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Economic_Report_-_Spring_2015 FULL

Economic Report – Summer 2015 – Executive Summary

Economic Report – Summer 2015


Economic Report – Winter 2015-2016 – Executive Summary

Economic Report – Winter 2015-2016 Full


Summary of 2017 Construction Outlook

2-21-17 This Summary is a collection of briefs pulled from all the articles that make up the 2017 Construction Outlook

Follow this for Link to Articles in 2017 Construction Outlook


Total of all Dodge Data & Analytics new construction starts for 2016 finished as the highest year since 2005. After 2016 totals get adjusted up we might see 2016 growth of 4% to 5% over 2015.

  • Residential starts in 2016 posted the best year since 2005-2006. New starts show an increase of only 6% for 2016, but that follows several years of growth averaging more than 20%/year.  I expect after adjustments 2016 residential starts will be revised to 8% growth.
  • Nonresidential Buildings starts for the last six months averaged the highest since the 1st half of 2008. I expect after adjustment nonresidential buildings will show a 2016 increase of about 8% to 9%.
  • Infrastructure starts even though posting a substantial decline for 2016 came in at the second highest year on record.  2015 was up 27% from 2014. I expect after adjustments the 2016 decline will be revised up by 3 points to -8%.


The types, values and duration of projects that make up the backlog help get a clear picture of spending activity over time, particularly in the coming year.

Nonresidential buildings 2017 starting backlog is 45% higher than at the start of 2014, the beginning of the current growth cycle. Spending from starting backlog has increased every year and in 2017 it will be up a total of 35% over 2014.


Total construction spending in 2017 will reach $1,236 billion, an increase of 6% over 2016, supported by a 4th consecutive year of strong growth in nonresidential buildings. The monthly rate of spending will range from near $1.2 trillion in January to $1.3 trillion at year-end.

  • Nonresidential Buildings spending in 2017 will increase to $447 billion, 9.1% over 2016. Office spending will lead 2017 with 30%+ growth. Commercial, Lodging and Educational markets are all expected to post strong gains over 10%.
  • Non-building Infrastructure, following two down years, will increase by 4.4% to $304 billion, due to growth in the highway and transportation markets.
  • Residential will increase only moderately to $485 billion, adding 4.8% over 2016. That follows on three years of substantial growth averaging 17%/year.
  • The entire construction industry best growth rate ever achieved (in constant 2016$) absorbed $1 trillion in new spending over 5 years. Infrastructure has not absorbed $1 trillion newly added work in 25 years.
  • None of the starts or spending detailed above includes any projections of potential work from future stimulus.



The two largest components of Public Construction Spending, by far, are Highway/Bridge/Street and Educational Buildings. These two markets have more impact on the magnitude of public spending than any other markets.

Public Construction Spending average for the first six months of 2016 was the highest since 2010 and is up 10% from the Q4’13-Q1’14 low point.

Public spending finished 2016 down 0.8% from 2015, but that is down from a near six-year high, so spending is still strong. It is still 9% below its 2009 peak. Public spending in 2017 could increase more than 8%.


For 2017, several economists (including myself) are predicting total construction spending will increase by just over 6%. However, I’m also predicting that combined construction inflation for all sectors will increase by 4.0% to 4.5%. That leaves us with a net volume growth of only 1.5% to 2.0%. Therefore, for 2017, we should not expect jobs to increase by more than 1.5% to 2.0%, or 100,000 to 140,000.


Housing Starts (# of units started as reported by U.S. Census) can be erratic from month to month and short term changes in growth can sometimes be misleading. Trends should be looked at over longer term periods. New monthly starts on a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) basis for the last eight months through January 2017 have now averaged over 1,200,000.

For the last four months housing starts have averaged an annual rate of 1,250,000, an increase of 8.5% over the range-bound average of 1,150,000 for the previous six quarters.

Housing starts for 2017 could surprise to the low side. Spending is predicted to grow 5%, but almost all of that is inflation. New starts could finish lower than the 65,000 in 2016.


Most material prices have been muted over the last year, or even two years. Through the 3rd quarter 2016, material input prices had not registered a year over year gain for two years. In the last 4 months that has all changed. Steel, lumber and concrete are now all up in cost substantially over last year. Construction Input prices are up 4%. However, it is not material prices that have been driving inflation, which is up due to labor cost and market activity. Now material prices are also accelerating and that cold have a big impact on future inflation.

Final cost of materials averages perhaps 30% to 50% of building cost. The input cost of materials can contribute much less to overall project cost. For example a 10% cost increase in mill steel could add 0.4% to the total cost across all steel in a building. It could add 1% to the cost of a structural steel contract. A 10% increase in the cost of concrete, depending on if the building is a steel structure or a concrete structure, would add only 0.2% to 0.6% to the total cost of a building. A 10% increase in the cost of gypsum board would add less than 0.1% to the total cost of a building.


Constant $ adjusted for inflation converts all past spending into 2016$ for an equalized comparison. From the low point in 2011 we’ve increased spending by 48% but in constant 2016$ we’ve added only 29% in volume and we are still 16% below the 2005 peak. (updated plot 3-9-17)

Spend Current vs Constant 2003-2016 3-9-17

As measured in comparable constant dollars, No, we are not back to previous levels of construction spending. We will probably not return to previous highs before 2020.

