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Construction Analytics Voted Best Construction Blog 2019

Ed Zarenski’s Construction Analytics blog

won the 2019 Best Construction Blog competition.

blog best

“Sometimes patience and quality count more for success than razzle dazzle and pushy marketing. These observations seem appropriate for the 2019 Best Construction Blog winner, Ed Zarenski’s Construction Analytics.”

“His blog’s uniqueness and success results from its detailed analysis and data about the construction economics topic, including forecasts and projections — with a Google search leadership relating to construction inflation.”

“Zarenski’s blog, effectively, provides a solid overview of the construction industry’s economic picture. That knowledge is useful for contractors, suppliers and professionals seeking to benchmark performance and plan their business’s future based on industry-focused but larger economic trends.”

Construction Analytics wins 2019 Best Construction Blog competition



Who Reads Construction Analytics?

Construction Analytics provides in-depth and unique analysis and future forecasting of construction data valuable to a wide variety of users. Construction Analytics data has been referenced by construction firms, university graduate studies, real estate firms, online educators, investment firms, school district planning boards, public agencies for developing infrastructure budgets and news agencies around the country.

Construction Analytics has consulted for and provided special reports and presentations to Construction firms, real estate developers, national construction organizations and industry conferences.

National agencies, universities, construction firms and conference planners have reached out to Construction Analytics for presentations to large and small groups. A sampling of some construction economic presentations: American Institute of Architects; Associated General Contractors; Project Management Institute; McGraw Hill Construction; Georgia Tech Civil Engineering; Worcester Polytechnic Institute Civil Engineering; Hanson-Wade Advancing Building Estimation Conference.

Most recent event:  Economic Forecast and Inflation Presentation at Advancing Building Estimation Conference – Dallas, TX, May 22, 2019

Construction Analytics has appeared in interviews by Bloomberg TV and ConstructechTV and has been widely quoted in Bloomberg News,  Washington Post Business,  WaPo Fact Checker,  Financial Times,  CNBC,  Marketwatch Economy,  Newsweek,  Los Angeles Times, Ontario Construction News,   strategy+business,  Yahoo!Finance,  STEEL Market Update, BuildingConnected,  Constructiondive,  BuildZoom  and a host of other blogs and news sources.


Construction Analytics

Ed Zarenski

2018 Construction Spending Forecast – Mar 2018


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.

Spend ALL 2011-2019 3-11-18

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.

Spend Summary 2013-2020 Dec2017 3-11-18

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

Spend current vs constant 2018 3-4-18

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.

Jobs vs Volume 2011-Jan2018 3-16-18

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.

For more on Jobs see Construction Jobs and Residential Construction Jobs Shortages

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.

Spend Sector 2015-2018 3-11-18

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.

Spend 1985-2020 Residential 3-15-18

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.

Spend Nonres Bldgs 2013-2020 Dec2017 3-28-18

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.

Backlog incld Res Starts 2005-2018 3-15-18

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.

Spend 1985-2020 Nonres Bldgs 3-15-18

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.

Spend Infra Jan15 to Jan19 3-11-18.JPG

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%.

Spend Nonbldg Infra 2013-2020 Dec2017 3-11-18 

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.

Spend 1985-2020 NonBldg Infra 3-15-18

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).

Spend PubPriv 2017 totals detail 3-13-18

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.

See also Publicly Funded Construction

See also Down the Infrastructure Rabbit Hole

Spend Public Share 2-25-18

Public Spending

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.

Spend Public-Private 2013-2020 Dec2017 3-11-18

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.

Spend Public Infra-Insti 2015-2020 3-11-18

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

2018 Construction Spending Forecast – Nonresidential Bldgs  

Starts Trends Construction 2018 Forecast – Fall 2017  11-8-17

Backlog Construction 2018 Forecast – Fall 2017  11-10-17

For more on Jobs see Construction Jobs / Workload Balance 11-7-17 

For effects of inflation see Constant Dollar Construction Growth 11-2-17

Construction Activity Notes 4-25-18

Notes on March 2018 Construction Spending




2016 Construction Spending 1-3-17


U. S. Census posted November construction spending 0.9% higher than October and 4.1% higher than November 2015. Year-to-date spending through November is 4.4% higher than 2015.

