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Prelim 2023 Construction Spending Outlook

2-2-23

Total construction spending in 2023 will increase only 4.6% over 2022. Nonresidential Buildings will lead construction spending in 2023.

The last three years, 2020, 2021 and 2022, total spending increased 7.8%, 8.5% and 10.2%. However, inflation in 2021 and 2022 was greater than spending, so real construction volume declined nearly 5% total those two years.

The rate of construction spending in 2023 will be influenced predominantly by a 38% increase in new nonresidential building starts in 2022. In fact, even more meaningful, Nonres Bldgs new starts, in 2nd half 2022, averaged 68% higher than any other 6mo period in history. Total spending forecast for Nonres Bldgs in 2023 is $602bil, an increase of 15.8% over 2022.

Non-building Infrastructure will post the 1st year of sizable gains since 2019, forecast at $400bil, up 9.6% in 2023. In 2022, Highway and Public Utilities posted strong gains of 9.0% and 16.5%, but those gains were offset by a 9.0% decline in Power. For 2023, Highway and Transportation recorded the strongest starts in five years. All markets post spending gains, with Highway up 12.0%, Transportation up 15.0% and Public Utilities up 11.5%.

Residential new starts stalled in 2022 at zero growth and are expected to do the same in 2023. After three years of gains totaling 64%, expect residential spending to decline 4% in 2023. Single Family (47% of rsdn) spending peaked in April and since is down eight consecutive months, down 20%. Multi-family (15% of rsdn) is up 11 consecutive months, now up 19% from January 2022. Renovations (38% of rsdn) is up 25% for the year, but have been up only five months this year. Only multi-family is currently trending up. 75% of all gains in multi-family occurred in the 4th quarter.

NOTE: The 2-1-23 Census spending release is the 1st release to capture Dec data and therefore all months in 2022. The 3-1-23 release will revised both Dec and Nov. The 4-1-23 release will revised Dec. And the 7-1-23 release will revised any/all months needing further revision in both 2021 and 2022. Historically, revisions are predominantly UP.

The annual rate of spending in all nonresidential buildings markets increased from Q1 to Q4 2022 and also Q4 spending in every market was higher than the average for 2022. Heading into 2023, nonresidential buildings markets start out the year with the annual rate of spending 8% higher than 2022. Although there are a few moderate dips in spending in some markets during the year, every market adds growth in 2023.

See Behind The Spending Forecasts for a table showing the annual rate of spending for each market in the 4th qtr compared to the 2022 average. This shows the rate of spending starting out 2023.

Starting out the year with an annual rate of spending already averaging 8% greater than 2022, coupled with 38% growth in new starts in 2022, most of which will be spent in 2023, produces the strongest year of growth in nonresidential buildings spending since 2007.

Much more to come.

Look Back at 2022 Construction Spending Forecasts

2-1-23

Initial Year end construction spending for 2022 is out today. This is when I compare my forecast for 2022 spending to all my prior monthly forecasts during the year AND I compare my midyear forecast prepared in May-June to the forecasts published at midyear in the AIA Consensus Construction Forecast. You can judge how I’ve measured up to forecasts thru the year.

This 1st table shows just the sum total in each sector for each monthly forecast I produced during the year. This year was quite unique in that new construction starts for nonresidential work increased by 60% in the 2nd half of the year, a magnitude of increase never before experienced. No one could have predicted that.

In this table I compare the actual for 2022 to the September forecast. My data analysis of 20 years of input shows that a particular set of months through and including September has forecast the end of year spending within 1.5% for nonresidential and within 2% for residential. You can see with the initial data for 2022 that the Sept forecast was within 3.2% for residential and within 2.0% for Nonres Buildings. Nonbuilding Infrastructure came in under the 1.5% threshold.

This next table is shows my midyear forecast for total 2022 spending compared to the forecasts published in the AIA Midyear 2022 Consensus. I’ve highlighted in green the closest estimate to the actual end-of-year spending report. In red is the worst forecast at midyear. This is the 3rd consecutive year that I’ve beat all the forecasts in the AIA Consensus. In fact, looking back at 2015-2019 there are several other years in which I beat out the AIA Consensus estimates.

I’m including this next plot because it shows the accuracy of my nonresidential forecasts when comparing my cash flow forecast amount to the actual spending amount. It has proven to be pretty accurate over the years.

Behind The Spending Forecasts

Let’s look at Nonresidential Buildings Construction Spending Forecasts for 2023.

Two things to look at when developing a forecast: What is the current rate of spending (SAAR)?, and, What has been the recent activity in new starts (new contract awards)?

Most of the spending from new starts (all starts in total from Jan thru Dec) occurs in the year following the start. A reasonable spending estimate (across a large volume of work) is 20:50:30. So, for the sum total of all starts in the year, 20% gets spent in the 1st year (the year started), 50% the 2nd year and 30% the 3rd year. So approximately 50% of all new starts last year gets spent this year. In other words, the most influential factor on the rate and trajectory of spending this year (barring something such as a pandemic or a recession) is starts from last year.

Here is my current baseline data:

  • Construction spending for 2022 in the 2-1-23 release is $520 billion, up 11.6%
  • Construction Starts (per Dodge) up ~38% in 2022, up 15% in 2021 and forecast down 10% in 2023.
  • Current rate of spending (SAAR avg in Q4) is $560 bil, increasing $5bil-$10bil/month.

The increasing rate of spending makes sense, since starts were up so much in 2021 and 2022, and starts in the prior year is the greatest influence on rate of spending in the current year. Average nonres bldgs spending for 2022 is $520bil and the Q4 rate of spending is $562bil. The current rate of spending (SAAR in Dec) is 8% higher than the 2022 total spending and is increasing.

If something happened to stall spending right now at the current rate, it is at an annual rate of $562 billion, 8% higher than the average from 2022. So, as we begin 2023, we should expect 2023 total spending will be at a minimum 8% higher than 2022. Since the current rate of spending is increasing, we could reasonably expect 2023 spending at a minimum 8% higher than the 2022 average. This is a solid starting point for forecasting 2023 since this is already on record.

I prepared this following table to show the starting annual rate of spending for all of the markets, in particular the nonresidential buildings markets. As of Q4 2022, or the starting point for 2023, we see a few markets are only 3% to 5% above the 2022 average and a few are considerably higher. Also included in this table is the percent growth in new starts in 2022 for each market.

Let’s use an example: The Educational market, in Q4, or as we begin 2023, has monthly spending at a rate 4.9% greater than 2022. Starts increased 8% in 2022, so there will be a slight to moderate increase to spending in 2023. If spending growth stalls at the current rate, it will finish 2023 at 4.9% over 2022. The only way it should fall to less than that in 2023 is for some decline in some months in 2023 to less than the current rate of spending in Q4. Since all markets have substantial new starts to feed 2023 spending, all markets should post spending in 2023 higher than Q4 2022.

The rate of spending in 2023, being influenced predominantly by a 38% increase in starts in 2022, is projected to continue increasing throughout 2023. The monthly cashflow of the starts $ from all previous years that still generate spending in 2023 is what determines the rate of change in spending. My forecast has nonresidential buildings spending increasing steadily from a rate of $570 billion in January to $625 billion in December.

