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Construction Spending Forecasts for 2020 Do Not Support Jobs Growth

1-31-20

A current article and several others, based on a sentiment survey, state that there will not be enough construction workers to support growing construction activity next year. I dispute that claim. 

Construction is in demand – but who’s going to do all the work?

I’ve been writing about the disparity in jobs growth exceeding construction activity growth for more than two years. Construction activity has NOT been increasing to support jobs growth.

Spend Sector Constant2017 monthly 2015-2021 1-31-20

2020 Construction Spending Increases, but Volume is Down

Expect Construction Jobs Growth to Slow in 2020

To Support Construction Jobs, We Need Volume

There are other construction forecasts that support my argument. It’s important to point out that my forecast is the HIGHEST for 2020. So, just keep in mind, if you consider any other forecast, the condition gets worse.

Seven of the eight firms that provided a forecast for the AIA Consensus Forecast are lower than Construction Analytics forecast for nonresidential work in 2020. AIA Consensus > marked slowdown for nonresidential building

ConstructConnect’s forecast is lower than my forecast for all sectors ConstructConnect’s Winter 2019-20 Put-In-Place Construction Forecasts

FMI’s forecast is lower for all sectors FMI U.S. Engineering and Construction Outlook: Third Quarter 2019 Report

Overall, Construction Analytics 2020 forecast shows a volume gain of 0.6%. Spending increase 4.6%, but average inflation is 4%. Therefore volume increases only 0.6%. That would support growth of about 50,000 jobs. Residential and Non-building Infrastructure show slight gains in 2020 but Nonresidential buildings volume is in it’s 4th year of decline.

ConstructConnect shows a total spending increase of 1.9% and FMI shows a total spending increase of 1%. Both show a slight gain in volume in at least one sector, but with expected inflation of around 4%, both would indicate an overall decline in volume and a decline in jobs.

Spending needs to increase greater than inflation to realize an increase in volume. If volume does not increase, there is no support to add jobs.

Construction Inflation 2020

Construction Analytics 2020 Construction Economic Forecast – Jan 2020  (Inflation excerpt from the complete economic report)

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

Construction Inflation

The level of construction activity has a direct influence on labor and material demand and margins and therefore on construction inflation.

Nonresidential buildings inflation, after hitting 5% in both 2018 and 2019, is forecast for the next three years to fall from 4.4% to 3.8%, lower than the 4.5% average for the last 4 years.

Residential construction inflation in 2019 was only 3.6%. However, the average inflation for six years from 2013 to 2018 was 5.5%. It peaked at 8% in 2013 but dropped to 4.3% in 2018 and only 3.6% in 2019. Forecast residential inflation for the next three years is level at 3.8%.

Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure backlog are both at all-time highs. 75% to 80% of all nonresidential spending within the year comes from starting backlog. Most spending for residential comes from new starts in the year.

2020 starting backlog is up 5.5% across all sectors. However, while a few markets will outperform in 2020 (transportation, public works, office), predicted cash flow (spending) from backlog is up only 1% to 2%. Long duration projects added to backlog and will spread spending out over the next few years.

Residential new construction starts in 2019 (number of units started) gained 4% over 2018. In 2018, starts dropped every quarter after Q1, but then increased every quarter in 2019 and closed out the 2nd half of 2019 at 9% higher than the average of the previous six quarters. New starts measured in dollars dropped slightly in 2019. Spending from new starts fell 5% in 2019 but is forecast up 6% for 2020. Residential construction volume (spending after inflation) in 2019 dropped 8%, the largest volume decline in 10 years. Volume in 2019 dropped to a 4-year low. A volume gain of 2% in 2020 leaves residential still at a 4-year low.

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

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.

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.

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. Engineering News Record Building Cost Index (ENRBCI) and RSMeans Cost Index are examples of commonly used indices that do not capture whole building cost.

Producer Price Index (PPI) Material Inputs (which excludes labor and margins) to new construction increased +4% in 2018 after a downward trend from +5% in 2011 led to decreased cost of -3% in 2015, the only negative cost for inputs in the past 20 years. Input costs to nonresidential structures in 2017+2018 average +4.3%, the highest in seven years. Infrastructure and industrial inputs were the highest, near 5%. But input costs for 2019 are coming in at less than +1%. Material inputs accounts for only a portion of the final cost of constructed buildings.