With only one month to go, 2016 is predicted to finish at $1,166 billion, up 4.8% from 2015. December spending is projected to come in at an annual rate near $1,200 billion. At this point, in order for total 2016 spending to drop below $1,160 billion, December would need to fall 6% below November, a magnitude of change that simply does not occur from month to month.

Current monthly spending is at a 10 year high and on a current dollar basis (before adjusting for inflation) is exceeded in all historical spending by only 5 months at the peak spending in early 2006. By the 2nd quarter of 2017 spending will reach all-time highs on a current dollar basis. On a constant dollar basis adjusted for inflation we are still several years below peak spending.

For inflation adjusted spending see “Are We at New Peak Construction Spending”

Revised spending for September is 1.25% higher than original posted on 11-1-16 and for October is -0.1% lower than original posted 12-1-16. However, October data is still pending revision again on 2-1-17 and is expected to increase. In the last 3 years every month has been revised up from the original amount posted. 2016 monthly revisions year-to-date average +1.3%.

The table included here shows the predicted total 2016 spending compared to 1st 2016 estimates and current 2016 estimates provided from my data = CA (Construction Analytics) and from CMD (ConstructConnect) and FMI.


What Are You Reading 2016

Thank you to all my readers for making this construction economics blog worthwhile. Here’s ten of my most visited articles in 2016.

Construction Cost Inflation – Midyear Report 2016

Construction Inflation Indices

Trump’s Wall

Starts Point to Robust 2017 Spending

June Jobs Report Construction

Construction Spending 2016 – Midyear Nonresidential Markets

Construction Spending 2016 – Midyear Summary

How Much Does A Steel Cost Increase Affect Construction?

Saturday Morning Thinking Out Loud #1 – Infrastructure

Behind The Headlines – Construction Data

Construction Cost Inflation – Commentary 2019

1-28-20 See the new post Construction Inflation 2020

8-10-19 updated plots and commentary

General construction cost indices and Input price indices that don’t track whole building final cost do not capture the full cost of escalation in construction projects. To properly adjust the cost of construction over time you must use actual final cost or selling price indices.

Click Here for Link to a 20year Table of 25 Indices

Inflation in construction acts differently than consumer inflation. When there is more work available, inflation increases. When work is scarce, inflation declines. A very large part of the inflation is margins, wholesale, retail and contractor. When nonresidential construction was booming from 2004 through 2008, nonresidential final price inflation averaged almost 8%/year. This was at a time when input costs were averaging between 5% and 6%/year. When residential construction boomed from 2003 to 2005, inflation in that sector was 10%/year. But from 2009 through 2012 we experienced deflation, the worst year being 2009. Residential construction experienced a total of 17% deflation from 2007 through 2011. From 2008 to 2010, nonresidential buildings experienced 10% deflation in two years.

The following plots are all the same data. Different time spans are presented for ease of use.

BCI 1967-2018 7-10-18

BCI 1992-2019 2-12-18

8-10-19 note: this 2005-2020 plot has been revised to include 2018-2020 update.

BCI 2005-2020 8-10-19

Nonresidential Buildings – Since 1993, the 25-year long-term annual construction inflation has averaged 3.5%, even when including the recessionary period 2007-2011.  Long-term average inflation, without recessionary declines, is 4% for 20 non-recessionary years since 1993. During rapid growth period of 5 years from 2004-2008, inflation averaged 8% per year. Since 2011, nonresidential buildings inflation has averaged 3.8%, averaging 4.25%/yr. for the last 4 years with a high of 5.1% in 2018.