What data supports my forecast? Spending is already, in Oct-Nov-Dec, 8% higher than the average for 2022, so we begin 2023 at a rate of spending up a minimum 8% higher than the average for 2022. The average for 2023 could fall below the current 8% IF we were to experience some unforeseen negative occurrence in the coming months. I don’t foresee that happening. In 2022 we realized the largest ever one-year increase in new starts, up 38%. Starts were also up in 2021, up 15%. The monthly rate of spending is up 12 of the last 14 months, has increased for 6 consecutive months and is up 10% in the last 6 months. The rate of spending is predicted to increase 10 out of 12 months in 2023, a total increase of 11% over the year. Barring any unforeseen negative occurrence, the trajectory in the rate of spending is increasing and 2023 spending will finish well above the 8% advantage on record at the beginning of the year.

My total forecast for Nonresidential Buildings spending in 2023 is $602 billion, an increase of 15.8% over 2022.

The AIA Consensus Construction Forecast, December 2022 predicts only a 5.8% increase in spending for nonresidential buildings in 2023. Five of the nine forecasts provided in the Consensus Forecast are below the 5.8% consensus average. Only two forecasts are higher than 8% which is the projected minimum growth as we begin 2023, as explained above. As we begin the year with data, as of December, already at a rate 8% greater than the average for 2022, and with record new starts indicating an increasing spending rate, how is a forecast developed lower than that? What’s behind those spending forecasts?

This article was updated on 2-2-23 from November data to December data for clarity and to include the table showing Q4 data. Overall, the premise has not changed.

Self-Checking Forecast

Two plots track how construction forecast matches up to actual spending. The light line is the monthly growth predicted by my forecasting. The same color dark line is the actual spending. The changes in Residential dominate the 1st plot, so the 2nd plot is just Nonresidential to improve the scale.

One comment about the Residential plot: Starts, which are needed to create the forecast, may not have accounted for the extreme inflation, so spending could have easily grown to 5% to 10% higher than the starts would have forecast. Notice the similarity between the two residential plots. Although the forecast is not at the same magnitude as the actual spending, it is still predicting the slope, the change in spending. Jul20 to Jan21 is where the plots varied.

Nonresidential forecasts vs actuals compare really well. By the end of 2020, my model was predicting a low point in nonresidential buildings spending out in the 2nd half of 2021. Nobody else predicted that bottom. The Starts Cashflow model does a good job of predicting spending.

Construction Year-End Spending Forecast Dec’22

A few brief comments. More comments to follow

See also Construction Briefs Nov’22

With only one month to go and eleven months in the year-to-date spending, we should see very little variance from the Forecast for 2022, which is expected to finish up 10.1% at $1,791 billion. Residential spending will finish up 13.4% even though it’s posted declines in six of the last eight months and is down 13% since March. Nonresidential Buildings spending, expected to finish up 10.9%, is being driven by Commercial Retail (up 20%, in this case Warehouses) and Manufacturing, which will finish the year up over 35%. Non-building Infrastructure finishes the year up only 1.9% due to a large drop off in Power spending. Highway and Public Utilities helped offset some of the Power decline.

Total construction spending for 2023 is forecast to increase +5.1%. Residential -2%, Nonres Bldgs +15%, Nonbldg +8%.

Some high $ items: Comm/Rtl +16%, Manufacturing +35%, Highway +11%, Transportation +16%, Pub Utilities +12%.

Residential starts in 2021 were up +21% to a lofty new high. But starts are forecast flat in 2022 and 2023. Spending grew 44% in the last 2yrs, but inflation was 30% of that 44%. With zero growth in starts forecast for 22-23, residential spending struggles to keep up with inflation. Residential spending will post a decrease of 2% in 2023. If inflation is 5%, that’s an 7% loss of business volume. Midyear there is potential for 6 consecutive down months.

Nonres Bldgs new starts last 2yrs (2021-2022) are up 50%. Spending next 2yrs is forecast up 20%.

Nonresidential Bldgs starts in Sept dropped 23% from August and yet still that was the 3rd highest month ever. July and August were 2nd and 1st. October starts added another 9% over Sept., taking over the 3rd best spot. Even though November dropped 25% from Oct., Nov. starts are still higher than the 1st half 2022 average.

Construction starts for Nonresidential Bldgs posted each of the last 4 months thru October higher than any months ever before. The avg of last 4 months is 33% higher than the avg of the best previous 4 mo ever (even non-consecutive).

Growth in Manufacturing construction starts for 2022 far surpasses growth in any other market, up over 150% year-to-date. Spending for Manufacturing Bldgs is expected to increase more than 30% in 2023. This seems high after already increasing 35% in 2022, but when taking into consideration that the expected spending for 2023 is only 15% higher than where we stand already in Q4 2022, it seems much more reasonable.

Backlog as we begin 2023 is up 16% over 2022, all nonresidential.

Inability to expand staff fast enough to match spending growth may limit some spending to lower than forecast.

Nonbuilding Infrastructure starts for 2022-23 are forecast up 37%. Spending 2023-24 is forecast up 20%. Starts since July are up 50% over the 1st half 2022 average. Highway/Bridge/Street starts increased almost 25% in 2022 and are forecast to increase 20% in 2023. Highway spending is up 9% in 2022, then increases 11% in 2023. A bigger spending increase of 16% occurs in 2024. Transportation starts will drop more than 30% in 2023, but that comes after a 100% increase in 2022. Transportation spending will jump 16% in 2023. Public Utilities, Sewer-Water-Conservation, collectively will post 60% growth in starts for 2021-22-23. Spending for this group increases 45% for 2022-23-24.

Construction Briefs Nov’22

Construction is Booming. Well, OK, construction is setting up to be booming in 2023-2024. New construction starts for Sept are down 19% from August and yet starts are still near the highest levels ever. Sept is 4th highest total starts ever, all four of the highest ever months of new starts are in 2022. July and Aug were the two highest months of new starts ever. Total growth in starts over 2021-2022 > Nonres Bldgs +50%, Nonbldg Infra +40%, Residential (all in ’21) +22%.

STARTS

Construction Spending will not be participating in a 2023 recession. Except, residential might. Residential starts in 2021 were up +21% to a really high new high. But starts are forecast flat in 2022 and 2023. Spending grew 44% in the last 2yrs, but inflation was 30% of that 44%. With zero growth in starts forecast for 22-23, spending struggles to keep up with inflation. Residential will post only an increase of 3% in 2023 spending, but midyear there is potential for 6 consecutive down months.

See also Construction Year-End Spending Forecast Dec’22

SPENDING BY SECTOR CURRENT $ AND INFLATION ADJUSTED CONSTANT $

Nonresidential Buildings new starts last 2yrs (2021-2022) are up 50%. Spending next 2yrs (23-24) is forecast up 21%.

Nonbldg starts 2022-23 are forecast up 38%. Spending 2023-24 forecast up 20%.

