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New Construction Starts is powerful data if used properly. Understand how to use the data and you have an excellent forecasting tool.
New Construction Starts is incorrectly used when the data is referred to as construction spending. It cannot be used to look at the year over year (yr/yr) or month over month (mo/mo) trend in values to predict % change in construction spending. This misrepresents how to use New Starts data.
Care must be taken to use Starts properly. It is sometimes misinterpreted in common industry forecasting articles. Starts dollar values represent a survey of about 50% to 60% of industry activity, therefore Starts dollar values cannot ever be used directly to indicate spending. Also, Starts do not directly indicate changes in spending per month or per year. Projected starts data cannot be used to directly forecast expected construction volume.
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.
Cash flow is the best indicator of how much and when spending will occur. Cash flow from starts gives a prediction over time of how spending from each month of previous starts will change 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 Starts for the month or the year is the total value of new project revenues that came under contract in that period. Since the values reported for Starts are a sampling survey of about 60% of the industry totals, the total dollar volume is not comparable to actual spending. However, the percent change in values is very useful.
The entire value of a project enters backlog when the contract is signed and work begins. That’s a new start. Projects booked on or before December 31st, that still have work remaining to be completed, are in backlog at the start of a new year.
Simply referencing total new starts or backlog in the year does not give an indication of spending within the year or 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. Total Cash Flow in the Year, or Spending, could include spending from projects that started years ago.
Backlog at the start of the year could include revenues from projects that started in December or several years ago. For a project that has a duration of several years, the amount in starting backlog at the beginning of the year is the amount remaining to complete the project or the estimate to complete (ETC). And all 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. The sum of the amounts from all projects ongoing 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 that started many months ago. The sum of the cash flow is what shows the expected change in spending.
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 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.
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 140% from 2014 and more than the prior two years combined. Yet Power spending was down 6.5% in 2015 and down 1.5% 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 typical spending growth because it adds more than typical number of months that contribute spending.
Power starts gained only 1.5% in 2016, dropped 7% in 2017 and are expected to finish 2018 down 12%. The pattern of cash flows from starts is indicating growth in spending for 2018 and 2019. Starts from 2015 and 2016 with longer than average duration contribute spending out to 2020 & 2021, breaking the average balanced cycle of one month of old jobs ending for every new month of jobs starting. That drives the pattern in spending.
The following 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 table presented below, starts grow at 1% per month and have a typical duration of 5 months. But one unique 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 effect on spending. But 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-large job ends, is almost entirely influenced by the long duration project, not by normal monthly starts growth rate. This same example can be over months or over years.
Spending patterns are far more influenced by projects with unusual duration. Construction spending is strongly influenced by the pattern of continuing or ending cash flows from the previous two to three years of construction starts. Cash flow is the best indicator of how much and when spending will occur.
All construction starts data in this report references Dodge Data & Analytics Starts data.
New Construction Starts for July in the latest report from Dodge Dodge July 2018 Construction Starts are down 9% from June, but June starts reached an all-time high Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) of $899 billion. July posted at $817 billion. May was $804 billion. The May-Jun-Jul three month average SAAR construction starts is $840 billion, all-time high.
The Dodge July construction starts report posted $78 billion of new starts and highlights 19 projects valued over $200 million, one of those at $2.4 billion and 17 projects valued between $100-$200 million. The Dodge June construction starts report posted $98 billion of new starts and highlighted 7 projects over $1 billion (totaling $16.5 billion), 17 more projects over $200 billion and 15 projects between $100-$200 billion. The starts report is a sampling of about 2/3rds of all projects.
New construction starts in the 1st half 2018 reached an all-time high.
The new high in construction starts is measured in current $. When adjusted for inflation (constant $), total starts are still about 20% below 2003-2004, when all sectors reached their previous highs. A closer look at constant $ starts adjusted for inflation shows nonresidential buildings about 8-10% below the previous high, non-building infrastructure about 6-8% above the previous high, but residential is still 40% below the previous high.
Residential starts average for the 6 months Jan-Jun 2018 is the highest since 2006. The 1st 6 months of 2018 is up 8% from the prior 6 months.
Dodge Outlook Midyear Update is forecasting 2018 single family starts to gain 6% and multifamily to gain 3%. Year-to-date through July, single family starts are up 7% and multifamily up 6%.
Non-building infrastructure starts for July are level with June and level with the average of the 1st six months. Starts may finish the year slightly down from 2017. However, 2017 was the best year of starts on record. The growth in Infrastructure starts will drive Non-building spending to record highs in 2018 through 2020.
Transportation, in Census spending reports, includes all airport work, air-side and terminals. It also includes rail work, track and terminals and dock work. In Dodge Data starts data, terminals are included in Other Institutional and rail work is included in Other Public Works. Terminals and rail work are included in this analysis in Transportation Infrastructure so that starts can be compared with Census spending data..
Terminal starts are down YTD, 50% lower than 2017. But 2017, which included the start of six major airport terminals, was so high, up 120% over 2016, that even though 2018 is down it will be the 2nd strongest year of starts on record. Rail work also doubled in 2017 and will remain close to even for 2018. Starting backlog for transportation projects doubled from the start of 2017 to the start of 2018. Backlog is on track to increase another 25% to start 2019. No other market will realize the gains in construction spending that we will see from transportation for 2018 and 2019.
Power generation plant starts cause erratic bumps in Power work. In the last year there have been a dozen or more project starts valued over $500 million each, six of those over $1 billion. Also included in Power, Pipeline starts represent half of all Power work started YTD. Cash flow may be adversely impacted by the delay of large projects that started previously. A multi-billion dollar nuclear power plant stopped work and large pipeline project delays have reduced the previous forecast for cash flow.
Highway starts hit an all-time high in 2017 and are forecast to surpass that by a few percent in 2018. Highway starting backlog increased 30% in the last 3 years and will increase 6% leading into 2019.
Nonresidential buildings starts in July reached $318 billion, down 22% from June, but June reached $402 billion, nudging up against the all-time high from 2008.
Manufacturing starts are down 60% from June, but June was the highest month ever recorded, three to four times the average monthly starts. July is the 4th best month in the last 3 years, going back to April 2015, the 2nd highest month ever. The decline of manufacturing starts from the June high to a normal amount in July accounts for more than half of the total Nonres Bldgs decline in July. The news is not the decline in July, a return to normal, but the abnormally high starts in June.
Office and Warehouse starts, both up from a strong 2017, are seeing gains from data centers (in office) and distribution centers (in warehouse which is in commercial spending). Amusement/Recreation starts YTD are triple last year. The only nonresidential markets lower year-to-date are retail stores and healthcare. The decline in retail stores, which is also in commercial spending, is being hidden by the increase in warehouses, which are at an all-time high.
