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Attached PDF of my Forecasting presentation delivered 5-22-17 at Advancing Building Estimation in Houston
A few bullets from this presentation
- Construction Starts is not construction spending
- Cash flow = Spending = Revenue
- Revenue is not Volume of work
- Spending minus inflation = Volume
- Understand what’s in an Index to avoid misguided inflation adjustments
- We can’t ignore productivity
- Spending activity has just as much influence on inflation as labor and material cost.
Slides in this presentation come from the following articles:
The two plots lined up here represent spending and spending corrected for inflation or real volume growth in the top plot versus construction inflation in the bottom plot. On the Inflation plot, the black line represents final selling price, actual inflation. The red line represents the ENR Building Cost Index which is a fixed market basket of labor and materials, not a complete selling price index. All plots are for nonresidential buildings only.
The index shows how cost inflation climbs in periods when spending is accelerating and the index slows when spending is increasing slowly. Also we can see that the major decline in spending resulted in a major deflation in the index. Note the ENR BCI does not show the major decline in the inflation index. That’s because the ENR BCI is not final selling price. It shows what the cost of labor and materials did during that period, but does not capture how contractors adjusted their margins down so deeply due to loss of volume.
The takeaway from this comparison is this:
- Labor and material indices do not show what real total inflation is doing
- When spending increases rapidly, inflation increases rapidly
- When spending increases slowly, inflation increases slowly
- An understanding of which direction and how much spending is moving is more important to predicting inflation than the change in the cost of labor and materials
Current $ vs Constant $
This clearly shows the impact of inflation on comparing Construction Spending data. Reports commonly compare current $1.166 trillion 2016 total spending today back to the (then) current $1.150 trillion at 2006 peak. Of course that seems to establish a new high. But that is so misleading.
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 51% but in constant 2016$ we’ve added only 31% in volume and we are still 16% below the 2005 peak.
As measured in comparable constant dollars, No, we are not back to previous levels of spending. We will probably not return to previous highs before 2020.
The widening gap from right to left, as we look back in time, is the cumulative affect of inflation. It might be only 2% or 4% looking back one year, but back to 2003 it’s 40%.
Impact of Inflation
In all projections, the affect of inflation must be considered. Why is tracking inflation important? Well, as an estimator it’s necessary to assign the appropriate cost to items over time. And it’s needed to properly interpret construction economics. But it’s also important for business management.
Due to construction inflation, a company that was building $700 million in nonresidential buildings in 2005 needs to build $1 billion today just to remain the same size as in 2005. Increasing revenues by 5% annually in a period when inflation is increasing by 5% is not increasing annual volume. While revenue may be increasing, volume would be static. Over a period of years, if this were to occur, since some companies will grow, the amount of volume available to bidders could potentially restrict growth in the number of bidders able to secure new work or in the growth in the size of companies.
In this table, both the index values and the resultant annual escalation are shown. The index value gives cumulative inflation compared to 2016$.
SEE ALSO these other posts
Total construction spending peaked in Q1 2006 at an annual rate of $1,222 billion. For the most recent three months it has averaged $1,172 billion. It is currently at a 10 1/2 year high at just 4% below peak spending. But that ignores inflation.
In constant inflation adjusted dollars spending is still 18% below the Q1 2006 peak.
Current headlines express exuberance that we are now at a 10 1/2 year high in construction spending but fail to address the fact that is comparing dollars that are not adjusted for inflation.
In the 1st quarter of 2006 total spending peaked at a annual rate of $1.2 billion and for the year 2006 spending totaled $1,167 billion. We are within a stone’s throw of reaching that monthly level and 2016 will reach a new all-time high total spending by a slim fraction. But all of that is measured in current dollars, dollars at the value of worth within that year, ignoring inflation.
Adjusting for inflation gives us a much different value. Inflation adjusted dollars are referred to as constant dollars or dollars all compared or measured in value in terms of the year to which we choose to compare. To be fair, we must now compare all backdated years of construction to constant dollars in 2016. What would those previous years be worth if they were valued in 2016 dollars?
By mid-2017 total construction spending will reach a new all-time high, but in constant inflation adjusted dollars will still be 17% below 2006 peak. We will not reach a new inflation adjusted high before 2020.
Residential construction spending is still 32% below the 2006 peak of $690 billion. In constant inflation adjusted dollars it is 39% below 2006 peak.