Residential, from 2007- 2011 experienced 5 consecutive years of deflation, down 20%. In the 4-year boom just prior to that, 2003-2006, inflation averaged 9% per year. Residential inflation snapped back to 8.0% in 2013. It slowed to 4.4% in 2018 but has averaged over 5% for the last three years.

Construction Spending growth posted two separate 4-year periods of 40%+ growth, up 41% in 2012-2015 and up 40% in 2013-2016, exceeding the growth during the closest similar four-year periods 2003-2006 (+37%) and 1996-1999 (+36%), which were the two fastest growth periods on record with the highest rates of inflation and productivity loss. Growth peaked at +11%/year in 2014 and 2015, exceeded only slightly by 2004-2005.

Spending growth slowed to 7.0% in 2016 and only 4.5% in 2017. In 2018, spending dropped to a gain of only 3.3%. It’s expected, after revisions that 2019 spending will finish at a gain of less than 2%.  

Producer Price Index (PPI) Material Inputs (excluding labor) costs to new construction increased +4% in 2018 after a downward trend from +5% in 2011 led to decreased cost of -3% in 2015, the only negative cost for inputs in the past 20 years. Input costs to nonresidential structures in 2017+2018 average +4.2%, the highest in seven years. Infrastructure cost are up near 5% and single-family residential inputs are up 4%. But material inputs accounts for only a portion of the final cost of constructed buildings.

Labor input is currently experiencing cost increases. When there is a shortage of labor, contractors may pay a premium to keep their workers. All of that premium may not be picked up in wage reports. Also, some of the labor inflation is due to lost productivity due to less skilled workforce. Unemployment in construction is the lowest on record. There is some sign of jobs growth slowing down in Q2 and Q3 2019, and potentially getting slower.

Nationally tracked indices for residential, nonresidential buildings and non-building infrastructure vary to a large degree. When the need arises, it becomes necessary that contractors reference appropriate sector indices to adjust for whole building costs.

Click Here for Link to a Table of 25 Index Values

ENRBCI and RSMeans input indices are prefect examples of commonly used indices that DO NOT represent whole building costs, yet are widely used to adjust project costs. An estimator can get into trouble adjusting project costs if not using appropriate indices. The two input indices for nonresidential buildings did not decline during the 2008-2010 recession. All other final cost indices dropped 6% to 10%.

From 2010 to 2019, total final price inflation is 110/80 = 1.38 = +38%. Input cost indices total only 106/85 = 1.25 = +25%, missing a big portion of the cost growth over time.

BCI 2010-2020 Firms 12-9-19

CPI, the Consumer Price Index, tracks changes in the prices paid by urban consumers for a representative basket of goods and services, including food, transportation, medical care, apparel, recreation, housing. This index in not related at all to construction and should never be used to adjust construction pricing. Historically, Construction Inflation is about double the CPI. However for the last 5 years it averages 3x the CPI.

Taking into account the current (Jan 2018 12 mo) CPI of 2% and the most recent 5 years ratio, along with accelerated cost increases in labor and material inputs and the high level of activity in markets, I would consider the following forecasts for 2018 inflation as minimums with potential to see higher rates than forecast.


Residential construction, from 2007- 2011, experienced five consecutive years of deflation, down 20%. In the 4-year boom just prior to that, 2003-2006, inflation averaged +9% per year. Residential construction inflation saw a slowdown to only +3.5% in 2015. However, the average inflation for five years from 2013 to 2017 is 6%. It peaked at 8% in 2013. It climbed back over 5% for 2016 and reached 5.8% in 2017. For 2018, residential final cost inflation indexes are up only 4.5%. Residential construction inflation for 2019 is now about 4% to 4.5%.

A word about Hi-Rise Residential. About 95% of the cost of a hi-rise residential building would remain the same whether the building was for residential or nonresidential use. This type of construction is totally dis-similar to low-rise residential, which in large part is stick-built single family homes. Therefore, a more appropriate index to use for hi-rise residential construction is the nonresidential buildings cost index.