In 2023, it’s Nonresidential Buildings leading growth. In 2024, it will be Nonbuilding Infrastructure leading spending growth. Both are expected to grow more than the inflation index, so there will be real volume growth to report.

Residential construction (Dodge) starts since Jan 2021 have posted 17 out of 21 months of the highest residential starts ever posted. The 5 highest months ever are all in 2022.

Nonresidential Bldgs starts in Sept dropped 23% from August and yet still that was the 3rd highest month ever. July and August were 2nd and 1st.

Construction starts for Nonresidential Bldgs posted each of the last 4 (consecutive) months thru October higher than any months ever before. The avg of last 4 (consecutive) months is 33% higher than the avg of the best previous 4 mo ever (even non-consecutive). Growth in Manufacturing construction starts for 2022 far surpasses growth in any other market, up over 150% year-to-date.

Construction Spending Sept total up 0.2% from Aug. Aug & Jul were revised up 1.1% & 1.3%. Total spending YTD thru Sept’22 is up 11.4% from Sept’21. MAJOR movers; Mnfg up 16% since Jun. Jul & Aug were revised up 7.4% & 8.4%. Highway is up 9% since June. Jul & Aug were revised up by 4.0% & 4.4%.

SPENDING FORECAST

Total construction spending for 2022 is on track to increase +11.1%. Residential +16.8%, Nonres Bldgs +9.5%, Nonbldg +0.5%.

Comm/Rtl +18% Mnfg +32% Power -8% Pub Utilities +14%.

Current and predicted Inflation SEE Construction Inflation at Year-End 2022

Inflation adjusted volume is spending minus inflation.

Total volume for 2022 falls 1%. Rsdn +3%, Nonres Bldgs -1%, Nonbldg -9%.

Total volume for 2023 is up 1%. Rsdn -3%, Nonres Bldgs +8%, Nonbldg +2%.

SPENDING TOTAL ALL $ CURRENT $ AND INFLATION ADJUSTED CONSTANT $

Overall Construction Spending is up 15% since the onset of the pandemic, but, after adjusting for 25% inflation, volume is down 10%. Residential jobs are near even on track with volume, but Nonres and Nonbldg have volume deficits of approx 20-25% vs jobs.

  • Feb 2020 to Aug 2022
  • Resdn spend +42%, vol +6.5%, jobs +7%
  • Nonres Bldgs spend -8%, vol -24%, jobs -3%
  • NonBldg spend -7.5%, vol -24%, jobs +1%
JOBS VS CONSTRUCTION VOLUME VS SPENDING (VOL = SPENDING MINUS INFLATION

Labor Shortage? Jobs should track volume, not spending growth. Vol = spending minus inflation. Volume is down while jobs are up. If the same production levels ($ put-in-place per worker) as 2019 were to be regained, theoretically, nonresidential volume would need to increase 20% with no increase in nonresidential jobs. I don’t expect that to occur, therefore, productivity will remain well below that of 2019.

LABOR PRODUCTIVITY

Over the next year or two, there could be several billion$ of construction spending to repair hurricane damaged homes in Florida. That spending will NOT be reported in Census spending reports. Renovations to repair natural disaster damage are not recorded in construction spending. Construction spending to replace homes entirely lost to damage IS reported in Census spending, but is reported as renovations/repair, not new SF or MF construction.

RESIDENTIAL SPENDING SF-MF-RENO CURRENT $ AND CONSTANT $

Construction Spending thru Aug’22

Construction Spending year-to-date thru August is up 10.9% and is on track to finish the year up 10.1%. Leading gainers for 2022 forecast are Manufacturing spending up 23%, Commercial/Retail up 17% and Residential with a 2022 forecast up 16%. Nonres bldgs are forecast up 7.8%. Nonbuilding Infrastructure is held to a forecast loss of 0.3% due to nearly a 10% drop in Power but offset by a 16% gain in Sewer/Water/Conservation. Every nonresidential building category thru August year-to-date inched closer to both my midyear forecast and my current annual forecast. This plot shows the spending forecast from starts cashflow vs actual spending to date. Starts cashflows do a good job of predicting spending. starts-cf-index-nonres-2015-2022-10-3-22 Significant changes since my 9-1-22 forecast: Residential up $11bil 1.3%, Manufacturing up $6bil up 8%. Residential construction spending is down 3.5% from the most recent peak in Mar 2022. It is on track to finish the year up 16%. Residential construction starts, $ as measured by Dodge, JJA 3mo avg is down 10% from the peak in the previous 3mo. But that peak qtr, MAM, is up 5% from the total in 2021 which was up 22% from 2020. Avg starts for the last 20 months has remained above the former high in 2005. spending-ytd-2022-plus-markets-2021-2023-10-3-22 Nonresidential Buildings Construction spending is on track to finish the year up 8% powered by a 23% increase in Manufacturing spending and a 17% increase in Commercial/Retail spending. Nonresidential Bldgs new starts are projected to finish up 22% in 2022. spend-all-monthly-current-2018-2023-10-3-22 Total ALL Nonresidential construction spending, buildings and nonbuilding, is down 2.8% from the most recent peak in March 2022, but is up 5.2% year over year. Total Nonresidential spending is on track to finish the year up 4%, led by a 7.5% annual increase in Nonres Bldgs. but held back by a 9% drop in Power, 30% of the non-building total. Spending took a downturn in April but this is expected to turn up after September. Most of the downturn is due to residential. By October all sectors are forecast to post gains. spend-sector-monthly-current-2018-2023-10-3-22 The difference between these two plots is INFLATION, which adds nothing to the volume of work. The CONSTANT$ plot is like the volume of business that takes place. The Spending plot shows the $ that changed hands to conduct that business volume.

Midyear 2022 Construction Data

8-16-22

Construction Spending data updated 8-16-22, actual Year-to-Date through June, Census issued 8-1-22.

Forecast based on starts through July. Residential starts peaked in Feb-May 2022. Residential starts in July are down 15% from the highs reached in the 1st five months of 2022. Nonresidential Bldgs annual rate of starts reached a remarkable new high in July, almost 50% higher than the average of the 1st six months of 2022, and 30% higher than the previous single-month high in 2018. Non-Building starts for July reached 125% higher than the average of the 1st six months of 2022, and 50% higher than the previous high in 2019.

Watch for future revisions in Manufacturing Starts data. Through July, Mnfg starts are up 180% over the same seven months in 2021. It won’t be up 180% at year end. This may not yet be fully reflected here. This will add to spending mostly in 2023 and 2024. Also watch Power/Utilities which posted a 60% gain in the 1st seven months over same period in 2021.

Keep in mind, only time will tell how much of those huge gains in Mnfg and Power starts are a real increase in the amount of new work started or how much of that gain reflects an increase in the share of the market captured in the starts survey. Over the past 10 years, Dodge total starts data captured amounts to only about 40% to 50% of the final spending amount for these two markets.

Construction Starts forecast updated to 8-16-22

Construction Backlog forecast 8-16-22

After a two-year slowdown in backlog growth in 2021 an 2022, growth resumes in 2023 and 2024. Nonresidential Buildings leads in 2023, Nonbuilding leads in 2024.