Adjusted for inflation, Jan 2008, by a few percent, is still the best ever for nonresidential buildings starts and spending.
The plots above show the 3mo moving average and trend line of starts for Residential, Non-building Infrastructure and Nonresidential Buildings. Starts can be erratic from month to month. The trend line gives a better impression of how starts impact spending.
The plot below is an index. The plot shows greater accuracy in the forecast when the predicted cash flow and actual spending plot lines move in the same direction. If the slope of the lines is the same, then the cash flow accurately predicted the spending.
The light green line, spending estimated from starts cash flow, shows smooth spending, even though actual monthly starts are erratic (see nonres bldgs plot shown above). The actual spending often follows pretty close to the pattern as that estimated from cash flows.
Year-to-date (YTD) 2018 starts are up 2% from 2017, but 2017 starts through July have already been revised up by 12%, up 16% in nonresidential buildings, 22% in non-building and 4% in residential. 2018 starts will be revised next year and revisions have always been up. Revisions in previous years have averaged more than +7%/yr. for the last 5 years, with most of the upward revision in nonresidential.
Dodge reported this headline on Nov. 2, 2017 “New Construction Starts in 2018 to Increase 3% to $765 Billion According to Dodge Data & Analytics.” At the time, Dodge predicted construction starts for 2017 on track to finish at $745 billion. However, as each new month of starts is reported in 2018, the comparable month in 2017 is revised up to the latest data. Currently through July 2018, total starts in 2017 have already been revised up to $795 billion. 2017 starts, once all revisions are posted, could reach close to $800 billion.
2018 starts, based on initial data this year, could reach $800 billion, at first appearing to show no gain from 2017. Historically, revisions increase the initial total. After revisions posted next year, 2018 starts could reach $830-$840 billion.
Starts in both 2017 and 2018 are stronger than expected just 6 months ago. The current SAAR monthly $ of starts is 10% higher than anticipated just 6 months ago.
Construction spending is up year-to-date through May in every sector. Only Manufacturing and Power markets are down YTD, but not enough to drag the sectors negative. Both markets are expected to finish the year up. (Religious market is down, but represents only 0.2% of spending).
Cash flow from all starts still in backlog supports a 2018 spending forecast of $1,336 billion, a spending increase of 7% over 2017. The forecast for 2019, based on a 3% increase in starts, is $1,398 billion, an increase of 4.6% over 2018. The strongest growth in spending for 2018 and 2019 is forecast in Non-building Infrastructure.
New construction starts, posted today by Dodge Data & Analytics, measured in current dollars, came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $896,000 million, up 11% from May. May, originally posted at +15% over April, was revised up 3.5%.
2nd qtr increased 7.5% from 1st qtr., and 1st half increased 4.5% from the previous 6 months.
The June SAAR (seasonally adjusted) amount of $896,000 million is the highest on record. However, in constant $, adjusted for inflation, there were a few months from 2004 through 2006 that would still be slightly higher. After revisions, it will likely be higher.
Year-to-date starts through June total $396,000 million, 1% higher than the same six months of 2017, but that amount is not as low as first comparison would indicate. 2017 starts through June have already been revised up by 14%, up about 20% in nonresidential and 5% in residential. 2018 starts will be revised again next year and revisions have always been up. Revisions in previous years have averaged more than +7%/yr. for the last 5 years, with most of the upward revision in nonresidential. Therefore, the potential that 2018 YTD gains at a later date will increase vs 2017 is expected.
2017 starts final, once all revisions are posted, could reach close to $800 billion.
New starts data is a sampling of project starts, representing about 60% of total work volume. Actual starts dollars cannot be used directly to represent spending. However, tracking the rate of change in predicted cash flow from starts allows to predict the rate of change in spending.
From Sept’17 through Jun’18 new construction starts reached the highest monthly average since 2004 and are now just below the all-time high.
Residential starts average for the 6 months Jan-Jun 2018 is the highest since 2006. The 1st 6 months of 2018 is up 10% from the prior 6 months.
Non-building infrastructure starts for June are down 28% from May, but that is not particularly newsworthy, because May had an unusually high amount of starts. May included almost $8 billion of pipeline, rail and sewerage projects starts, 3x normal, while June settled back to normal. June Infrastructure starts are still higher than the average of the previous 6 months. The average Infrastructure starts for Apr-May-Jun is the highest since Q1 2015 when massive new starts for energy plants drove Infrastructure starts to all-time highs. Starts may finish the year close to the same as 2017, but, if slightly higher, could still be the best year of starts on record. The growth in Infrastructure starts will drive Non-building spending to record highs in 2018 through 2020.
Nonresidential buildings starts in June reached $402 billion, nudging up against the all-time constant $ high from 2008. In fact, in un-adjusted dollars current $, June 2018 starts reached a new high. Manufacturing starts are double the amount from same period in 2017 and Amusement/Recreation starts are triple last year. The only nonresidential market that is lower year-to-date is retail stores. Adjusted for inflation, Jan 2008, by a few percent, is still the best ever for nonresidential buildings starts and spending.
The plot above shows 3mo moving average and trend line for Nonresidential Buildings Starts. Starts can be erratic from month to month. The trend line gives a better impression of how starts will impact spending.
The plot below is an index. The plot shows accuracy when the predicted cash flow and actual spending plot lines move in the same direction.
The light green line, spending estimated from starts cash flow, shows smooth spending, even though actual monthly starts are erratic (see nonres bldgs plot shown above). The actual spending often follows pretty close to the pattern as that estimated from cash flows.
It’s notable that new construction starts through June are up 1% from 2017. When the 2018 forecast was first issued last November, 2017 starts were predicted to finish the year at $742 billion. The original forecast for 2018 starts growth predicted starts would increase 3% over 2017 to a 2018 total of $765 billion. Well, the current total for 2017 is now $780 billion. Since November, the 2017 base has been revised up by almost $40 billion. 2017 starts could finish close to $800 billion, more than double the original forecast % growth. And yet, the YTD total for 2018 is still 1% above that revised value.
Starts in both 2017 and 2018 are stronger than expected just 6 months ago. The current SAAR monthly $ of starts is 10% higher than anticipated just 6 months ago.
Construction spending is up year-to-date through May in every sector. Only Manufacturing and Power markets are down YTD, but not enough to drag the sectors negative. Both markets are expected to finish the year up. (Religious market is down, but represents only 0.2% of spending).
Cash flow from all starts still in backlog supports a 2018 spending forecast of $1,330 billion, a spending increase of 6.6% over 2017.