Nonresidential Buildings inflation, during the rapid growth period of five years from 2004-2008, averaged 8% per year. Inflation averaged near 4% per year for the 4 years 2014-2017.

Several Nonresidential Buildings Final Cost Indices averaged over 5% per year for the  last 2 years and over 4% per year for the last 5 years. Nonresidential buildings inflation totaled 22% in the last five years. Input indices that do not track whole building cost would indicate inflation for those four years at only 12%, much less than real final cost growth. For a $100 million project escalated over those four years, that’s a difference of $8 million, potentially underestimating cost.

Nonresidential buildings spending slowed from 2017 to 2019 but is now entering a phase in which it may reach the fastest rate of growth in three years, which historically leads to accelerated inflation. Construction inflation for nonresidential buildings for 2018 and 2019 was 5%/yr. For 2020 expect 4.25%, rather than the long term average of 3.5% to 4.0%.

Non-building infrastructure indices are so unique to the type of work that individual specific infrastructure indices must be used to adjust cost of work. The FHWA highway index increased 17% from 2010 to 2014, stayed flat from 2015-2017, then increased 6%+ in 2018. The Highway index for 2019 is up about 6%. The IHS Pipeline and LNG indices increased in 2018 but are still down 20% since 2014. Coal, gas, and wind power generation indices have gone up only 6% in seven years. Refineries and petrochemical facilities have dropped 5% in 4 years but 2018 regained the level of 2013. Input costs to infrastructure are down slightly from the post recession highs, but most have increased in the last year. Input cost to Highways are up 5.0% and to the Power sector are up 3.6% in 2018. Work in Transportation and Pipeline projects has increased dramatically in 2017 and 2018.

Infrastructure power indices registered 2.5% to 3.5% gains in 2017 and again in 2018. Highway indices increased 6.6% in 2018. Anticipate 4% inflation for Power sector and at least 5%-6% inflation for Highway in 2019 with the potential to go higher in rapidly expanding markets, such as pipeline or highway.

This plot for nonresidential buildings only shows bars representing the predicted range of inflation from various sources with the line showing the composite final cost inflation. Note that although 2015 and 2016 have a low end of predicted inflation of less than 1%, the actual inflation is following a pattern of growth above 4%. The low end of the predicted range is almost always established by input costs, while the upper end of the range and the actual cost are established by selling price indices.

8-10-19 note: this 2005-2020 plot has been revised to include 2018-2020 update.

Inflation Range 2000-2020 plot 8-10-19

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

Inflation Escalation with text

In every estimate it is always important to carry the proper value for cost inflation. Whether adjusting the cost of a recently built project to predict what it might cost to build a similar project in the near future or adding an escalation factor to the summary of an estimate for a project with a midpoint 2 years out, or answering a client question, “What will it cost if I delay my project start by one year?”, whether you carry the proper value for escalation can make or break your estimate.

  • Long term construction cost inflation is normally about double consumer price inflation (CPI).
  • Since 1993 but taking out 2 worst years of recession (-8% to -10% total for 2009-2010), the 20-year average inflation is 4.2%.
  • Average long term (30 years) construction cost inflation is 3.5% even with any/all recession years included.
  • In times of rapid construction spending growth, construction inflation averages about 8%.
  • Nonresidential buildings inflation has average 3.7% since the recession bottom in 2011. It averaged 4.6% for the 4 years 2016-2019.
  • Residential buildings inflation reached a post recession high of 8.0% in 2013 but dropped to 3.5% in 2015. It averaged 4.6% for the 4 years 2016-2019, but is at the low point of 3.3% in 2019.
  • Although inflation is affected by labor and material costs, a large part of the change in inflation is due to change in contractors/suppliers margins.
  • When construction volume increases rapidly, margins increase rapidly.
  • Construction inflation can be very different from one major sector to the other and can vary from one market to another. It can even vary considerably from one material to another.