Watch for this temporary decline in spending over the next few months. Some lower months of residential starts over the past nine months reduces residential spending from May to Sept 2022 before it returns to growth. More moderate declines in Nonres Bldgs and Nonbuilding also contribute to the downturn. Declines generally turn into gains by Q4 2022.

Much of the gains in spending in 2022 and 2023 reflects the very large increases in inflation. Spending after inflation, or volume of work, shown below, declines for all nonresidential in 2022 and declines for Nonbuilding and residential in 2023.

Residential volume peaked in Q1 2022 but will not return to that level until 2025. Both Nonresidential Buildings and Nonbuilding Infrastructure volume peaked in Q1 2020. Neither returns to that level before 2026.

Volume of work (spending minus inflation, or Constant $) has been dropping for several months and will continue to drop for several more months. But jobs have been increasing. Over the long term these two data sets should move in tandem, not in opposition. As greater separation between these two occurs, with jobs over volume, the productivity factor for the amount of work put-in-place per job worsens. That is a hidden factor adding to inflation.

See the PPI post for details on 2022 PPI data.

This month the July update to the Final Demand indices reflects that this index barely moves for two months, then in the third month, when Census performs a contractor survey to update the index, it moves 80% to 90% of the index value for the three months. The same has been true looking back over all recent quarters. Takeaway: the Final Demand indices cannot be used monthly. Essentially, these should be considered a quarterly index. Here I’ve calculated Q2 and Q1xQ2. You can 4x or 2x those results to get an annual rate, but I suspect most of the increase is already in this year, so Q3 and Q4 I’d expect to be lower than Q1 and Q2.

Construction Inflation 2022 – updated 12-10-22

The most watched indicators of the rate of inflation are the costs of various construction materials and the labor needed to install them. However, the level of construction activity has a direct influence on labor and material demand and margins and therefore on construction inflation.

One of the best predictors of construction inflation is the level of activity in an area. When the activity level is low, contractors are all competing for a smaller amount of work and therefore they may reduce margins in bids. When activity is high, there is a greater opportunity to submit bids on more work and bid margins may be higher. The level of activity has a direct impact on inflation.

This analysis is national level data.

SEE 2023 data here Construction Inflation 2023

2-10-22 See the bottom of this post to download a PDF of the complete article.

update 5-3-22 This article AND the attached PDF downloadable document have been updated to include 1st qtr 2022 inflation updates.

update 5-8-22 This article AND the attached PDF downloadable document have been updated to include changes in inflation in PPI factors.

update 8-12-22 See Summary. Revisions to 2022 inflation.

update 9-19-22 SEE INDEX TABLES AND PLOTS updated to Q2 2022. Note these tables and plots are updated here in the blog post only. Original article attached IS NOT updated.

update 11-16-22 PPI INPUTS table and FINAL DEMAD table for October updated 11-16-22.

update 12-1-22 PPI INPUTS table for November updated 12-10-22. Also INDEX TABLES AND PLOTS updated to Q3 or Q4 where available.

End of updates

The construction data leading into 2022 is unlike anything we have ever seen. Construction starts were up in 2021, but backlog leading into 2022 is down. That is not normal. Backlog is rarely down and then usually when starts have been down the previous year. In this case the starts declined in 2020, but that 2020 decline was so broad and so deep, even with an increase in starts in 2021, backlog to start 2022 has not yet recovered (to the start of 2020). Spending for 2021 was up 8%, but after adjusting for inflation, real volume after inflation was down. Last time that happened was 2006 and 2002, the only two other times that happened in the last 35 years.

Summary

A significant impact of the pandemic on construction is the loss of spending due to the massive reduction in nonresidential construction starts in 2020. Those lower starts reduced nonresidential construction spending in 2020, but more-so in 2021, and in some markets will extend lower spending into 2022 and 2023. The most unexpected change was that residential spending continues a strong increase.

  • 2020 new starts declined -7%. Res +6%, Nonres Bldgs -18%, Nonbuilding -15%.
  • 2021 new starts increased +18%. Res +22%, Nonres Bldgs +18%, Nonbuilding +8%.
  • Forecast 2022 starts are up +11%. Res +10%, Nonres Bldgs +18%, Nonbuilding +2%.

Nonresidential construction volume appears now will experience only slight dip mid-2022, the maximum downward pressure from the pandemic is past. Total All Volume, spending minus inflation, is expected to again reach the same bottom in mid-2022 as in 2021. That should impact jobs, but we haven’t seen jobs react to volume losses as would be expected. Jobs growth without volume growth to support those jobs is a productivity decline, increasing inflation.

Spending for 2021 is up 8%, but nonresidential buildings spending is down 4%. Almost all gains in 2021 spending are due to the 23% gain in residential.

Deflation is not likely. Only twice in 50 years have we experienced construction cost deflation, the recession years of 2009 and 2010. That was at a time when business volume dropped 33% and jobs fell 30%. During two years of the pandemic recession, volume reached a low down 8% and jobs dropped a total 14%. But we gained back far more jobs than volume. That means it now takes more jobs to put-in-pace volume of work. That increases inflation.

No one predicted 2021 construction inflation. In Jan 2021, I predicted Inflation for nonresidential buildings near 4% and Residential inflation at 5% to 6%. Looking back, we now see nonresidential buildings inflation is 7%, the highest since 2006-2007 and residential inflation is 13%, the highest since 1977-1979, in part driven by the highest rates of increase in materials on record.

  • 2020 Rsdn Inflation 4.5%, Nonres Bldgs 2.6%, Non-bldg Infra Avg -0.3%
  • 2021 Rsdn Inflation 13.2%, Nonres Bldgs 6.7%, Non-bldg Infra Avg 7.5%
  • 2022 Rsdn Inflation 11.7%, Nonres Bldgs 6.3%, Non-bldg Infra Avg 5.5%

edit 8-12-22 Much more information from a number of reliable sources is now available regarding recent inflation. Among several inputs, there is a recent BLS update to the Final Demand indices. See latest PPI tables. 2022 Residential Inflation 12.8%, Nonres Bldgs 9.4%, Non-bldg Infra Avg 5.6%.

edit update 9-19-22 inputs revise 2022 construction inflation as shown here. See Tables below:

  • 2020 Rsdn Inflation  4.6%, Nonres Bldgs 2.7%, Non-bldg Infra Avg -0.3%
  • 2021 Rsdn Inflation 13.4%, Nonres Bldgs 6.8%, Non-bldg Infra Avg 7.8%
  • 2022 Rsdn Inflation 14.6%, Nonres Bldgs 9.9%, Non-bldg Infra Avg 12.0%

Cost Indices

General construction cost indices and Input price indices that do not track whole building final cost do not capture the full cost of inflation on construction projects.

Selling Price is whole building actual final cost. Selling price indices track the final cost of construction, which includes, in addition to costs of labor and materials and sales/use taxes, general contractor and sub-contractor margins or overhead and profit.