Dodge reported May new construction starts at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $778,000 million, up 15% from April. Also, year-to-date starts total $294,000 million, 3% lower than the same 5 months of 2017.
However, 2018 numbers will not be revised until next year and 2017 numbers through May have already been revised up 13%, up about 18% in nonresidential and 6% in residential. So the potential that YTD numbers remain 3% below 2017 is very small. Revisions to previous year’s numbers have averaged more than +7% for the last 5 years with most of the upward revision in nonresidential.
Revisions to 2017 year-to-date have already resulted in a 4% increase in both 2018 and 2019 starting backlog.
Although Dodge, in its midyear report, is predicting 2017 starts at a total of $763,000 million, the current rate of revision seems to indicate 2017 starts could reach closer to $800,000 million. Forecast 2018 total starts will increase only slightly over 2017.
Keep in mind, unlike the Census spending data which captures 100% of all spending, the new starts data is a sampling of project starts, representing about 60% of total work volume. For this reason, the actual starts dollars cannot be used directly to represent spending. However, the change in predicted cash flow from starts can be used to predict the change in spending.
From Sept’17 through May’18 new construction starts reached the highest average since 2004 and are just below an all-time high. Residential starts posted the best 6 months average since 2006, up 8% from the prior 6 months. Both nonresidential buildings and non-building infrastructure are lower than recent highs. Both could finish the year with starts at a decline of 4% to 5% below 2017 totals, but they are both still near the best year of starts on record.
Starts totals near new highs is in current $. If 2004$ were represented in constant 2018$, the total would be 40% higher due to inflation. So, after adjusting for inflation, today we are still 40% below that 2004 high point.
- TOTAL All Construction Starting Backlog for 2018 reached an all-time high, increased 35% in the last three years, 14% in the last year.
- Nonresidential Buildings 2018 starting backlog is the highest ever, up 50% in four years, up 17% from 2017.
- Non-building Infrastructure 2018 starting backlog is the highest ever, up 45% in three years, up 16% from 2017.
- Residential work within the year comes mostly from new starts within the year, only 30% from starting backlog.
The erratic nature of new construction starts belies how smoothly those projects feed into backlog and monthly spending.
Backlog shows fairly constant growth for the last 5 or 6 years. Spending in any given month includes projects started and entered into backlog from 1 month ago to 3 or 4 years ago. In some non-building cases, projects are in backlog for 6 to 8 years, so project starts that appear as a high spike enter backlog and spending and produce a constant upward slope. Most spending within the year in nonresidential work comes from backlog. Most spending in residential work comes from new starts.
The cash flow model of all previous jobs underway already in backlog and all new starts shows the current predicted spending. Starting backlog for 2018 plus new starts in 2018 minus all spending in 2018 generates the forecast work remaining in backlog for the start of 2019.
The predicted spending plot will be added here after July 1 Census spending release.
Much more to come in next few days. edz
Brief notes on spending, starts, backlog, jobs and inflation from March and April tweets.
Nonresidential construction spending is not decelerating in 2018. Will see best growth since 14% in 2015.
Residential construction spending is slowing to +7% growth in 2018, after 6 consecutive years of strong growth averaging 13%/year.
Non-building Infrastructure forecast growth of 8% in 2018, potential to hit a new all-time high due to very large projects in Power and Transportation.
Public construction spending in 2018 is forecast to reach $307 billion, an increase of 8% over 2017, the best growth in 10 years. Educational and Transportation will contribute equally and together account for more than half of the Public spending growth in 2018.
In Oct 2016 and again in Feb 2017, I forecast Manufacturing spending would fall 13% in 2017 after hitting peak spending in 2015 from massive growth in new starts in 2014. At that time, the AIA consensus forecast (average of seven analysts) was that spending would increase +0.4%. By July the consensus had been revised to average -6.6%. I updated my forecast to -11.8%. Based on cash flows, from April 2016 through the end of 2017 I expected spending to decline in 17 of 21 months. It declined in 14 of those months. Manufacturing spending finished 2017 down 11.9%.
In Fall 2017, I predicted Manufacturing construction spending would increase +9% in 2018. However, through March, total construction starts for Manufacturing over the last 12 months would count as the 2nd highest year on record. Therefore I’ve recently revised my forecast up to +13% spending in 2018. I’m now expecting double digit % spending growth in both 2018 & 2019. The January 2018 AIA consensus estimate is for +2.8% increase in 2018 spending and +5.2% in 2019. Some analysts predict 2018 spending will decline. My data shows increases in starts and backlog indicate large gains.
Nonresidential Buildings new starts are up 55% in four years. 2018 starting backlog is the highest ever, up 24% in two years.
Nonresidential Bldgs 2018 starting backlog is 55% higher than at the start of 2014, the beginning of the current growth cycle. Spending is UP 38% with 2018 spending forecast up 9%. Institutional accounts for 52% of 2018 construction spending growth, Commercial 27%, Industrial 21%.
80% of all nonresidential buildings construction spending forecast in 2018 is already in backlog projects at the start of the year.
New Construction Starts are booming (need to look past the mo/mo and ytd)
- Residential – 2 highest qtrs since 2006 in last 12 months
- Nonres Bldgs – 3 highest qtrs since Q1 2008 in last 15 months
- Nonbldg Infra – highet qtr since Q1 2015 peak in last 6 months.
Construction Starts data is regularly misinterpreted in common industry forecasting articles. Starts do not directly indicate changes in spending. A Forecast Cash Flow from Starts gives an indication of the rate of change in spending.
Educational new construction starts total from the last five months of 2017 posted the highest 5mo total starts in at least seven years, 13% higher than the next best 5mo. Jan 2018 monthly spending up 12% from 2017 mid-year low.
Healthcare construction starts have quietly increased to a record high over the last two years, up 30% for the 12 months through August 2017 vs the previous 12 months. Spending will increase slowly.
Amusement/Rec construction starts avg of +15%/yr for 5yrs, up 30% in 2016, 5% in 2017. In last 6mo, Aug 2017 to Jan 2018, four very large billion$+ projects started, almost a year’s worth of new starts in 6mo. Backlog indicates 15%-20% spending increases for 2018 and 2019.
In 2010, Warehouse new construction starts were only 1/3 of Store new starts. In 2018, Warehouse starts will be 50% greater than Store starts. Warehouse starts have increased between 20%-40%/year for seven years and are now five times greater than in 2010.
Lodging starting backlog up 13% for 2018, having already averaged increases of 30%/yr since 2015. Starting backlog jumped from $7 bil/yr in 2014 to $17 bil/yr in 2018, supported similar spending growth. Although 2016 was peak starts, it looks like 2018 will be peak backlog.