Materials price input costs in 2019 slowed to an annual rate of less than 1%.  

Labor input is currently experiencing cost increases. The National construction unemployment rate was recently posted below 4%, the lowest on record with data back to 2000.  The average has been below 5% for the last 18 months. During the previous expansion it hit a low average of 5%. During the recession it went as high as 25%. An unemployment rate this low signifies a tight labor market. This may cause contractors to pay premiums over and above normal wage increases to keep valued workers from leaving. Some premiums accelerate labor cost inflation but are not recorded in published wage data, so aren’t easily tracked. Lack of experienced workers and premiums to keep labor drive labor cost increases higher than wage growth.

Although many contractors report shortages due to labor demand, labor growth may slow due to a forecast 2019-2020 construction volume decline. We might see a labor growth decline lag spending/volume decline.

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.

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). The average annual growth for all these indices over the past five years is 4.7%/year. For the last two years, average nonresidential buildings inflation is 5.3%.

  • Long-term construction cost inflation is normally about double consumer price index (CPI).
  • Average long-term nonresidential buildings inflation excluding recession years is 4.2%.
  • Average long-term (30 years) nonresidential construction cost inflation is 3.5% even with any/all recession years included.
  • 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. It has averaged 4.2% for the last 4 years.
  • Residential buildings inflation reached a post-recession high of 8.0% in 2013 but dropped to 3.4% in 2015. It has averaged 5.8% for the last 5 years.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Residential construction inflation in 2019 was only 3.6%. However, the average inflation for six years from 2013 to 2018 was 5.5%. It peaked at 8% in 2013 but dropped to 4.3% in 2018 and only 3.6% in 2019. Residential construction volume in 2019 dropped 8%, the largest volume decline in 10 years. Typically, large declines in volume are accompanied by declines in inflation. Forecast residential inflation for the next three years is level at 3.8%.

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

Nonresidential inflation, after hitting 5% in both 2018 and 2019, is forecast for the next three years to fall from 4.4% to 3.8%, lower than the 4.5% average for the last 4 years. Spending needs to grow at a minimum of 4.4%/yr. just to stay ahead of construction inflation, otherwise volume is declining. Spending slowed dramatically in 2019. However, new starts in 2018 and 2019 boosted backlog and 2020 spending will post the strongest gains in four years.

Several Nonresidential Buildings Final Cost Indices averaged over 5% per year for the last 2 years and over 4% per year for the last 5 years. Nonresidential buildings inflation totaled 22% in the last five years. Input indices that do not track whole building cost would indicate inflation for those five years at only 12%, much less than real final cost growth. For a $100 million project escalated over those five years, that’s a difference of $10 million, potentially underestimating cost.

Notice in this next plot how index growth is much less for ENR BCI and RSMeans, both input indices, than for all other selling price final cost indices. From 2010 to 2019, total final price inflation is 110/80 = 1.38 = +38%. Input cost indices total only 106/85 = 1.25 = +25%, missing a big portion of the cost growth over time.

 Nonresidential Buildings Selling Price Indices vs Input Indices

BCI 2010-2020 Firms 12-9-19

Non-building infrastructure indices are so unique to the type of work that individual specific infrastructure indices must be used to adjust cost of work. The FHWA highway index increased 17% from 2010 to 2014, stayed flat from 2015-2017, then increased 15% in 2018-2019. The IHS Pipeline and LNG indices increased 4% in 2019 but are still down 18% since 2014. Coal, gas, and wind power generation indices have gone up only 5% total since 2014. Refineries and petrochemical facilities dropped 10% from 2014 to 2016 but regained all of that by 2019. BurRec inflation for pumping plants and pipelines has averaged 2.5%/yr since 2011 and 3%/yr the last 3 years.

Anticipate 3% to 4% inflation for 2020 with the potential to go higher in rapidly expanding Infrastructure markets, such as pipeline or highway.  This link refers to Infrastructure Indices.