When construction activity is increasing, total construction costs typically increase more rapidly than the net cost of labor and materials. In active markets overhead and profit margins increase in response to increased demand. These costs are captured only in Selling Price, or final cost indices.

Consumer Price Index (CPI), tracks changes in the prices paid by 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 not be used to adjust construction pricing.

Producer Price Index (PPI) for Construction Inputs is an example of a commonly referenced construction cost index that does not represent whole building costs. The PPI is a materials cost index. Engineering News Record Building Cost Index (ENRBCI) and RSMeans Cost Index are other examples of commonly used indices that do not capture whole building cost.

Construction Analytics Building Cost Index, Turner Building Cost Index, Rider Levett Bucknall Cost Index and Mortenson Cost Index are all examples of whole building cost indices that measure final selling price (for nonresidential buildings only).

Residential inflation indices are primarily single-family homes but would also be relevant for low-rise two to three story building types. Hi-rise residential work is more closely related to nonresidential building cost indices.

A nonresidential buildings index would be representative of commercial construction or hi-rise residential construction, since hi-rise residential is quite similar too commercial construction and in fact substantial portions of the building are constructed by firms classified as commercial constructors.

The Construction Analytics Infrastructure composite index is useful only for adjusting the total cost of all non-building infrastructure. Individual types of non-building infrastructure require attention to specific indices related to that type of work.

History

Post Great Recession, 2011-2020, average inflation rates:

Nonresidential buildings inflation 10-year average (2011-2020) is 3.7%. In 2020 it dropped to 2.5%, but for the six years 2014-2019 it averaged 4.4%. In 2021 it jumped to 9%, the highest since 2006.

Residential 8-year average inflation for 2013-2020 is 5.0%. In 2020 it was 5.3%. In 2021 it jumped to 14%, the highest since 1978.

30-year average inflation rate for residential and nonresidential buildings is 3.7%. Excluding deflation in recession years 2008-2010, for nonresidential buildings is 4.2% and for residential is 4.6%.

  • Long-term construction cost inflation is normally about double consumer price index (CPI).
  • In times of rapid construction spending growth, nonresidential construction annual inflation averages about 8%. Residential has gone as high as 10%.
  • Nonresidential buildings inflation has average 3.7% since the recession bottom in 2011. Six-year 2014-2019 average is 4.4%.
  • Residential buildings inflation reached a post-recession high of 8.0% in 2013 but dropped to 3.5% in 2015. It has averaged 5.3% for 8 years 2013-2020.
  • Although inflation is affected by labor and material costs, a large part of the change in inflation is due to change in contractors/supplier margins.
  • When construction volume increases rapidly, margins increase rapidly.

Historically, when spending decreases or remains level for the year, inflation rarely (only 10% of the time) climbs above 3%. Avg inflation for all down/flat years is less than 1%. In 2021, spending was down for nonresidential buildings and non-building. Inflation for both was over 8%.

Nonresidential buildings inflation, after hitting 5.3% in 2018 and 4.8% in 2019, fell to 2.5% in 2020, lower than the 4.5% average for the previous four years. In 2021 it was 9.0%. Nonresidential buildings spending has not kept up with inflation since 2016. Spending needs to grow at a minimum of inflation, otherwise volume is declining. Since 2016, inflation exceeded spending by almost 20%.

Nonbuilding Infrastructure inflation, from 2013 to 2017 averaged less than 1%, but then jumped to 5% in 2018 and 2019. Inflation fell to -0.2% in 2020, but jumped to 9.1% in 2021.

Residential construction inflation in 2019 was only 3.4%. However, the average inflation for six years from 2013 to 2018 was 5.2%. It peaked at 7% in 2013 but dropped to 3.2% in 2015 and 3.4% in 2019. Residential inflation is 2021 was 14.0%.

Producer Price Index (PPI) Material Inputs (which exclude labor) to new construction averaged less than 1%/yr. from 2012 to 2017. Cost decreased in 2015 and 2016, the only negative costs for inputs in the past 20 years. Input costs averaged over 5% for 2018-2020. Then in 2021 input costs soared to 22%, the highest ever recorded.

2020 Performance

Even though material input costs were up for 2020, nonresidential inflation in 2020 remained low, possibly influenced by a reduction in margins due to the decline in new nonresidential buildings construction starts (-18%), which is a decline in new work to bid on. An 18% drop in new nonresidential buildings starts within one year equals a loss of near $100 billion of spending that would occur over the next 2-4 years. Nonbuilding starts were down 15%, equivalent to a loss of $50 billion in new work that would likely have been spread over 2-5 years. Residential starts in 2020 increased 6%, adding about $35 billion in new spending spread over 2 years.

Nonresidential buildings inflation for 2020 dropped to 2.6%, the first time in 6 years below 4%. Spending fell only 1.8% but after accounting for 2.6% inflation, volume decreased 4.4%. Nonresidential volume dropped every month in 2020 after the February 2020 peak, down 19% by December, but that’s not the bottom. Declines continue into 2021.

Nonbuilding Infrastructure in 2020 posted mild deflation of -0.3% after +5% in 2019, but averaged only 2%/yr. since 2011. 2020 spending increased only 0.7%. After accounting for -0.3% deflation, volume increased 0.4%. Public infrastructure inflation, up only 1.2% in 2020 after reaching over 4% in 2018 and 2019, averaged 2.7%, since 2011.

Residential inflation averaged 4.5% for 2020. Remarkably, spending increased 15% and 2020 volume was up 10%. Residential business volume dropped 9% from the March 2020 peak to the May bottom, but then by December recovered 16% to hit a post Great Recession high, 11% above Dec 2019.

2021 Performance

Most nonresidential construction markets had a weaker spending performance in 2021 than in 2020. Approximately 40%-50% of spending in 2021 is generated from 2020 starts, and 2020 nonresidential starts ranged down 10% to 25%, several markets down 40%.

Nonresidential buildings starts fell 18% in 2020, but gained 18% in 2021. Nonbuilding starts were down 15% in 2020, then added 8% in 2021. Residential starts increased 6% in 2020 and 22% in 2021.

Nonresidential buildings spending fell 4.4% in 2021. Nonbuilding spending was down 1.1%. Residential spending was the star of the year, up 23%, the largest yearly % gain on record.Nonresidential buildings inflation in 2021 jumped to 6.7%, the highest since 2007. Non-building average inflation was 7.5%, the highest since 2008. Residential inflation in 2021 jumped to 13.2%, the highest on record back to 1967.

After adjusting for inflation, total all construction volume in 2021 was down -1.1%. Residential volume for 2021 was up +10% while Nonresidential Bldgs volume was down -10% and non-building volume was down -7%. Jobs average over the year 2021 increased +2.3%. Volume was down -1.1%.