New construction starts for Manufacturing total for the last 12 months would count as the 2nd highest year on record. I’m now expecting double digit % spending growth in both 2018 & 2019. The consensus estimate is for +2.8% increase in 2018 spending and +5.2% in 2019. Some analysts predict 2018 manufacturing bldg spending will decline.
Structural steel contract includes structural shapes, steel joists, metal deck, stairs and rails, about 10% of total building final cost.
Other steel in a building can include reinforcing steel, exterior metal wall panels, metal ceiling frames, wall studs, door frames, canopies, steel duct, steel pipe and conduit, about 6% of total building cost.
All steel (in a structural steel building) is at least 16% of total building cost. There are more hidden costs of steel in mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment.
Raw mill steel is about one fourth the final cost of structural steel installed. A 25% increase in cost of mill steel could raise a structural steel subcontract bid price by 6.25%. At 10% of total building budget, that would raise total building cost by 0.625%.
A 25% increase in cost of mill steel could raise the other nonstructural steel costs by 6.25%. At 6% of total building budget, that would raise total building cost by 0.375%.
A 25% tariff on mill steel raises building cost inflation by at least 1%. That’s about $7.5 billion of unexpected cost inflation just in 2018.
Watch for unexpected impacts from steel tariffs, potentially adding 5% or more to total cost of bridges (plate steel). Also impacted, power industry, pipeline, transmission & communication towers, transportation.
Steel tariff could inflate the cost of the proposed $2.1 billion Gordy Howe International Bridge by $100 million. That would hurt the budget.
2018 Construction Spending Forecast – Nonresidential Bldgs construction spending in 2018 forecast to reach a new high, $459 billion, up 9% over 2017, passing the previous 2008 high. In constant $, 2018 will still be 18% below peak.
An estimator could be far off when indexing construction cost using a general cost index versus an actual selling price index.
Failure to account for the affect of inflation on the cost of construction could result in a failure to be profitable.
For the last 4 to 5 years average inflation for nonresidential buildings is 4.5% to 5%.
For the last 4 to 5 years average inflation for residential buildings is 5.5% to 6%. In 2013 it reached a 12-year high of 8%.
If you are hiring to meet your needs and you see that construction spending (revenue) has increased by 25%, do you hire to match revenue? No! Hiring requires a knowledge of volume growth, and revenue doesn’t show that. Revenue minus inflation shows volume.
Construction activity has a direct influence on construction inflation. Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure backlog are both at all-time highs.
Construction Jobs vs volume growth the last 5 years is nearly even, yet jobs imbalances exist within sectors. Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure show excess jobs while Residential shows a severe jobs deficit. But not all of the apparent deficit in residential jobs is real.
Are all residential jobs being counted? Several studies suggest that a large portion of residential construction jobs may be held by uncounted immigrant or day labor. So it’s possible the residential jobs deficit may not be as large as shown.
In addition to uncounted immigrant labor, some labor is mis-classified. Take for example, a high-rise multi-use building with commercial retail, office and residential space. Census definitions of spending classifications break out spending into the 3 market sectors, but the building is built by high-rise contractors (probably normally classified as commercial), not a residential contractor. This is residential space built using labor classified as non-residential commercial.
BLS writes this: “Establishments are classified into industries on the basis of their primary activity… For an establishment engaging in more than one activity, the entire employment of the establishment is included under the industry indicated by the principal activity.”
So, the mis-classified labor reduces the nonresidential excess and offsets a portion of the residential shortfall.
Construction added 1,339,000 jobs in the last 5 years. 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.
Construction added 177,000 jobs in the 4 months Nov’17-Feb’18. That’s happened, for any 4-month period, only 5 times since 1984. The last time was 2005-06, during the fastest rate of spending increases since 1984.
Construction jobs pulled back 15k in March, but this follows the strongest month (Feb +65k) in 12 years, so not totally unexpected. I think Mar Construction jobs, (-15k), more likely a pause after Feb (+65k), strongest month in 12 years.
Preliminary data is in for total year 2017 construction spending, 2017 construction starts and 2018 starting backlog. The following forecast is developed using the current data.
2018 Construction Spending Forecast – Mar 2018
A brief note on 2017.
2017 Spending Wrap Up
Total construction spending in 2017 now stands at $1.233 trillion, an increase of 4.0% over 2016.
Residential spending, up 10.5% for the fifth consecutive year above 10% growth, leads all construction spending in 2017 for the seventh consecutive year. Nonresidential Buildings finished the year up 2.3%. Only Non-building Infrastructure did not improve over 2016, down 3.8% for the year. However, Non-building Infrastructure had been at an all-time high for the previous two years.
2017 spending finished below my forecast due to performance in Educational, Office, Power and Highway, four of the five largest markets which together make up half of all nonresidential spending. All came in lower than forecast. However, some of these markets are prone to very large post-annual upward revisions and that has the potential to add to 2017 spending when those revisions are released in July 2018. For instance, in the July 2017 revisions, Power spending for the previous year, 2016, was revised up by 10%.
History shows spending has been revised up 53 times in the last 60 months. I expect to see future revisions smooth out spending in unusually low periods and increase total 2017 spending above this forecast. Both April and July preliminary spending appear statistically too low. The average post-annual total spending revision for the last five years is +2.8%. The post-annual revision to 2016 was only 2.2%. Revisions due for release on July 1, 2018, if even only a +1% revision to 2017, would adjust total 2017 spending up to $1,245 billion. This would slightly alter the 2018 forecast.
2018 Spending Total All Construction
Total All 2018 construction spending is forecast to increase 7.6% to $1.330 trillion.
Nonresidential Buildings spending forecast for 2018, up 9%, will be supported by Manufacturing and Educational. Non-building Infrastructure returns to strong growth of 8%, with potential to hit a new all-time high due to very large projects in Power and Transportation. Residential spending in 2018 slows to growth under 6% after six years all over 10%/year.
Dodge Data 2017 construction starts increased 3% from 2016. However, starts are always revised upward in the following year. I expect revisions will show 2017 starts increased by more than 6% over 2016. Even with that revision, 2017 starts posted the lowest growth since 2011, weighted heavily by the slowdown in residential starts.
Total starting backlog for 2018, currently at an all-time high, has increased on average 10%/year the last three years. 80% of all Nonresidential spending within the year will be generated from projects in starting backlog. Public share of new construction starts are up only 10% in 3 years. But due to long duration job types, 2018 starting backlog is up 30% in the last 3 years.
None of this spending forecast includes any projections for potential work from future infrastructure stimulus.
Current$ vs Constant$
Construction spending reached a new current $ high in 2017 at $1,236 billion. The previous high in current $ was $1,161 in 2006. Spending first surpassed that in 2014 and has been increasing since. But that is in current $, which includes inflation.