Click Here for Link to a Table of 25 Index Values

2016 Construction Outlook Articles


Articles Detailing 2016 Construction Outlook

Links will open in a new tab

These links point to articles here on this blog that summarize end-of-year data for 2015 and point to articles with projections for 2016.

Most Recently Published

Summary of 2017 Construction Outlook 2-21-17

How Much Does A Steel Cost Increase Affect Construction? 9-18-16

Trump’s Wall

2015 Results

Construction Spending 2015-2016 – How Do The Forecasts Compare? 12-9-15

Construction Spending 2015 and 2016 11-9-15

Construction Spending Market Performance of Nonresidential Bldgs 2015-2016 10-15-15

New Starts and 2016 Starting Backlog

Construction Backlog 2017 3-20-17

New Construction Starts Leading Into 2017 1-24-17

Behind The Headlines – Construction Backlog 1-16-17

Starts Point to Robust 2017 Spending 10-20-16

New Construction Starts Much Better Than Might Appear 9-23-16

Spending Forecast

Forecast 2017 Construction Spending 1-7-17

2016 Construction Spending year end 1-3-17

Are We at New Peak Construction Spending? 1-4-17

Construction Spending Gets Revised UP 10-6-17

Construction Spending 2016 – Midyear Summary

1st Quarter 2016 Construction Spending and Forecast

Construction Forecast 1st Look – What To Expect in 2016? 1-14-16

Erratic Pattern Ahead for 2016 Construction Spending. Why?

Nonresidential Buildings

Construction Spending 2016 – Midyear Nonresidential Markets

Updated 1-23-16 Forecasts of 2016 Nonres Buildings Construction Spending % Growth

Construction Spending Market Performance of Nonresidential Bldgs 2015-2016 10-15-15


Construction Spending vs Dodge Starts vs New Housing Unit Starts 4-27-16

Residential Work Flow From Housing Starts 4-25-16

Housing Starts > Look a Little Deeper 11-18-15

Claryifying Housing Starts Numbers 11-6-15

Residential Construction – Not All Data Tells The Same Story 10-25-15

Infrastructure Outlook

Infrastructure – Ramping Up to Add $1 trillion 1-30-17

Infrastructure Outlook 2017 1-12-17

Calls for Infrastructure Problematic 1-12-17

Saturday Morning Thinking Out Loud #1 – Infrastructure 10-29-16

Public  Construction

Infrastructure & Public Construction Spending 3-5-17

Public Construction Spending 2016-2017 10-21-16


Construction Spending vs Jobs 2-9-17

Behind The Headlines – Construction Jobs 2-16-17

Construction Jobs Show 3rd Qtr Growth 10-7-16

How Many Construction Jobs Needed to Support 2016-2017 Spending Forecast? 1-12-16


How Much Does A Steel Cost Increase Affect Construction? 9-18-16

Construction Inflation Cost Index 1-31-16



Heard at Dodge Data Outlook 2016, Oct. 30, 2015

Dodge Data & Analytics Outlook 2016 event held in Washington DC, October 30, 2015.

A brief summary of comments heard and information from my notes.

Art Gensler – Founder Gensler

How do you control 5000 people?  Hire good people and get out of their way.

People value what they pay for and ignore what they get for free.

Beth Ann Bovino – U.S.Chief Economist, Global Economics & Research, Standard & Poor’s

Domestic economy is strong and strengthening.

Jobs are stronger – Quits rate is at a 7 year high.

Housing starts are up – Home prices are up.

Wages are struggling and we have a historical 38 year low labor participation rate.

Ted Hathaway – CEO Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope

We increased wages significantly to keep people from leaving.

The cost and disruption is huge if you lose a valuable member of a team.

Dan McQuade – President, Construction Services, AECOM

Three emerging trends

Global collaboration

Investing capital with clients and partners

Better collaboration with vendors & suppliers. Treat subs and vendors as partners.

Larry Kudlow – Economist and Senior Contributor CNBC

Our biggest problem – We do not have strong steady economic growth.