Nonresidential Buildings construction spending is only 3.5% below 2008 peak of $443 billion. However, in constant inflation adjusted dollars it is 18% below 2008 peak.
Non-building Infrastructure construction spending pre-recession peaked in 2008 at at an annual rate of $290 billion. However, post recession it peaked in Q1 2014 at $314 billion. It is now 8% below the 2014 peak. In constant inflation adjusted dollars it is 12% below the 2014 peak.
For more on inflation SEE Construction Cost Inflation – Midyear Report 2016
For all of 2014-2015-2016
- Total Construction jobs increased from 5,950,000 to 6,700,000, +12.6%
- Total Construction spending increased from $960bil to $1,170bil, +22%
BUT, much of that spending increase is inflation. We need to compare to constant dollars which = Volume. Inflation was particularly high in residential work, over 15% for the 3 years, which means $1.00bil in spending 3 years ago would be worth more than $1.15bil today. Converting everything to constant Oct 2016 dollars, after inflation we get:
- Total Construction volume increased from $1,070bil to $1,170bil, +9.4%
So, for the 3 years, jobs increased by 12.6% while real work volume increased by 9.4%.
A more thorough analysis, which takes hours worked into consideration, shows from the Jan 2011 bottom of the recession in construction to current, both jobs and volume have increased equally by 28%. But jobs growth is often out-of-balance with real volume growth. In the beginning of the recession years of 2008-2011 firms let go of people much faster than work volume declined. 2009 showed a big gain in productivity. By 2010-2011 firms hadn’t let go enough to match the loss in spending. Then from 2012-2014 workload grew faster than firms filled jobs. Since 2011 we are sort of on an even keel.
For the last 3 years, jobs increased more than real construction volume. I pointed this out in my last detailed jobs report. The 6 months from Oct 2015 – March 2016 encompassed the fastest new construction jobs growth period in a decade. It’s no surprise to me that jobs growth has been slow since March this year. Frankly, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it remains slow for awhile. When we look at jobs growth vs. volume growth, there is reason to believe that slow jobs growth is not entirely due to labor shortages. Part of the blame is due to recent over-hiring.
Why the big slow down in construction jobs this Year? Is work volume on the decline? Are labor shortages to blame?
These days, the most talked about reason for slower jobs growth is the lack of experienced workers available to hire. In fact, recent surveys indicate about 70% of construction firms report difficulty finding experienced workers to fill vacant positions and the Job Openings survey has been at highs for several months. That certainly cannot be overlooked as one reason for slower jobs growth, but that is not the only reason?
Although recent growth has slowed, even with all this talk of difficulty finding experienced construction workers, there has been very good jobs growth. For the 5 ½ year period from the low point in January 2011 to the present (August 2016) we added 1,240,000 construction jobs.
- Jobs increased by 23% in 5 ½ years.
- Spending growth increased 52% in that same 5 1/2 years.
Why is it that jobs don’t increase at the same rate as construction spending? Because much of that spending growth is inflation, not true volume growth. Volume is construction spending minus inflation. To get volume, convert all dollars from current $ in the year spent into constant $ by factoring out inflation.
- Spending growth is not a true measure of increase in real volume.
- Jobs growth should not be compared to spending growth.
Now that we have spending converted to volume, we need to adjust jobs to get real work output. The total hours worked affects the entire workforce so has a significant impact on output.
- Jobs is not a true measure of work output.
- Jobs x hours worked gives total work output.
Spending must be factored to remove inflation and jobs should be factored to include any change in hours worked.
- In the 5 1/2 years from Jan 2011 to mid 2016, real construction volume and jobs/hours real output both increased by 28%.
Now we see over the long term, job/hours and real volume are moving in tandem. But there are always short term periods when they do not and that causes ups and downs in productivity.
In 2014-2015, jobs/hours grew by 11%, the fastest growth for a two-year span in 10 years. Real volume of work increased by 16% producing a real net increase in productivity. But productivity had declined significantly in 2010 and 2011. It’s not unusual to see productivity balancing out over time. In part, this is due to companies balancing their total employees with their total workload.
From October 2015 through March 2016, jobs growth was exceptional. 214,000 construction jobs were added in 6 months, topping off the fastest 2 years of jobs growth in 10 years. That is the highest 6-month average growth rate in 10 years. That certainly doesn’t make it seem like there is a labor shortage. However, the jobs opening rate (JOLTS) is the highest it’s been in many years and that is a signal of difficulty in filling open positions.