Comparing current $ spending to previous year spending does not give any indication if business is increasing. The inflation factor is missing. If spending is increasing at 4%/year in a time when inflation is 6%/year, real volume is declining by 2%.
Although 2018 current $ spending will reach $1,330 billion, after adjusting for 4.5% to 5% inflation, 2018 constant $ volume will increase to only $1,270 billion. When comparing inflation adjusted constant dollars, 2018 spending will still be lower than all years from 1998 through 2007. In 2005 constant $ volume reached a peak at $1,450 billion. At current rates of growth, we would not eclipse the previous high before 2022.
While spending in current $ is 7% higher than the previous high spending, volume is still 14% lower than the previous high volume.
For more on Inflation Adjusted spending see Construction Spending is Back
Jobs and Volume
The period 2011-2017 shows both spending and jobs growth at or near record highs.
A spending forecast of 7%+ in 2018, or nearly $100 billion in construction spending, demands a few words on jobs growth. Construction requires about 5000 workers for every added $1 billion in construction volume. Construction jobs have never increased by 500,000 in one year. However, $100 billion in added spending is not the same as $100 billion in volume, and jobs growth is based on volume.
Although spending will increase 7%-8%, construction inflation has been hovering near 4.5% to 5% for the last five years. Real volume growth in 2018 after inflation is expected to be near 3% or $40 billion. That would mean the need, if there are no changes in productivity, is to add only about 200,000 additional workers in 2018, a rate of jobs growth that is well within reach. That is less than the average jobs growth for the last seven years.
Construction added 1,339,000 jobs in the last 5 years, an average of 268,000/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.
Construction added 185,000 jobs in the last 4 months, Nov17-Feb18. That’s happened, for any 4-month period, only 5 times since 1984. The last time was 2005-06, during the fastest rate of spending increases since 1984.
Total all spending increased 55% since 2010, but there was 30% inflation. Real total volume since 2010 has increased by only 25%. Jobs increased by 30%, 5% in excess of volume growth. But the results are much different for Residential than Nonresidential.
Nonresidential spending increased 43% since 2010, but there was 30% inflation. Real nonresidential volume since 2010 has increased by only 12%. Jobs increased by 27%, 15% in excess of volume growth.
Residential spending increased by 110% since 2010, but after inflation, real residential volume increased by only 57%. Jobs increased by only 37%, 20% short of volume growth.
Residential Buildings Spending
Total Residential spending in 2017 finished at $523 billion, up 10.6% from 2016. This is the 5th consecutive year that residential spending exceeded 10% annual growth. Average spending growth the last six years is 13%/year.
Residential spending in 2017 was 50% single family, 13% multi-family and 37% improvements. In 2011, improvements was 48% of residential spending.
Census does not include flood damage repairs (house shell remains intact but gut renovate) in improvements but does include full flood damaged structure replacements (structure rebuild permit classified as new) in improvements.
Residential spending is more dependent on new starts within the most recent 12 months than on backlog from previous starts. Total starts for the last 6 months are the highest since 2006, but % growth has slowed considerably. New starts in 2017 posted only 2% growth, but I expect that to be revised up to at least 4%. Similar growth of 6%-7% is expected for 2018. Slower growth is now expected after 5 years (2012-2016) of new starts increasing at an average 20%/year.
Residential 2018 spending growth is forecast to increase only 6% after five years over 10%. Total residential spending in 2018 is forecast at $552 billion.
Residential spending will reach a 12-year high in 2018. Residential spending reached its current $ peak of $630 billion in 2005. Current 2018 pending is still 13% below that peak. In constant $, adjusted for inflation, all years from 1998 through 2007 were higher than 2018. In constant $, 2018 spending is still 27% below the 2005 peak.
Residential buildings construction spending in constant $ reached $523 billion in 2017. Previous spending adjusted to equivalent 2017$ shows that all years from 1996 through 2007 had higher volume than 2017. Volume reached a peak $748 billion in 2005. Only the years 2004-2006 had higher spending in current $. The 2005 current $ peak of $630 billion is still 17% higher than 2017, but 2017 volume is still 30% lower than peak volume.
Nonresidential Buildings Spending
Nonresidential Buildings spending in 2017 finished at $419 billion, up only 2.7% from 2016.
2017 spending finished below my forecast due to performance in Educational and Office. Educational starts increased 6%+/year for the last three years, but spending increased only 4%/year the last two years. Office starts increased nearly 30% in 2016, but spending increased only 3% in 2017. I suspect either big upward revisions to 2017 spending or large increases in backlog will boost 2018 spending in these two markets.
Nonresidential Buildings new starts are up 60% in four years. 2018 starting backlog is the highest ever, up 15% from 2017. 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 five years at an average 10%/year. Spending from starting backlog, up 10% in 2018, increased for five years at an average 9%/year.
For 2018, Educational spending is projected to increase 14%, the best increase since 2007. Starting backlog increased 10%/year for the last three years. Manufacturing posted several very large project starts in 2017. Spending is projected to increase 12% in 2018.
Nonresidential Buildings spending in 2018 is forecast to reach a new high, $459 billion, an increase of 9.5% over 2017, surpassing the previous 2008 high. Educational and Manufacturing make up 55% of the growth.
For the Full Expanded 2018 Construction Spending Forecast – Nonresidential Bldgs
Nonresidential buildings construction spending in constant $ (inflation adjusted $) reached $419 billion in 2017. In 2018 it will reach $439 billion. Constant $ spending shows all years from 1996 through 2010 had higher volume than the 2018 forecast. Volume reached a peak $536 billion in 2000 and went over $500 billion again in 2008. In constant $ 2018 is still 18% below that 2000 peak.
Non-building Infrastructure Spending
Total non-building infrastructure spending in 2017 dropped to $293 billion, down 3.7% from 2016.
Non-building Infrastructure spending, always the most volatile sector, dropped to yearly lows from June through September, the lowest since November 2014. However, this short dip was predicted. Cash flow models of Infrastructure starts from the last several years predicted that dips in monthly spending would be caused by uneven project closeouts from projects that started several years ago, particularly in Power and Highway markets.
Current backlog is at an all-time high and spending is expected to follow the increased cash flows from the elevated backlog. Environmental Public Works (Sewage/Waste disposal down 14%, Water Supply down 9% and Conservation/Dams & Rivers down 7% in 2017) posted the largest declines in 2017 and accentuated the declines in the infrastructure sector. The sector was expected to increase in the last quarter 2017. All three markets posted increases in the 4th quarter, up 8% over the 1st nine months of 2017.