Current Inputs

U.S. Census Single-Family house Construction Index gained only 4% in 2020. The index is up 11.7% for 2021. The index has posted steady growth throughout 2021. Thru February 2022, over the last 4-5 months, the year/year rate of increase in this index has jumped from 12% yoy to 17% yoy. https://www.census.gov/construction/nrs/pdf/price_uc.pdf

Turner Construction Cost Index average annual for 2021 is up only 1.9% from 2020. That is unusually low, well below the range of 5% to 16% and the average of 9% for other nonresidential buildings indices. http://turnerconstruction.com/cost-index

Rider Levitt Bucknall nonresidential buildings index average for 2021 is up 4.8% from 2020. https://www.rlb.com/americas/

Mortenson’s cost index of nonresidential buildings data is posted through Q4 2021. The annual average inflation for 2021 is up 16% over 2020. https://www.mortenson.com/cost-index

RSMeans Nonresidential buildings index for 2021 is up 9.11%.

Engineering News Record (ENR) BCI inputs index for 2021 is up 10.0%. The BCI is up 5.3% year-to-date for the first 4 months of 2022.

Producer Price Index tables published by AGC show input costs to nonresidential buildings up about 18% for 2021. Final costs of contractors and buildings is up 5.3%. PPI Inputs for March show residential inputs up 8.2% and nonresidential buildings inputs up 12.6% ytd for 3 months. Also the average final demand increase cost for residential is up 16% and final demand cost for nonresidential bldgs is up 4.8% in the 1st quarter. https://www.agc.org/learn/construction-data

A caution here. AGC reports inflation for the year as the value reported in December of the year. Many others report the average inflation for all 12 months. These two reporting methods cannot be mixed. Construction Analytics has recently revised PPI data to reflect annual average inflation.

AGC April Construction Inflation Alert The construction industry is in the midst of a period of exceptionally steep and fast-rising costs for a variety of materials, compounded by major supply-chain disruptions and difficulty finding enough workers—a combination that threatens the financial health of many contractors. No single solution will resolve the situation.”

New construction starts reported by Dodge thru Feb are up 15% over the same period in 2021, with residential at a new high and nonresidential near the previous high. Feb 2022 total was the highest level of new starts on record. High levels of activity often lead to higher levels of inflation.

Wage offerings are increasing (up 6% in 2021), productivity is declining (down 7% in last 4 years) and there are many instances of material shortages or delays in delivery (lumber, windows, roofing, cabinets, mechanical equipment, appliances, etc.). These issues are all present now and all work to increase inflation.

PPI INPUTS table updated 11-16-22

Steel Mill Products prices are up over 100% in 2021, but steel mill products includes all kinds of steel for all uses including automobiles and appliances. Construction uses slightly less than 40% of all steel and that is predominantly fabricated structural steel.

Fabricated Structural Steel prices are up 25% in 2021.

Here’s an example of how a PPI cost change affects the total final cost of the product installed. The mill price of steel is about 25% of the final price of steel installed. The other 75% of the cost is detailing, fabrication, delivery, lifting, labor and equipment for installation and markup. What affect might a steel cost increase have on a building project? It will affect the cost of structural shapes, steel joists, reinforcing steel, metal deck, stairs and rails, metal panels, metal ceilings, wall studs, door frames, canopies, steel duct, steel pipe and conduit, pumps, electrical cabinets and furniture, and I’m sure more. Assuming a typical structural steel building with some metal panel exterior, steel pan stairs, metal deck floors, steel doors and frames and steel studs in walls, then all steel material installed represents about 14% to 16% of total nonresidential building cost. Structural Steel only, installed, is about 9% to 10% of total building cost. The other 6% of total steel cost applies to all buildings. If mill price is up 100%, then subcontractor final cost is up 25%. With all steel representing 16% of total building cost then final cost of building would be up 4%.

Steel Prices Reach Levels Not Seen Since 2008 by The Fabricator

2021 Input costs for Residential and Nonresidential Buildings is the highest on record. Materials prices support high inflation into 2022. But some sources expect gains to moderate from 2021.

PPI FINAL DEMAND updated 11-16-22

For up to data 2022 PPI see Producer Price Index PPI Tables 2022

Inflation

Could a recession bring on deflation?

Deflation is not likely. Only twice in 50 years have we experienced construction cost deflation, the recession years of 2009 and 2010. That was at a time when business volume went down 33% and jobs were down 30%. In 2020, business volume dropped 7% from February to May. By October, volume reached a low for the year, down 8%. Volume of work seemed to be recovering in the first quarter of 2021, up 3% from the October low, but then struggled most of the year. As of December 2021, volume is still down 7% from the February 2020 peak and up only 2% from the 2020 low. Jobs dropped 14%, 1,100,000+ jobs, in two months! But jobs recovered all but 3% by December 2020. As of December 2021, jobs are down 2% from February 2020 peak. We have now gained back 1,000,000 jobs. But we gained back far more jobs than volume. That means it now takes more jobs to put-in-place volume of work. That increases inflation.

Here’s a list of some 2021 indices average annual change and date updated.

  • +6.7% Construction Analytics Nonres Bldgs Mar
  • +5.4% PPI Average Final Demand 5 Nonres Bldgs Dec
  • +5.3% PPI average Final Demand 4 Nonres Trades Dec
  • +1.9% Turner Index Nonres Bldgs annual avg 2021 Q4
  • +4.8% Rider Levett Bucknall Nonres Bldgs annual avg 2021 Q4
  • +16% Mortenson Nonres Bldgs annual avg 2021 Mar
  • +11.7% U S Census New SF Home annual avg 2021 Dec
  • +7.4% I H S Power Plants and Pipelines Index annual avg 2021 Dec
  • +7.1% BurRec Roads and Bridges annual avg 2021 Q4
  • +6.0% FHWA Fed Hiway annual avg 2021 Q4
  • +9.11% R S Means Nonres Bldgs Inputs annual avg 2021 Q4
  • +10.0% ENR Nonres Bldgs Inputs annual avg 2021 Dec

Take note of the top six indices reported here. They all represent nonresidential buildings final cost. The spread is from 2% to 16%, wider than ever seen in any other year. The average of these six is 6.7%.

Future Inflation Forecast

Typically, when work volume decreases, the bidding environment gets more competitive. We can always expect some margin decline when there are fewer nonresidential projects to bid on, which typically results in sharper pencils. However, when materials shortages develop or productivity declines, that causes inflation to increase. We can also expect cost increases due to material prices, labor cost, lost productivity, project time extensions or potential overtime to meet a fixed end-date.

After adjusting for inflation, total volume in 2021 is down 1.1%. Residential volume for 2021 is up +10% while Nonresidential Bldgs volume is down 10% and Non-bldg volume is down 7%.

Total volume for 2022 is forecast up only 1.7%. After adjusting for inflation, Residential volume for 2022 is forecast up only 2%. Nonresidential Bldgs volume is forecast up 4% and Non-bldg volume is forecast down 2%.

Volume declines should lead to lower inflation as firms compete for fewer new projects. However, aside from remarkable cost increases for materials, if jobs growth continues while volume declines, then productivity declines, and that will add to labor cost inflation. Since 2010, Construction Spending is up over 100%, but after adjusting for inflation, Volume is up only 31%. Jobs are up 41%.