  • 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% 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.


If you want to use a cost index to adjust project costs over time, you must understand what it measures. Selling Price, by definition, whole building actual final cost, tracks the final cost of construction, which includes, in addition to costs of labor and materials and sales/use taxes, general contractor and sub-contractor overhead and profit. Selling price indices should be used to adjust project costs over time.

Follow this link to 2017 Construction Outlook Compilation of Links to All Articles




2017 Construction Outlook Links

Articles Detailing 2017 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 2016 and organize in one place my projections for 2017.

Spend current vs constant 2017 10-2-17


Most Recently Published

Spending Summary Construction Forecast Fall 2017 12-3-17

Starts Trends Construction Forecast Fall 2017 11-8-17

Backlog Construction Forecast Fall 2017 11-10-17

Is Infrastructure Construction Spending Near All-Time Lows? 10-10-17

Construction Jobs / Workload Balance 11-2-17

Constant Dollar Construction Growth 11-2-17


Summary of 2017 Construction Outlook 2-21-17

1st Qtr Update 2017 Construction Spending Forecast 5-1-17

Construction Spending Midyear 2017 Summary 7-11-17

August Construction Spending 10-2-17

Spending Summary Construction Forecast Fall 2017 12-3-17

2016 Results

2016 Construction Spending 1-3-17

New Starts and 2017 Starting Backlog

New Construction Starts Totals for 2016 1-24-17

Starts Point to Robust 2017 Spending 10-20-16

ABI – DMI – Starts – Construction Spending 2-22-17

Construction Backlog Leading Into 2017 1-16-17

Construction Backlog 2017 3-20-17

Construction Starts and Spending Patterns 9-26-17

Starts Trends Construction Forecast Fall 2017 11-8-17

Backlog Construction Forecast Fall 2017 11-10-17

Spending Forecast

Forecast 2017 Construction Spending 1-7-17

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

Trends in Construction Spending 3-5-17

Construction Spending Almost Always Revised UP  5-1-17

Construction Spending May 2017 – Behind The Headlines 7-6-17

So, About Those Posts “construction spending declines…” 10-4-17

Ahead of the Sept Construction Spending Forecast 10-25-17

Nonresidential Buildings

Nonresidential Bldgs Construction Spending 2017 1-4-17

Office Buildings Lead 2017 Construction Spending 2-15-17

Nonresidential Bldgs 2017 Forecasts Vary 2-5-17

Nonres Bldgs Construction Spending Midyear 2017 Forecast 7-24-17


Housing Starts vs Residential Construction Spending 2-18-17

Infrastructure Outlook

Infrastructure Outlook 2017 1-12-17

Calls for Infrastructure Problematic 1-12-17

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

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

Is Infrastructure Construction Spending Near All-Time Lows? 10-10-17

Public Construction

Public Construction Spending 2016-2017 10-21-16

Infrastructure & Public Construction Spending 3-5-17


Construction Spending vs Jobs 2-9-17

Behind The Headlines – Construction Jobs 2-16-17

Is There a Construction Jobs Shortage? 3-10-17

Construction Jobs Growing Faster Than Volume 5-5-17

Construction Jobs / Workload Balance 11-2-17


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

Constant Dollars – Impact of Inflation 2-4-17

Construction Inflation Index Tables UPDATED 8-6-17

Constant Dollar Construction Growth 11-2-17


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

January 2016 Construction Economics Report

2-10-18 For the latest Construction economics news follow this link  2018 Construction Outlook Links to 2018 analysis

 January 2016 economic report:


Construction Economics – Market Conditions in Construction.


Construction spending may reach historic growth in 2016. We are currently near the most active 3 year period of growth in construction in more than 20 years, and it’s already been ongoing since 2013-2014.

Construction spending is forecast to increase 9.7% in 2016. Spending could reach a total 30% growth for the three years 2014-15-16. The only comparable periods in the last 20 years are 29% in 2003-04-05 and 27% in 2013-14-15.

Uneven growth rates ranging from rapidly increasing spending to slight dips is more an indication of the effects of uneven new starts patterns than a loss of growth momentum.

Index of Actual Spending and Starts Cash Flows 2012-2017


Nonresidential buildings spending is forecast to grow 13.7% in 2016 and the three-year total growth could reach 40% for 2014-15-16. The only comparable growth periods in the last 20 years are 40% in 2006-07-08 and 32% in 1995-96-97. Major contributions are increasing from institutional work in educational and healthcare markets. Office, commercial retail, lodging and manufacturing will decline considerably from from the levels in 2015 but still provide support to 2016 growth.

Residential spending increased 46% in 2013-14-15, similar to only one comparable period in the last 20 years, 48% in 2003-04-05. Residential spending will slow several percent early in 2016 before resuming upward momentum to finish the year with 12% growth, slightly less than growth in 2014 and 2015.