Non-building Infrastructure 2018 starting backlog is the highest ever, up 10%+ each of the last 3 years. Transportation terminals new starts in 2017 jumped 120%. Rail project starts increased more than 100%. Starting backlog for all transportation work is the highest ever, up 100% in the last two years. Transportation spending is projected to increase 20-25%/year for the next two years.
No future growth is included from infrastructure stimulus and yet 2018 spending is projected to increase by 8%.
Non-building Infrastructure will reach a new high for spending in 2018. Spending reached an all-time high in 2015 and stayed within 0.3% of that high for 2016. A 3.5% decline in 2017 was more of a decline than expected, but there may still be upward revisions to the preliminary total.
Non-building Infrastructure spending in 2018 is forecast to reach $319 billion, an increase of 8.6% over 2017.
My forecast for 2018 is predicting every infrastructure market will post gains, but it is the Power and Transportation markets that account for most of the growth in 2018. Transportation new starts in 2017 grew 120% due to massive new air terminal and rail projects. Spending growth in the Power market is not quite so apparent. Combined Power new starts are down for both 2016 and 2017, but the spending gains are coming from projects that started in 2015, a year in which starts were up over 120%.
Adjusted for inflation, spending in 2018 will be nearly equal to the all-time highs reached in 2015 and 2016.
Non-building Infrastructure construction spending in constant $ reached $294 billion in 2017. Recent highs were posted in 2015 and 2016 at $305 billion and $304 billion and 2018 is expected to reach $319 billion. Previous spending adjusted to equivalent 2017$ shows that 2008 and 2009 were both just slightly higher than $300 billion. Constant $ volume reached a peak $313 billion in 2016. Spending in current $ hit new highs in 2015 and 2016. This is the only sector that has current $ and constant $ at or near all-time highs.
Public Infrastructure and Public Institutional
Only 60% of all Non-building Infrastructure spending, about $170 billion, is publicly funded. That public subset of work averages growth of less than $10 billion/year.
Only about 25% of all Nonresidential Buildings spending, about $100 billion, is publicly funded, mostly Educational.
- Infrastructure = $300 billion, 25% of all construction spending.
- Infrastructure is about 60% public, 40% private. In 2005 it was 70% public.
- Public Infrastructure = $170 billion. Private Infrastructure = $130 billion.
- Power and Communications are privately funded infrastructure.
- Nonresidential Buildings is 25% public (mostly institutional), 75% private.
- Educational, Healthcare and Public Safety are Public Nonres Institutional Bldgs
- Public Commercial construction is not included.
- Public Institutional = $100 billion, mostly Education ($70b).
Public Infrastructure + Public Institutional = $270 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.
Public construction is a subset of Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure and about 1% of Residential.
The two largest markets contributing to public spending are Highway/Bridge (32% of total public spending) and Educational (26%), together accounting for nearly 60% of all public construction spending. At #3, Transportation is only about 10% of public spending. Environmental Public Works combined makes up almost 15% of public spending, but that consists of three markets, Sewage/Waste Water, Water Supply and Conservation. Office, Healthcare, Public Safety and Amusement/Recreation each account for about 3%.
2017 spending was down 1%, but has been at or near the all time high for three years.
Total public spending for 2017 finished flat at $284 billion with most major public markets down for the year. By far, the largest Public spending declines in 2017 are Sewer and Waste Disposal which is 7% of public markets, it was down 16% and Highway/Bridge, down only 3.5%, but Highway is 32% of all public spending.
Public spending hit a low in June 2017. It has been increasing since then, Public Educational, in the second half 2017 up 10% from the low point, now at a post recession high. We can expect to see another six months of growth before spending levels off in mid-2018.
Due to long duration job types, 2018 starting backlog is up 30% in the last 3 years. In 2018, 40% of all spending comes from jobs that started before 2017. Leading 2018 growth are Educational (+15%) and Transportation (+35%), with a combined total forecast 20% growth in public spending.
Current levels of backlog and predicted new starts gives a projection that Public Non-building Infrastructure spending will reach an all-time high in 2018 and again in 2019.
Total Public spending in 2018 is forecast to reach $307 billion, an increase of 8% over 2017, the best growth in 10 years.
Educational and Transportation will contribute equally and together account for almost 60% of the Public spending growth in 2018. Transportation new starts in 2017 grew 120% due to massive new air terminal and rail projects. Educational new starts total for the last three months posted the highest quarter in at least seven years. The 2nd highest quarter was also within the last 12 months, so still contributes fully to 2018 spending. 2018 signifies a turn-round in Public spending which has not posted significant growth since the recession.
Public spending is 10%, $30 billion, below 2009 all-time highs, most of the deficit coming from declines in Educational, Sewage/Waste Water and Water Supply. In 2018, Highway and Transportation are at all-time highs.
Click here for a formatted printable PDF Construction Spending Forecast – Summary Mar 2018
See these posts for additional info
For more on Jobs see Construction Jobs / Workload Balance 11-7-17
For effects of inflation see Constant Dollar Construction Growth 11-2-17
Articles Detailing 2018 Construction Outlook
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These links point to articles here on this blog that summarize end-of-year data for 2017 and present projections for 2018.
Most Recently Published
2018 Starting Backlog & New Starts
2018 Spending Forecast
1-26-18 updated 3-5-18
Dodge Data posted December construction starts on 1-25-18, showing total starts increased 3% from 2016. However, this compares unadjusted 2017 starts to upwardly revised 2016 starts. Starts are always revised upward in the following year. I expect revisions will show 2017 starts increased by more than 6% over 2016. January starts, released 2-22-18 dropped 2% from December, but Residential starts hit the highest SAAR$ in 11 years and total starts SAAR$ went over $725 billion for 6th time in the last year and the only times since 2007.
Total starting backlog for 2018, currently at an all-time high, has increased on average 10%/year the last three years. 80% of all Nonresidential spending within the year will be generated from projects in starting backlog.
Total All 2018 construction spending is projected to increase 8% to $1.330 trillion.
Spending measured in current 2018$ will reach an all-time high, however, measured more appropriately in constant inflation adjusted dollars, will still come in 14% below the 2005 high. When comparing inflation adjusted constant dollars, 2018 spending is still lower than all years from 1998 through 2007.
In constant inflation adjusted dollars, which more closely reflects volume, 2018 Infrastructure spending will reach a new high but nonresidential buildings is still 4-5 years away from a new high and residential spending is 6-8 years from a new high.