- For the 6-month period including Oct’15 thru Mar’16 construction gained 214,000 jobs, the fastest rate of consecutive months jobs growth in 10 years. Then, after 3 months of job losses, July, September and October show modest gains.
I would expect growth such as we’ve had for two years and then that 6 month period to be followed by a slowdown in hiring as firms try to reach a jobs/workload balance. It appears we may have experienced that slowdown. Jobs declined for four of five months from April through August. Keep in mind, this immediately follows the fastest rate of jobs growth in 10 years. But it also tracks directly to three monthly declines in spending. (I predicted this jobs slowdown in my data 9 months ago. I predicted the 1st half 2016 spending decline more than a year ago).
It is not so unusual to see jobs growth slowed for several months. It follows directly with the Q2 trend in spending and it follows what might be considered a saturation period in jobs growth. The last two years of jobs growth was the best two-year period in 10 years. It might also be indicating that after a robust 6 month hiring period there are far fewer skilled workers still available for hire. The unemployed available for hire is the lowest in 16 years.
If spending plays out as expected into year end 2016, then construction jobs may begin to grow faster in late 2016. However, availability could have a significant impact on this needed growth.
Availability already seems to be having an effect on wages. Construction wages are up 2.6% year/year, but are up 1.2% in the last quarter, so the rate of wage growth has recently accelerated. The most recent JOLTS report shows we’ve been near and now above 200,000 job openings for months. With this latest jobs report, that could indicate labor cost will continue to rise rapidly.
As wages accelerate, also important is work scheduling capacity which is affected by the number of workers on hand to get the job done. Inability to secure sufficient workforce could impact project duration and cost and adds to risk, all inflationary. That could potentially impose a limit on spending growth. It will definitely have an upward effect on construction inflation this year. If work volume accelerates, expect labor cost inflation to rise rapidly.
10-24-16 original posted
1-27-17 updated index plot and tables
Construction Cost Indices come in many types: Final cost by specific building type; Final cost composite of buildings but still all within one major building sector; Final cost but across several major building sectors (ex., residential and nonresidential buildings); Input prices to subcontractors; Producer prices and Select market basket indices.
Residential, Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure Indices developed by Construction Analytics, (in BOLD CAPS), are sector specific selling price composite indices. These three indices represent whole building final cost and are plotted below and also plotted in the attached Midyear report link. They represent average or weighted average of what is considered the most representative cost indicators in each major building sector. For Non-building Infrastructure, however, in most instances it is better to use a specific index to the type of work.
All actual index values have been recorded from the source and then converted to current year 2016 = 100. That puts all the indices on the same baseline and measures everything to a recent point in time.
Not all indices cover all years. For instance the PPI nonresidential buildings indices only go back to years 2004-2007, the years in which they were created.
SEE BELOW FOR LARGER IMAGE
When construction is very actively growing, 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. When construction activity is declining, construction cost increases slow or may even turn to negative, due to reductions in overhead and profit margins, even though labor and material costs may still be increasing.
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.
quoted from that article,
R S Means Index and ENR Building Cost Index (BCI) are examples of input indices. They do not measure the output price of the final cost of buildings. They measure the input prices paid by subcontractors for a fixed market basket of labor and materials used in constructing the building. These indices do not represent final cost so won’t be as accurate as selling price indices.
Turner Actual Cost Index nonresidential buildings only, final cost of building
Rider Levett Bucknall Actual Cost Index nonresidential buildings only, final cost of building
IHS Power Plant Cost Indices specific infrastructure only, final cost indices
- IHS UCCI tracks construction of onshore, offshore, pipeline and LNG projects
- IHS DCCI tracks construction of refining and petrochemical construction projects
- IHS PCCI tracks construction of coal, gas, wind and nuclear power generation plants
Bureau of Labor Statistics Producer Price Index only specific PPI building indices reflect final cost of building. PPI cost of materials is price at producer level. The PPIs that constitute Table 9 measure changes in net selling prices for materials and supplies typically sold to the construction sector. Specific Building PPI Indices are Final Demand or Selling Price indices.
PPI BONS Other Nonresidential Structures includes water and sewer lines and structures; oil and gas pipelines; power and communication lines and structures; highway, street, and bridge construction; and airport runway, dam, dock, tunnel, and flood control construction.