Non-building infrastructure projects, in two of the last three years have barely shown any gains, entirely due to declines in power plant projects. This will repeat in 2016. Spending will decline over the next six months due to the ending of massive projects that started 24 to 42 months ago, then resume moderate growth. Following a 0.5% increase in 2015, spending will increase only 1.2% in 2016, held down by a 10% drop in power projects, the second largest component of infrastructure work.


Construction added 1.0 million jobs in the five years 2011-2015.  800,000 jobs were added in the last three years. In addition, hours worked increased to an all-time high adding the equivalent of 240,000 more jobs over the last five years.

In the two years 2014-2015, jobs increased the most since 2004-2005. Growth in nonresidential buildings and residential construction in 2014 and 2015 led to significant labor demand and wage growth. To support forecast spending, jobs need to grow by 500,000 to 600,000 in 2016-2017.

From the low-point of the recession in January 2010, the unemployment rate began declining as a result of the unfortunate reason of workers leaving the construction workforce.  That decline halted in early 2013, at which point the workforce once again started growing. Since then the unemployment rate has been declining due to the non-working pool being reabsorbed into the the employed workforce.

There are numerous reports of labor shortages in some building professions. Average construction unemployment for Nov-Dec-Jan equaled the lowest on record (for this 3mo period) last seen in 2006, indicating a low available nonworking pool from which to grow jobs.  This data supports the argument of labor shortages and potential difficulties ahead in growing employment. However, jobs continue to grow at the fastest rate in 10 years.


Construction inflation for buildings in 2016-2017 is quite likely to advance higher and more rapidly than previously thought. Long term construction cost inflation is normally about double consumer price inflation. Construction inflation in rapid growth years is much higher than average long-term inflation. Since 1993, long-term annual construction inflation for buildings has been 3.5%, even when including the recessionary period 2007-2011. During rapid growth periods, inflation averages more than 8%. 

Spending growth, up 35% in the four-year period 2012-2015, exceeded the growth during 2003-2006 (33%) and 1996-1999 (32%) which were the two fastest growth periods on record with the highest rates of inflation and productivity loss. Construction spending growth for the four year period 2013-2016 is going to outpace all previous periods.

Inflation cost for residential buildings, nonresidential buildings and infrastructure projects do not follow the same pattern. For the last three years, the Gilbane Building Cost Index for nonresidential buildings has been increasing and has averaged just over +4%. Residential buildings cost indices averaged just over +6% but have been decreasing. Both are expected to climb in 2016. Caution: composite all-construction cost indices or indices that do not represent final cost should not be used to adjust project costs.

Infrastructure indices are so unique to the type of work that individual specific infrastructure indices should be used to adjust cost of work. The FWHA highway index dropped 4% in 2013-2014 but increased 4% in 2015 and is expected to increase in 2016-2017. The IHS power plant cost index gained 12% from 2011-2014 but then plummeted in 2015 to an eight year low. The Producer Price Index (PPI) industrial structures index and the PPI other nonresidential structures index both have been relatively flat or declining for the last three years.

Anticipate construction inflation for residential and nonresidential buildings during the next two years closer to the high end rapid growth rate of 6% to 8% rather than the long term average of 3.5%.

Building Cost Inflation Index

The full report provides analysis for what occurred in 2015, data that supports 2016 forecasts and historical trends that shape the construction industry.


Author’s note: I provided all opinion in this economic report.  Now, as an independent construction economics analyst, I compile economic information and perform data analysis. You can now find all this analysis here in this new blog format. EdZ

Want to Know About Construction Data?

There’s no shortage of data and monthly articles about the construction industry. Like anything else, you need to know how each piece affects the whole if you wish to understand all that data.

In my semi-annual report, “Construction Economics – Market Conditions in Construction”, you can gain an understanding of each piece of the whole, how to read it and use it and the impact it has on total construction.

Topics covered in the report:

  • Construction Starts – The Importance of Cash Flow
  • Leading Indicators – Which Numbers Tell Us About Next Year
  • Construction Spending – YTD, Mo/Mo and Yr/Yr
  • Nonresidential Construction Spending by Major Market
  • Residential Construction Spending and Housing Starts
  • Public/Private Spending
  • Inflation Adjusted Volume – Real Growth
  • Jobs and Unemployment and Increased Hours
  • Jobs/Productivity
  • Behind the Headlines – What’s Right? What’s Wrong?
  • Some Signs Ahead – Links to Industry Articles
  • Producer Price Index – Only Part of Materials Cost
  • Material Price Movement – Major Materials
  • Consumer Inflation is NOT Construction Inflation
  • Construction Inflation and What Affects It.
  • ENR Building Cost Index
  • Indexing by Location – City Indices
  • Selling Price – The All-In Cost
  • Indexing – Addressing Fluctuation in Margins
  • Escalation – What Should You Carry?

Watch HERE for the soon to be released 2015 year-end report with forecast for construction in 2016.

Welcome to my Construction Economics blog

Welcome to my new blog.  Here I will expand on current issues of construction economics.  On Twitter @edzarenski, I will tweet updates to my most recent Construction Economic report and out of necessity I will keep it short.  When issues demand further explanation, you will find it here.  Thanks for visiting. edz

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