Read more about Constant Dollar Construction Growth
Non-building Infrastructure starts in 2017 are down 2%. However, we can expect post-year revisions to infrastructure starts. I expect, when all revisions are posted, that 2017 will show infrastructure starts increased a few percent from 2016. Starts peaked in 2015 and are still near that high-point. 2018 starting backlog is the highest ever, up 10%+ each of the last 3 years. Spending reached an all-time high in 2015 and stayed within 0.3% of that high for 2016. Although 2017 shows a spending drop of 3.6%, spending is also prone to large upward revisions, particularly in Power, the largest market in Infrastructure. Starting backlog is up 25% in the last two years. Spending for 2018 is projected to increase 8% to an all-time high.
Transportation terminals 2017 new starts jumped 120%. Rail project starts increased more than 100%. Starting backlog for all transportation work, including terminals, runways, rail and dock work is the highest ever, up 80% from 2017, up 100% in the last two years. Spending has been within few % of the 2015 all-time high for 4 years. Spending is projected to increase 20-25%/year for the next two years.
Power plant new starts are down for the 2nd year but had hit an all-time high in 2015, up nearly 150% from 2014. Pipeline starts were up more than 125% in each of the past two years. Starting backlog for all power projects has nearly doubled in the last three years. Spending is projected to increase 5% and 7% in 2018 and 2019.
Highway spending is not projected to change by much, up only 2% in 2018, but it has been within a few percent of the all-time high for the last three years. Backlog from new starts has increased on average 6%/year for the last four years.
Nonresidential Buildings new construction starts in 2017 are up 7%. When all revisions are in, I expect that to climb over to 10%. Total starts for the last 6 months are 10% higher than any time since 2007. Starts are up 60% in four years. 2018 starting backlog is the highest ever, 10% above 2008, up 15% from 2017. Spending for 2018 is projected to increase 8% to 9%.
Office new starts hit an all-time high in 2016 and just missed surpassing that mark in 2017. Starts increased on average 22%/year from 2013 through 2016, but 2017 starts dropped 2%. Starting backlog increased dramatically during that 2013-2016 growth period and backlog is up 50% in the last two years. Spending followed with three years of growth over 20%/year from 2014 through 2016. The 3% spending growth currently recorded for 2017 is an unexplained anomaly. All other data indicates 2017 spending should have followed the pattern set in 2014-2016. Spending in 2018 is forecast to climb 8% and 2019 could increase 12%.
Educational new starts hit an eight year high in 2016 and increased another 6% in 2017. Total new construction starts for the last 6 months are 13% higher than any other 6-month total since 2008. Starting backlog has increased 10%/year for the last three years. The last three years we’ve seen spending increases of 6%, 5% and 3%. For 2018, spending is projected to increase 14%, the strongest growth since 2007.
Healthcare starts jumped 13% in 2016, the first significant increase in nearly 10 years. 2017 starts maintained even level with 2016. Coming into 2018, starting backlog is up 16% over the past two years, a sign for slow moderate growth. 2017 is the first time in 5 years Healthcare spending increased, up 4.3%. For 2018, spending is projected to increase 4%.
Manufacturing posted several very large project starts in 2017, increasing total starts 20% over 2016. This increased starting backlog 8% for 2018. Although still well below the banner years of 2015 and 2016, spending is projected to increase 12% in 2018 and 10% in 2019.
Amusement/Recreation new starts increased only 5% in 2017, but that follows a 30% increase in 2016, to reach a new high in 2017. New construction starts for the last 6 months is the highest 6-month total new starts ever recorded, 1/3rd higher than any time in last 10 years. This will help drive Amuse/Rec spending to double digit growth next two years. Starting backlog has doubled from 2014 to 2018. Spending increased only 5% in 2017 but spending is up 40% in the last 3 years, also reaching a new high in 2017. Spending is forecast to increase 20% for 2018 and 15% in 2019.
This spending category includes sports stadiums which by some accounts may fall 40% in 2018, but that is hard to envision, considering the record new starts over the last 6 months. Sports stadiums is 1/3rd of Amuse/Rec so that would lower my forecast by about 10%. I’m sticking with my forecast.
Lodging experienced six consecutive years of massive growth in starts and spending after losing 75% of its pre-recession market. Starts grew 30%/year from 2011 through 2016. In 2017 starts posted a decline of 5%. Spending averaged 25% growth from 2012 through 2016, but posted only 7% growth in 2017. Backlog is still up slightly to start 2018. Spending is projected to come in at 8% growth for 2018. But backlog drops off 15% for 2019 and spending is expected to follow suit.
Commercial construction is being supported by new starts for warehouse construction which have increased seven consecutive years. In 2010 warehouse construction was only 20% of this market. From 2010, stores grew 50% to a peak in 2015, but warehouses grew 500% to peak in 2017 and are now 50% of the total market. Warehouses are increasing and stores are declining. In 2018, warehouses will make up 60% of the market. Total commercial starts for 2018 will remain equal to 2017 and 2016. The years of big backlog growth occurred from 2012 to 2017. Backlog remains constant from 2017 to 2018 and declines slightly in 2019. After 6 years of spending growth averaging more than 12%/year, spending will increase by only 4% in 2018 and 1% in 2019.
Public share of new construction starts are up only 10% in 3 years. But due to long duration job types, 2018 starting backlog is up 30% in the last 3 years. In 2018, 40% of all spending comes from jobs that started before 2017. Leading 2018 spending growth are Educational and Transportation with a combined total forecast 20% growth. Expect 2018 public spending to increase 6% to 8%, the best growth in 10 years.
Residential spending is more dependent on new starts within the most recent 12 months than on backlog from previous starts. New construction starts for January 2018 are the highest in 11 years. Total starts for the last 6 months are the highest since 2006. Residential starts in 2018 are projected to increase 7% over 2017, almost all of that coming from new single family starts. Residential spending in 2018 is projected to increase only 6% after five years of increases over 10%.
In What Category is That Construction Cost? explains where some specific costs are carried, which may vary between sources. Take particular note of Transportation, Office and Commercial.
Starts Trends Construction Forecast Fall 2017 for a much more thorough handling of the starts forecast.
I’ve read several articles recently describing, Why 2018 could be a boom year for construction spending. Several reasons being given to support a potential boom, when we look a little deeper, actually may not be good indicators at all to predict the trend for a strong year in 2018. In my Fall Forecast I do predict 8% growth in 2018 construction spending, but let’s take a look at what gets us there.
Data that doesn’t tell us much about the future trend in construction spending.
Jobs increased in 2017 up 35% over 2016. In 2017 construction added 210,000 jobs, growth of 35% over 2016, but in 2016 jobs growth decreased by 55% from 2015. 2016 growth was the lowest in 5yrs. In 2013 jobs growth increased by 85% and in 2014 by 71%, but in 2015 and 2016 jobs growth slowed. Yet 2015 was one of the best construction spending years on record. And in 2017, jobs growth increased over 2016 but spending growth slowed. The direction of jobs growth is not an indicator of the future trend in spending.