Corporate profits were high after recession but have declined last three quarters. Profits were likely responsible for the stock market rise.

Bob Murray – Vice President, Economic Affairs, Dodge Data & Analytics

The DMI is reflecting the institutional dip has ended and now beginning to grow, although slowly.

New construction starts 2013 = 11%, 2014 = 9%, 2015 = 13%p

Actual $ put-in-place 2013 = 7%, 2014 = 5%, 2015 = 10%

New starts that declined in 2015 Warehouses, Stores, Public Bldgs, Manufacturing

New Starts that increased in 2015 Residential, Hotels, Highway, Electric-Gas-Power

Expectations for 2016

Total new construction starts up 6%.

Residential up 16%, single family will grow faster than multifamily.

Commercial up 11%, led by warehouses and stores

Institutional up 9%, led by educational

Manufacturing down 1%, but from very high 2014 and 2015

Power down 43% from extreme high starts in 2015

Construction cycles may be indicating we have years of growth left in the current cycle.

Construction Spending Market Performance of Major Nonresidential Buildings 2015-2016

The Construction Spending BOOM in 2015 is being led by spending on nonresidential buildings.  Spending on nonresidential buildings year-to-date (YTD) is +20%, +$41 billion. For housing the YTD is +11%, +$24 billion and for nonbuilding infrastructure projects YTD is -2.5%, -$5 billion.

Let’s take a look at the current growth trends to find out where they are headed.

In 2004-2006, residential spending was 55% of all construction spending. The annual growth in 2004 was 19% and in 2005 it was 15%. For the last 5 years residential spending has been only 32%-37% of total spending.  In 2012 & 2013, residential led with annual spending gains of 13% and 19%. In 2014 & 2015, nonresidential buildings, also at 37% of total spending, led the gains at 9% and 19% growth. In 2016 the lead shifts back to residential with a projected growth of 14%. Infrastructure has not led growth since 2007 and 2008 when that sector had growth of 19% and 10%, at a time when residential spending was declining by 19% and 28%.

We can get a very good idea of nonresidential buildings spending and growth by looking at the five major markets. These five markets make up 85% of all nonresidential buildings construction spending and half of total 2015 construction spending growth.

Snip PCT of Spending 5 markets Oct 2015

See my blog post on October 11, 2015. I wrote:

“New nonresidential buildings construction starts cash flows indicate spending will continue to grow until Feb-Mar 2016, then drop consistently each month until Q3 2016.  The decline is almost entirely due to big starts from Q3-Q4 2014 finishing and dropping out of the monthly spending numbers.”

Snip STARTS YTD Aug2015Snip Spending Growth 5 markets 2015 2016 Oct2015 

More detail of how each market will perform, and why, follows.

Educational Construction Spending 2016

Spending in 2016 is projected to grow +5% over 2015. Other industry projections for educational spending in 2016 range from 1.5% to 12% growth over 2015, with the average of those seven estimates at 6%. As of August 2015, project starts that will generate 60% of all spending in 2016 are already booked.

Starts for the first 8 months of 2015 were up 12% from the same 8 months of 2014.  Educational spending increased only 4% year-to-date 2015 from the same period 2014, but the current annual rate of growth is 11%. Monthly spending is increasing and should continue to do so at least until mid-2016 before dropping off slightly into year end.

Healthcare Construction Spending 2016

Spending for healthcare is expected to remain flat with no growth in spending in 2016.  Other industry projections for healthcare spending in 2016 range from 3% to 12% averaging 6% growth. As of August 2015, project starts already booked will generate 60% of all spending in 2016. New starts in 2016 generate about 25% of the total spending in 2016. If we get some very large new starts in the next few months, that could change total spending projections in 2016. Starts would need to increase 20% ( every month) over my projections for the next 16 months to reach 6% growth in spending next year.