Notice in this next plot how index growth for ENR BCI and RSMeans, both input indices, is much less than for all other selling price final cost indices. From 2010 to 2020, Construction Analytics total final cost inflation is 103/71 = 1.45 = +45%. Input cost indices total inflation over the same period is only 103/79 = 1.30 = +30%, missing a big portion of the cost growth over time.

Nonresidential Buildings Selling Price Indices vs Input Indices updated 9-19-22

Several Nonresidential Buildings Final Cost Indices averaged over 5%/yr. in 2018 and 2019 and over 4%/yr. from 2015 to 2019 averaging +25% inflation for 5 years. Input indices that do not track whole building cost averaged only 12% inflation for those five years, much less than final cost growth. As noted previously, most reliable nonresidential selling price indexes have been over 4% since 2014. All dropped to between 2% to 3.5% in 2020.

Current and predicted Inflation rates updated 12-10-22:

  • 2020 Rsdn Inflation  4.5%, Nonres Bldgs 2.6%, Non-bldg Infra Avg -0.3%
  • 2021 Rsdn Inflation 13.9%, Nonres Bldgs 7.4%, Non-bldg Infra Avg 7.8%
  • 2022 Rsdn Inflation 15.4%, Nonres Bldgs 12.2%, Non-bldg Infra Avg 13.6%
  • 2023 Rsdn Inflation 6.0%, Nonres Bldgs 4.8%, Non-bldg Infra Avg 4.3%

Construction Analytics Building Cost Index updated 12-10-22

As of April 2022, not all nonresidential sources have updated their Q4 inflation index. A few are still reporting only 2% to 4% inflation for 2021, but several have moved up dramatically, now reflecting between +10% to +14%. One national resource is reporting only 1.9% inflation for 2021! The 2015-2023 table has been updated to include all Q1 2022 data where available. We can still expect some minor change to 2021 and future forecasts.

The tables below, from 2015 thru 2023, updates 2021 data and includes Q1’22 data when available and provide 2022-2023 forecast. The three major sector indices, highlighted, are plotted above. NOTE, in this table and these plots all indices are set to a base of 2019=100. All original data is gathered for all indices, but since all indices have different index dates (start in different years), all data is modified to a common base date, in this case 2019. That allows all indices to be easily compared. These indices are annual average index reported at midyear. All forward forecast values, whenever not available, are estimated by Construction Analytics using long-term avg.

Index Table updated 12-10-22 for older indices see Construction Inflation Index Tables + Links

How to use an index: Indexes are used to adjust costs over time for the effects of inflation. To move cost from some point in time to some other point in time, divide Index for year you want to move to by Index for year you want to move cost from. Example: What is cost inflation for a building with a midpoint in 2021, for a similar nonresidential building whose midpoint of construction was 2016? Divide Index for 2021 by index for 2016 = 111.7/87.0 = 1.284. Cost of building with midpoint in 2016 x 1.28 = cost of same building with midpoint in 2021. Costs should be moved from/to midpoint of construction. Indices posted here are at middle of year and can be interpolated between to get any other point in time.

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, stalled from 2015-2017, then increased 15% in 2018-2019. During that time, the average of non-building indices would have given +12% from 2010-2014, +13% for 2015-2017 and +10% for 2018-2019. The IHS Refinery, Petrochemical plants index fell 10% from 2014 to 2016. In that same two-year period the IHS Pipeline, LNG index fell 25%. The CA Infrastructure composite index is useful only for adjusting the grand total cost of all non-building infrastructure.

Infrastructure Table updated 12-10-22

Volume of Work – The Impact of Inflation on Jobs

Volume is spending minus inflation.

Construction Spending drives the headlines. Construction Volume drives jobs demand. Total Volume is forecast flat to down over the next 12 months. Residential dips 4% then recovers to current level, nonresidential buildings volume increases 6% and Non-building infrastructure volume will fall 7%.

To differentiate between Revenue and Volume you must use actual final cost indices, otherwise known as selling price indices, to properly adjust the cost of construction over time.

When spending increases less than the rate of inflation, the real work volume is declining. In 2020, Nonresidential buildings spending was down 2%, but with 2.5% inflation, so volume was down 4.5%. The extent of volume declines impacts the jobs situation. In 2021, Nonresidential Buildings jobs increased by slightly less than 1%, but construction volume was down 10%. Total all construction jobs increased by 2.3%, but construction volume was down 1.1%. Jobs are supported by growth in construction volume, spending minus inflation. If jobs increase faster than volume, that adds to productivity losses and adds to inflation. 

Many construction firms judge their business growth by the revenues passing through from all jobs under contract. The problem with that, for example, is that Nonresidential Buildings spending (revenues) are expected to grow 10% in 2022, but after adjusting for inflation the actual volume of work will be up by only 4%. By this method, in part, these firms are including in their accounting an increase in inflation dollars passing through their hands. Spending includes inflation, which does not add to the volume of work and does not support jobs growth.

Total volume for 2022 is forecast up only 1.7%. Residential volume for 2022 is forecast up 2.3%. Nonresidential Bldgs volume is forecast up only 4% and Non-bldg volume is forecast down 2.4%.

Construction Spending Current Dollars

Spending includes inflation which does not add to the volume of work. Before we can look at the effect on jobs, we need to adjust spending for inflation. The plot above “Spending by Sector” is current dollars. The sector plot below is adjusted for inflation and is presented in constant $. Constant $ show volume. Notice future residential remains in a narrow range after adjusting for inflation.

Constant $ = Spending minus inflation = Volume

Residential business volume is no stranger to hefty increases in spending and volume. In three years 2013-2015, spending increased 57% and volume was up 35%. For 2020-2021, spending increased 42% and volume was up 20%. Although residential spending remains near this elevated level for the next year, volume growth slows down in the 2nd half of 2022. Residential spending is forecast up 13% for 2022, but a forecast for 11.7% residential inflation slows volume growth to 2.3% for the year.

In January 2021, I had forecast by 3rd quarter 2021, nonresidential buildings volume would be 25% below the Feb 2020 peak. By 3rd qtr 2021 volume was down 21%. This follows the 20% decline in new starts in 2020. Most of the spending from those lost starts would have taken place in 2021. For 2022, spending is forecast to increase 10%, but inflation is forecast at 6%, resulting in volume growth of 4%.

In 2021, nonresidential buildings volume dropped 10%. Non-building volume dropped 7%. In 2022, nonresidential buildings volume should climb 4% but non-building volume falls 2.4%. In fact, the forecast shows non-building volume still drops another 4% in 2023. Although Power plants posted a massive gain in starts in 2019, declines in pipeline starts offset some of that gain. Transportation, a source of long duration projects, is also contributing to that decline. Although transportation starts were up 16% in 2021, that follows a 33% decline in starts in 2020-2021.

Below is the non-building plot, inflation adjusted. Both the nonresidential buildings and the non-building plots show there has been no substantial increase since Feb 2020 in volume to support jobs growth, and there is little to no help in 2022.