Nov 2017 spending was higher than expected, and YTD is up 4.2%. This is a slippery slope. Actually we won’t know any particular monthly spending until several months after the initial release. All monthly spending values are subject to revision three times after initial release. However, residential spending is higher than expected for the YTD and nonresidential buildings spending is below expectations for YTD. But more importantly, construction spending normally fluctuates. For instance, in the 2nd half of 2015, spending was down 4 out of 6 months, lower than forecast three times, posting a total decline of 2.5%. Yet 2015 finished the year up 10%. Then, in the 1st half of 2016, spending was up 5 out of 6 months, far exceeding forecast 3 times, posting a total increase of 6% in 6 months. 2016 finished up 6.5% for the year. Neither half performance predicted final results within the year or the forecast for the future. Furthermore, after inflation, 2017 spending is currently flat with 2016$, so all we are seeing in the 4.5% spending growth in 2017 is inflation. Current and past spending is not an indicator of the future trend in spending.
What data does give an indication of the future trend in construction spending?
Construction Starts (Dodge Data & Analytics DDA), Backlog, Cash flow from Starts, the Architectural Billings Index (ABI), The Dodge Momentum Index (DMI) and New Residential Permits and # of Units Construction Starts all give an indication of the future trend in spending.
Residential Permits and # of new units started gives a fairly immediate indication of residential activity. The ABI gives an indication of nonresidential building to start construction about 9 months out and the DMI about 12 months out. The ABI and DMI give some indication as to whether future starts will increase or decrease. DDA Starts give an indication of the percent growth in future work, but not when the spending will occur, so cannot be used directly to predict spending. A good example is the new start for airport terminal work recorded as a new start in 2017 at $4 billion. But it may take 5 or 6 years to complete that $4 billion project and only cash flow will show the impact on spending.
Care must be taken to use Starts data properly. It is regularly misinterpreted in common industry forecasting articles. Starts dollar values represent a survey of about 50% to 60% of industry activity, therefore Starts dollar values cannot ever be used directly to indicate 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.
Cash flow is the best indicator of how much and when spending will occur. Cash flow from DDA starts gives a prediction over time of how spending from each month of previous starts will occur 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.
Of course, data highlighting demand, occupancy rates, labor and material trends and other economic factors affecting construction trends all weigh into determining future spending expectations. However, for nonresidential buildings and infrastructure approximately 75% to 80% of all spending within the year comes from starting backlog. Most economic factors that will have an affect on spending within the year are already captured in projects that have started and are in current backlog. On the other hand, new residential starts are more important. 70% of all residential spending in the year comes from new starts.
The following trend predictions are developed based on using this outline.
Seldom do two sources present information the same way!
In the construction industry, a disconnect exists in the reporting of construction starts data and actual spending data. Problems may arise when data is used to perform comparisons or forecasts between starts and spending. New starts and backlog may be listed in one category and spending for the same markets may be listed in another.
Almost universally, reporting of construction economic actual spending data follows the U.S. Census Put-in-Place Spending format. I adjust all other construction starts input/forecasting data that I use to conform to these Census Put-in-Place definitions. Here are 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. Here is Census definition of flood repairs
Offices includes pubic buildings such as city halls and courthouses. Includes data centers and bank buildings. Excludes medical office buildings, offices at manufacturing sites and offices at educational or healthcare facilities. Excludes Public Safety.
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, educational research labs, food service and sports/recreation facilities at schools or 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 medical office buildings, 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 air 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 commercial buildings, institutional buildings or other public nonresidential buildings. 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.
Dodge Data New Construction Starts
Dodge includes monthly New Construction Starts for Terminals and Courthouses in Other Institutional Buildings, a Nonresidential Buildings category. The Census actual spending report includes Terminals in Transportation and Courthouses in Offices.
Although all of these still remain in Non-building Infrastructure, Dodge includes Rail, Mass Transit, Airport Runway and Pipelines in Other Public Works. Although not often mentioned by Dodge, it is assumed Communications is also included in Other Public Works. Census includes all mass transit in Transportation, Communications is listed separately and pipelines are included in Power.
Constructconnect (CC) Construction Starts Forecast
New starts for Transportation Terminals is in a line by the same name but subtotaled in Commercial (Nonresidential Buildings) starts. Census includes Terminals in Transportation.
CC lists Courthouse starts subtotaled in Institutional. Census carries Courthouses in Office (Commercial).
CC lists Military as a line item subtotaled in Institutional. This might include Office, Housing, Warehouse, etc., which would be carried by Census in Office, Residential, Commercial, etc., respectively.
CC lists Laboratories (Schools & Industrial) together and subtotals all labs in Commercial. Census separates labs by commercial, research and educational and carries spending in Manufacturing, Healthcare or Educational respectively which would subtotal spending in Manufacturing (industrial), or Institutional (Healthcare and Educational).
CC does not list rail or transportation separately, but does list Airport and Misc Civil (Power,etc.). This leads me to think rail is included in the line item with Misc Civil (Power, etc.). Also, CC does not list Communication, which I suspect is included in Misc Civil (Power, etc.) Already noted above is that Terminals is subtotaled in Commercial. Census carries rail, runway and terminals in Transportation and keeps Communication and Power separate from others.
CC provides an alternate table of new starts data that corresponds to a proprietary software, INSIGHT. This table of starts data reshuffles categories very far from anything that would resemble Census spending output.
The AIA publishes a twice annual Consensus Construction Forecast, comparing forecast of Nonresidential Buildings spending using inputs from seven or eight firms. Every firm but one follows a similar organization. The difference is FMI includes both Transportation and Communications in Commercial Nonresidential Buildings. I’m not aware of another other firm that reports these two categories of spending as Nonresidential Buildings. Both are typically carried as Non-building Infrastructure. That these categories include costs for projects such as rail beds, rail right-of-way civil structures, loading platforms, airfield runways and support structures, communication transmission lines and cell towers supports the more standardized inclusion of these items in Infrastructure.
Similar discrepancies may exist when comparing starts or spending to indexes, such as the AIA Architectural Billings Index, which broadly classifies projects as commercial, institutional or residential with no further definition. Some resources classify Amusement/Recreation as institutional and some as commercial. In particular, the shifting of costs between Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure creates a particularly meaningful disparity between spending forecasts.
As you can see, there are numerous 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.
As an example, I move the Dodge data starts for Terminals from nonresidential buildings to non-building infrastructure Transportation, so that really changes my totals from theirs for Nonresidential Buildings to Non-building Infrastructure. My output conforms with most all others, most of whom also follow the Census PIP definitions.
What does your source for data take into consideration? Know your data!