spending declined by 6% in 2016 but is still the second highest year on record. It will again equal those 2015 highs throughout all of 2017. Transportation spending in 2017 will grow 6% over 2016.
Projected impact of proposed infrastructure stimulus:
- None of the starts or spending detailed above includes any projections of potential work from future stimulus.
- Infrastructure spending, about 25% of total construction spending, increased more than $25 billion in a single year only once. The average annual growth for the past 20 years is less than $10 billion/year. Although infrastructure growth is always erratic with no growth some years, the average growth for the last six years (post-recession) has averaged $10 billion/year. Some of those years included prior stimulus growth.
- The annual growth in PUBLIC Infrastructure has never exceeding $20 billion in a single year and averages only $7 billion.
- The average growth in infrastructure jobs (excluding all recessionary years because those years would make the result approach zero) is about 25,000 jobs per year.
- Based on infrastructure proportion of all construction, and on both all construction and infrastructure historical maximum rates of spending and jobs growth, it may be unrealistic to anticipate more than $10 billion/year growth in the infrastructure sector. ie., (from current total add $10bil yr1, $20bil yr2, $30bil yr3, etc.) See Infrastructure – Ramping Up to Add $1 trillion for more detailed explanation.