Jobs are supported by growth in construction volume, spending minus inflation. If volume is declining, there is no support to increase jobs. Although total volume for 2022 is forecast up 1.7%, with Residential volume forecast up 2.3%, Nonresidential Bldgs volume up 4% and Non-building volume forecast down 2.4%, we will not see total construction volume return to Feb 2020 level at any time in the next three years. By the end of 2023 volume is still down 3% from Feb 2020. 

Construction Jobs Growth

When we see spending increasing at less than the rate of inflation, the real work volume is declining. For example, with construction inflation increasing at 3% annually, a nonresidential building spending decline of -2% would reflect a work volume decline of 5%. The extent of volume declines would affect the jobs situation.

There is a difference comparing growth to same month last year versus comparing annual averages. For Dec’21 vs Dec’20, Residential jobs are up 75k, Nonresidential Bldgs up 61k and Nonbuilding up24k. But annual averages tell a much different story.

AVG 2021 vs AVG 2020, Rsdn+153k (+5.3%), Nonres Bldgs +28k (+0.8%), Non-bldg +9k (+0.9%).

Dec vs Dec simply compares jobs at 2 points in time, without the benefit of what occurred in the other 11 months of the year, so does not tell us what took place over the year. Total labor production for the year must take into account all months. The annual average gives a much clearer indication of jobs growth over the year because it accounts for the peaks and dips of all 12 months during the year.

Jobs average over the year 2021 increased +2.3%. After adjusting for inflation, total volume in 2021 is down -1.1%. Residential volume for 2021 is up 10% while Nonresidential Bldgs volume is down 10% and Non-building volume is down 7%. Those are remarkable nonresidential declines, not seen that deep since 2010.

If jobs are increasing faster than volume of work, productivity is declining. For example, nonresidential buildings volume declined 10%, but nonres bldgs jobs increase 0.8%. That’s a 11% swing in productivity. Since labor is about 30% to 35% of the cost of a project, if productivity declines by 11%, then inflation rises by 11% x 35%, or 3.8%. The most recent year drop in volume, while jobs increased, added 4+% to nonresidential buildings inflation for the year. But some jobs counted as Nonresidential actually work on residential construction, so the individual sector data is skewed and there is insufficient detail to count those jobs. Better to look at all volume vs all jobs.

Jobs and Volume of work growth should move in tandem, as seen in the above plot from 2011 to Jan 2018. With exception of 2006, when jobs increased by 10%, but volume dropped by 5%, a negative impact 15% spread, similar to 2018, these plot lines have been moving in tandem like this, with minor differences, back to 1992. If jobs grow faster than volume, productivity is declining (a negative impact). When these plot lines grow wider apart with jobs above volume, that is a sign of a productivity decline. That loss of productivity for the workforce is a hidden aspect of inflation, not shown in pricing or wages.

Jobs are supported by growth in construction volume, spending minus inflation. Unless volume of work increases or job growth slows, by the end of 2022, volume will be lower than today.

What does that hidden loss of productivity for the workforce look like? How can we tell the magnitude of this impact on inflation when it is hidden, not seen in wages? It shows up in this following plot, the volume of work Put-In-Place per job.

If jobs are increasing faster than volume of work, can we tell if it’s production employees or supervisory employees? BLS reports ALL construction jobs (~7.5million) and Production jobs (~5.5million). The difference between these two data sets is supervisory employees.

Looking at the average number of construction jobs in the last 4 years, the average of 2021 jobs vs the average of 2017 jobs, production jobs increased +5%, but supervisory jobs increased +12%.

In 2011, supervisory jobs was 24% of all construction jobs. Now it is 35%. Growth in supervisory jobs has had a greater negative impact than production jobs on the spread between jobs and volume.

In January 2021, I had forecast We will not see construction volume return to Feb 2020 level at any time in the next three years. Well, unprecedented residential growth outperformed with 10% volume growth in both 2020 and 2021. Nonresidential and non-building volume since Feb 2020 are down 15% to 16%. Total construction volume since Feb 2020 is still down 2.5%. It is expected to fall another 3% in 2022. And the forecast still shows total construction volume from Feb 2020 down 2% by the end of 2023. That is a difficult environment to see jobs growth.

A final 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 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. This graphic might represent how most owners and estimators reference these two terms.

The U.S. Census Single-Family house Construction Index

NAHB – Prices of goods used in residential construction

The Producer Price Index tables published by AGC

AGC Inflation Alerts

Construction Analytics Construction Inflation Index Tables for indices related to Nonbuilding Infrastructure work and for many more links to sources.

See this post on my blog Construction Economic Outlook 2022

Download the complete (20 page) inflation article here, download button below

2021 Forecasts Comparison to 2021 Year-end Results

How did we do?

These colorful tables show the 2021 construction spending forecasts from 8 firms published in the January 2021 and July 2021 AIA Consensus Outlook. Construction Analytics (my forecast) Beginning year and Midyear forecasts are included for comparison. The actual spending year end published by U.S. Census on 2-1-22 is included. Forecast are highlighted in bright green (Best), dull green (2nd best) and red (worst).

FMI’s forecast is modified to move Transportation and Communication into the nonbuilding category to conform with other forecasts and also to conform with how Census reports these items. Other Nonres Bldgs is the total of Religious (15% of $) and Public Safety (85% of $) combined. Not all firms provide forecasts for residential or nonbuilding infrastructure.

All too often, forecasts are published but no one looks back to see how the actual results compared to the estimates. Also, looking at the Jan 2021 and Jul 2021 forecasts, you can see if and by how much each firm revised their estimate for the year.

This is the initial Census release of actual 2021 data. Results always get revised with the release of May data (July 1) in the following year. On July 1, 2022, any significant revisions to 2021 actual spending data will be revised and these table will be reissued.

Forecast at the Beginning of 2021

Forecast at MIDYEAR 2021

Construction Analytics (my forecast) didn’t fare so well in the 2021 Beginning of year forecast, but then did quite well in the Midyear forecast. My forecasts are based on cash flow of Dodge forecast of construction starts. When starts get revised, my forecast gets revised. Dodge revised the forecast of 2021 starts substantially after the beginning of the year, so that revised my forecast.

Below is the same data for AIA Midyear Outlook 2020 and my respective forecast at that time. My midyear forecast in 2020 had more best estimates than all other forecasts combined. Although it should be noted, no one got residential even close in 2020, I just happened to be least wrong.

Forecast at MIDYEAR 2020

A word on averages. Generally, the more inputs to an average, the closer the average will be to accurate. But it’s probably worth your while to take a look at the spread between forecasts on any particular line item. When you see 7 out of 8 estimates within a tight range of 5 points, and then one varies by 30 pts., it might be a good idea to question the validity or throw out the outlier.

Also, recognize that the Midyear forecast is a much different animal than the Beginning of Year forecast. At midyear, we already have 5 or 6 months of actual data to influence the value of the forecast at the end of the year. If we have 6 months of actual data that is already UP 10% year-to-date, and a forecast predicts the year will end DOWN 10%, each of the final 6 months of the year would need to come in at -30%. I wrote about that in detail several times last year. See https://edzarenski.com/2021/10/01/construction-spending-update-10-1-21/

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