Starts for the first 8 months of 2015 were down 4% from the same 8 months of 2014 and most recently have been declining. 2014 starts grew only 2% over 2013. Healthcare spending had an annual growth rate of 5% in the first eight months of 2015. The decline in new starts signals a projected decline in spending for the next 8 months. Spending growth resumes in mid-2016 but at a very low 3% annual rate and that from an already low rate of spending at the start of the year.

Snip Constr Spending Plot Educ Hlthcr Oct15 2015

Commercial/Retail Construction Spending 2016

Spending in 2016 is projected to grow +7% over 2015. Other industry projections for office spending in 2016 range from 5.5% to 15% growth over 2015, with the average of those estimates at 10%. As of August 2015, project starts that will generate 55% of all spending in 2016 are already booked.

Starts for the first 8 months of 2015 were up 17% from the same 8 months of 2014.  Commercial spending increased 15% in the first half 2015 from the first half of 2014, but then spending declined by 8% in the last three months and may continue to decline for the next few months.  Spending will resume a growth rate of 15% annual in the first 8 months of 2016. Commercial spending will peak in the second quarter 2016 before dropping again into year end.

Office Construction Spending 2016

Spending in 2016 is projected to grow +8% over 2015. Seven other industry projections for office spending in 2016 range from 7% to 18% growth over 2015, with the average of those seven estimates at 12%. As of August 2015, project starts that will generate 55% of all spending in 2016 are already booked.

Starts for the first 8 months of 2015 were 23% lower than the first 8 months of 2014  Spending from 2014 starts will start to drop off in late 2015 and early 2016 and based on new starts in 2015, by mid-2016 the monthly rate of spending will start to decline, keeping totals for 2016 to less than 10% growth. Spending on office buildings in 2016 will peak in the 1st half year with the 2nd half coming in 10% lower.

Manufacturing Construction Spending 2016

Spending in 2016 is projected to grow +9% over 2015. Seven other industry projections for manufacturing buildings spending in 2016 range from 5% to 18% growth over 2015, with the average of those seven estimates at 11%. As of August 2015, project starts that will generate 70% of all spending in 2016 are already booked.

Starts for the first 8 months of 2015 were only 6% lower than the first 8 months of 2014. However, even if starts for the next 4 months increase each month by 50% they will still not equal the amount of starts in the last 4 months of 2014.  Total starts for 2015 are projected to finish 20% lower than 2014.  That’s probably a good thing since 2014 starts were up 87% from 2013, the highest annual growth ever recorded for any market sector.

Spending from 2014 starts will start to drop off in late 2015.  Spending reached a peak this year in the 2nd quarter but is expected to drop for the next five to six months. Spending on manufacturing buildings in 2016 will again peak in the 2nd quarter and then drop off into the end of the year.

Snip Constr Spending Plot Mnfg Offc Comm Oct15 2015

Nonresidential Buildings Construction Spending Through 2016

New nonresidential buildings construction starts cash flows indicate spending will continue to grow until Feb-Mar 2016, then drop consistently each month until Q3 2016.  The decline is almost entirely due to big starts from Q3-Q4 2014 finishing and dropping out of the monthly spending numbers. New starts in 2015 did not grow as much as in the previous two years. Although the predicted decline in monthly spending over 6 months is 8%, 2016 may finish with a rate of monthly spending higher than when it started.

The drop and recovery can vary from the predicted shown here and it’s not likely to be so smooth, but new starts from here on forward would really have to skew from a normal growth pattern by a lot to change this pattern by a little.  Nonresidential buildings on average take about 20 to 24 months to complete, so every month we move out adds about 4% to 5% uncertainty to future spending.

This prolonged period of spending declines is sure to cause alarm in the headlines in mid-2016, but the decline and the reversal are supported in large part by starts already booked.  Unless something dramatic and unexpected comes along to throw a wrench in the works, I’m expecting a pattern like this for 2016.

Total nonresidential buildings spending in 2016 will finish the year about 10% higher than 2015.

Snip Constr Spend Nonres 4yr oct15

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