National Highway Construction Cost Index (NHCCI) final cost index, specific to highway and road work only.
S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index history final cost as-sold index but includes sale of both new and existing homes, so is an indicator of price movement but should not be used solely to adjust cost of new residential construction
US Census Constant Quality (Laspeyres) Price Index SF Houses Under Construction final cost index, this index adjusts to hold the build component quality and size of a new home constant from year to year to give a more accurate comparison of real cost inflation
Beck Biannual Cost Report develops indices for only five major cities and average. The indices may be a composite of residential and nonresidential buildings. It can be used as an indicator of the direction of cost but should not be used to adjust the cost in either of these two sectors.
Mortenson Cost Index is the estimated cost of a representative nonresidential building priced in six major cities and average.
Other Indices not included here:
Consumer Price Index (CPI) issued by U.S. Gov. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Monthly data on 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.
Leland Saylor Cost Index Clear definition of this index could not be found, however detailed input appears to represent buildings and does reference subcontractor pricing. But it could not be determined if this is a selling price index.
Sierra West Construction Cost Index is identified as a selling price index but may be specific to California. This index may be a composite of several sectors. No online source of the index could be found, but it is published in Engineering News Record magazine in the quarterly cost report update.
Vermeulens Construction Cost Index can be found here. It is described as a bid price index, which is a selling price index, for Institutional/Commercial/Industrial projects. That would be a nonresidential buildings sector index. No data table is available, but a plot of the VCCI is available on the website. Some interpolation would be required to capture precise annual values from the plot. The site provides good information.
The Bureau of Reclamation Construction Cost Trends comprehensive indexes for about 30 different types of infrastructure work including dams, pipelines, transmission lines, tunnels, roads and bridges. 1984 to present.
1-27-17 – Index updated to Dec. 2016 data
Construction Inflation – Midyear Report
If you are using general construction cost indices that don’t track whole building cost to adjust the cost of your construction projects, you may be losing money.
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 contractor margins. When nonresidential construction was booming from 2004 through 2008, nonresidential inflation averaged almost 8%/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.
Since 1993, long-term annual construction inflation for nonresidential 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 will remain near the four-year high.
Material input costs to construction are down over the last year, but that accounts for only a portion of the final cost of constructed buildings. Labor is currently experiencing cost increases. When there is a shortage of labor, contractors may pay a premium to keep their workers. That premium is not picked up in wage reports. Potential labor shortages in an area might result in +8% to +10% inflation on labor cost just in the last two years.
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.
ENRBCI and ENRCCI 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 cost of new residential construction is up nearly 6% in the last year. It’s up 25% in the last 4 years. Several nonresidential building cost indexes are indicating construction inflation between 4% and 5% for 2016. For the last four years, nonresidential buildings inflation has been between 15% and 18%. Indices that do not track whole building cost would indicate inflation for those four years is only 10%. Don’t be caught short!
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 7% in 2012, dropped 4% in 2013-2014, increased 4% in 2015 and is on track to decrease 4% in 2016. The IHS power capital cost indices vary by power sector. Pipeline and LNG indices are down more than 20% in the last three years. Coal, gas, nuclear and wind power generation indices have been flat for three years.
Anticipate construction inflation for residential and nonresidential buildings during the next two years leaning towards the higher end rapid growth rate of 6% to 8% rather than the long term average of 3.5%.
(edit 1-25-17) 2016 Nonresidential Buildings inflation measured by several indices is +4.5% to +5.5%. Residential Bldgs is +4.5% to +5.2%. Power indices are down an average of -5%, but industrial structures up +4%. Highway Index is -4%. See Table of Indexes for details.
This plot for nonresidential buildings shows a bar representing the predicted range of inflation from several sources with the line of the actual composite inflation. Note that although 2015 and 2016 have a low end of predicted inflation less than 1%, the actual inflation is following a pattern of growth above 4%.
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 answering a client question “What will it cost if I delay my project start by one year?”, whether you carry the proper value for inflation 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% 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%.
- 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.
June Jobs Report (May 15-Jun 18) released July 8
There have been no job gains in construction for the last 3 months. In fact we’ve lost 22,000 jobs since March and have only 46,000 new jobs year-to-date. I have to admit after the Apr and May losses, I expected a sizable jobs gain in June. However, for quite a while I’ve predicted spending would decline in Q1 and since a peak in Mar it’s been going down for 2 months. Lower spending would correlate to lower jobs.
