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It’s not uncommon that clients ask for a forecast of construction spending for the next three years. It is less common that forecasters explain the reliability of the data in a forecast.
To predict the reliability of the data in a forecast, several assumptions must be stated.
Cash flow curves are generated to predict the spending pattern. These are assumed to be reliable. The cash flows are generated from monthly data releases for New Construction Starts. The Starts data is assumed reliable. However, major sector data is revised in the following month and again in the same month the following year. These revisions are incorporated when released, but nonresidential building markets revisions are not posted at the same frequency. That data becomes available in the 4th quarter of the following year. It is updated at that time. The analytical methods are assumed to be reliable.
The primary driver of the spending forecast is New Construction Starts. Care must be taken to use Starts properly. Starts are sometimes misinterpreted in common industry forecasting articles. Starts dollar values represent a survey of about 50% to 70% of industry activity and that varies by market type, therefore Starts dollar values cannot ever be used directly to indicate the volume of spending. Also, Starts do not directly indicate changes in spending per month or per year. 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 future backlog and spending be developed.
For short duration residential spending, single-family residential and renovations work, approximately 75% of the spending occurs in the current year and 20% in the following year.
For long duration residential spending, typical of multifamily residential, approximately 50%-55% of the spending occurs in the current year, 35%-40% in the next year and only 5%-10% occurs two years out.
For nonresidential buildings spending long duration jobs can sometimes have a 5 to 6-year schedule. On average most years have at least some projects start that will be under construction for 4 years. For an entire year’s worth of starts, approximately 20% of the spending occurs in the year started, 50% in the next year, 25% in the third year and only 5% in the fourth year or later year. This also means that nonresidential spending growth in 2019 is still being affected by starts from 2016.
Non-building Infrastructure spending has many of the longest duration jobs. Some job starts in the last two years have 6 to 8-year duration. Many years have at least some projects start that will be under construction for 5 years. For the entire year of starts, approximately 15% of the spending occurs in the year started, 40% in the next year, 33% in the third year and 12% in the fourth year or later year. This also means that non-building Infrastructure spending growth in 2019 is still being affected by jobs that started in 2015.
- 75%-80% of all Nonresidential Buildings spending within the year will be generated from projects in starting backlog.
- 80%-85% of all Non-Building Infrastructure spending within the year will be generated from projects in starting backlog.
- 70% of All Residential spending within the year is generated from new starts, but this is weighted because 85% of all residential work is short duration single family and renovation work.
- 65% on long duration Multifamily Residential spending within the year will be generated from projects in starting backlog.
Multifamily residential has a longer duration and a much greater percentage of spending comes from backlog. But, due to the shorter duration of projects, about 75% of single family and residential renovation spending within the year is generated from new starts. Unlike nonresidential, backlog does not contribute nearly as much short-term residential spending within the year. For that reason, the reliability of SF and Reno residential work drops more quickly than all other types.
For any future forecast month, the most information is in hand the month before. For example, in the month of October the forecast for November includes a projected cash flow which is based 96%-98% on actual projects. Only the small amount from new projects that start in November is predicted. Assessing the amount of actual data versus the amount of predicted data gives an indication of how much weight can be placed on the forecast. Obviously, the balance of actual versus predicted data changes the further out in time we view the forecast.
From the current date, the forecast for the next month includes 95%-98% actual data. Only the cash flow curve and the predicted duration affects the reliability of the forecasts and even that is minor.
Twelve months from the current date, the forecast is more dependent on predicted starts and therefore the percentage of actual data drops. The Non-building Infrastructure forecast includes 85% actual data. The Nonresidential Buildings forecast includes 80% actual data. The Residential forecast includes 30%-40% actual data.
Two years out from the current date, the forecast is far more dependent on predicted starts. The Non-building Infrastructure forecast includes 45% actual data. The Nonresidential Buildings forecast includes 30% actual data. The actual data in a residential forecast drops to near zero with very little remaining in backlog and that only from multifamily.
Three years out from the current date, the forecast is near entirely dependent on predicted starts. The Non-building Infrastructure forecast includes about 15% actual data. The Nonresidential Buildings forecast is approaching zero. The residential forecast has already be reliant on predicted data for the past year.
To put this in perspective, let’s assume a Jan 1, 2019 forecast which includes all actual construction starts through Dec 2018. We’ll look at the forecast for 2020 and 2021. Also, we’ll base the volume of actual data on each sector’s actual data and its share of total construction spending. Non-building Infrastructure has the most actual data long term, but it is the smallest share of total construction. Residential has the least long-term data but is the largest share of total construction.
In our Jan. 1, 2019 forecast, the forecast for the year 2020, the period only 12 to 24 months out, actual data drops from 60% at the start of the year to 20% at the end. So, the 2020 forecast includes only an average of 40% actual data. In the forecast for the year 2021, the period from 24 to 36 months out, the actual data drops from 20% to 4% over the course of the year. Very little actual data is influencing the forecast.
Three years out from the current date the reliability of the forecast is dependent on the economic outlook of the developer and the predictive methodology of the analytic tools.
It’s good to know, when you are looking at a forecast that projects three years out past the current year, there is nearly no actual data in that forecast. It’s all predicted.
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.
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.
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