Construction jobs are up 3.9% over the same period 2015, so a temporary slowdown should not have much effect. We have just gone through the best 3 years of construction jobs growth since 2004-2006. Perhaps we may experience a leveling out between spending and jobs. At any rate, I see construction spending increasing. There’s still a lot of spending growth in current backlog from starts, so I expect further increases in jobs.
The available unemployed pool dropped to the lowest in 16 years. That could also have some correlation with slow or no jobs growth, as it may mean the people to hire are not available.
Availability already seems to be having an effect on wages. Construction wages are up 2.6% year/year, but are up 1.2% in the last quarter, so the rate of wage growth has recently accelerated. The most recent JOLTS report shows we’ve been near 200,000 job openings for months. That with this latest jobs report could indicate labor cost will continue to rise rapidly.
As wages accelerate, also important is work scheduling capacity which is affected by the number of workers on hand to get the job done. Inability to secure sufficient workforce could impact project duration and cost and adds to risk, all inflationary. That could potentially impose a limit on spending growth. It will definitely have an upward effect on construction inflation this year.
Construction worker output Q2 2016 (# workers x hours worked) is up 3.7% over the same quarter last year, but up only 0.6% from Q1 2016.
Spending minus inflation (volume) has been growing faster than workforce output for the last few years. Since Jan 2011, volume has increased 20% and workforce output increased 26%, a net productivity loss, but since Jan 2014 volume increased by 16% and workforce output increased by only 12.5%. Total hours worked compared to total spending shows productivity has been increasing for the last two years. It would be unusual to see productivity growth continue for another year. This leads me to think if spending plays out as expected then construction jobs will grow by about 200,000 in 2016. Availability could have a significant impact on this needed growth.
Construction volume is not the same as construction spending.
Spending is the number nearly everyone follows. Volume is spending minus inflation.
Two years that show the greatest differences between spending and volume highlight the affect of inflation. In 2004 and 2005 total construction spending grew by 11% and 12.5%, but after inflation, volume grew by only 3% and 2%. In the most recent year, construction spending in 2015 grew by 10.5% but total construction volume grew by only 7.5%.
For the four years 2012 through 2015 construction spending grew by 35% but after inflation volume grew by 21%. Inflation accounts for 14% of spending growth.
Annual construction inflation varies for residential, nonresidential buildings and nonresidential infrastructure, and it varies sometimes so widely that each should be used only to adjust that specific group. Since 1993, long-term annual construction inflation for buildings has been 3.5% per year, even when including the recessionary period 2007-2011. During rapid growth periods, inflation averages more than 8% per year.
Historical average volume growth over the last 22 years is grossly distorted by the recession. Volume declined in 8 of those 22 years. In the worst three years of the recession, 2008, 2009 and 2010, volume declined by 28%. If we take out those three years the typical growth period averages are more apparent. The historical average volume growth in construction with recession data removed and after adjusting for inflation is 2% per year for 19 years.
Adjusting for inflation is changing current dollars to constant dollars.
Current dollars = dollars are reported in the value of the year reported, 2008 = 2008$, 2015 = 2015$. News reports almost always refer to current dollars and therefore do not account for the influence of inflation.
Constant dollars = all dollars adjusted to represent dollars in the year of comparison. This adjusts for inflation so 2008$ (and all other years) are converted to equivalent 2015$.
It’s not too hard to understand why we need to look at constant dollars when you think of it in terms of building a house. For example, a 2,500 sf house built in 2001 may have cost $250,000 then to build. Today to build that exact same house may cost $400,000. The house is no different, so volume remains the same. The only thing that changed is inflation. With respect to constant dollars for the same volume, $250,000 in 2001 dollars would be equal to $400,000 in 2015 dollars.
The common comparison is to look at growth in construction spending from year to year. What that does not tell us is how much of the spending growth is inflation and how much is a real increase in construction volume.
Constant dollars makes a huge difference in the analysis. Adjusting all previous years of spending allows us to compare changes in volume growth from year to year. This plot of total construction dollars shows current dollars would indicate we are now only 7% below the previous high and we’ve had growth of 37% from the recession low. Constant dollars, adjusting for inflation, shows volume is still 17% below the previous cycle high and we’ve had growth of only 22% since the recession lows.