 Construction Analytics Building Cost Index

BCI 2005-2022 12-9-19

In the following plot, Construction Analytics Building Cost Index annual percent change for nonresidential buildings is plotted as a line against a bar chart of the range of all other nonresidential building inflation indices. Bars represent the predicted range of inflation from various sources with the solid line showing the composite final cost inflation. Note that although 2015 and 2016 have a low end of predicted inflation of less than 1%, the actual inflation is following a pattern of growth above 4%. The low end of the predicted range is almost always established by input costs (ENR BCI is plotted), while the upper end of the range and the actual cost are established by selling price indices.

 Construction Analytics Nonresidential Buildings Cost Index

vs Range of Input Indices

Inflation Range 1993-2020 plot vs ENR 1-18-20

As noted above, some reliable nonresidential selling price indexes have been over 4% since 2014. Currently most selling price indices are over 5% inflation since 2018.

 

Reference Inflation PCT 12-17-19

Every index as published has its own base year = 100, generally the year the index was first created, and they all vary. All indices here are converted to the same base year, 2017 = 100, for ease of comparison. No data is changed from the original published indices.

Reference Inflation INDEX 12-17-19

Non-building Infrastructure indices are far more market specific than any other type of index. Reference specific Infrastructure indices rather than any average.

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

Inflation Escalation with text

This link points to comprehensive coverage of the topic inflation and is recommended reading. Click Here for Link to a 20-year Table of 25 Indices

 

Construction Volume Growth

For the last three years 2017-2018-2019, construction spending increased 8%, but inflation was 14%. Volume DECREASED 6%. BUT Jobs increased 11%. This ought to leave some people concerned. In this plot of monthly data since 2015, the shaded box shows the period of concern, 2017-2019.

Jobs vs Volume 2015-2020 monthly 1-10-20

And average job openings was 70,000+ the last two years. The only other time a divergence like this has ever occurred is the years leading into the last recession.

Spend-Volume-Esc-Jobs 1-10-20

In 2004-2005-2006, spending increased 30%, but inflation was 28%. Volume increased only 2%. BUT Jobs increased 13%. And job openings increased 20,000/yr. After 15 years of near balanced growth, by the end of 2006 jobs growth exceeded volume growth by 15%. In the next 10 years that disparity never corrected.

Jobs vs Volume 1991-2020 2006 deficit 11-19-19

We can reset the zero baseline to 2006 to see what has happened since 2006.

From 2007 through 2017, jobs and volume were balanced. Since then, the plot below for 2017-2019 looks exactly like 2004-2006 above. So this could raise concern, because,

Jobs vs Volume 1991-2020 2006 deficit reset 11-19-19

if we have just experienced a period in which jobs and volume have been nearly in balance (2007-2016), then if the volume of work is no longer increasing, there is no support for adding jobs. Remember, we started this period with 15% excess jobs, but after 10 years, we swallowed that lump.

This plot is the same data as the first plot, only annually vs monthly. This plot of annual data since 2011 shows not much out-of-balance from 2011 to 2017. The shaded box shows the period of concern, 2017-2019.

Jobs vs Volume 2011-2020 1-10-20

I had been predicting that jobs growth would slow and it has since Q4 2018. The plot below shows the average jobs growth rate for the preceding 12 months. The rate of jobs growth is now at a seven-year low. It could go lower. It probably should go lower, but nonresidential volume declines in 2020 while residential volume increases slightly, so there is a net growth. Non-building infrastructure work is expected to have strong spending  and volume in the next two years due to years of backlog growth.

Jobs trailing 12mo growth 2013-2020 1-10-20

In almost 30 years of data, only six years are way out of balance, 2017-18-19 and 2004-05-06. Current data sure does not indicate there is a lot of construction work out there in need of additional workers. And if jobs are still growing, it certainly does not indicate there should be an increase in job openings, because volume is decreasing. In fact, by all measures, it should indicate job losses.

1-17-20 Job Openings dropped from a recent average near 350,000 to 214,000 in Nov.

The deficit created in the last three years, a 17% disparity in jobs vs volume growth, is similar to the 15% deficit in 2006, preceded by a long period of jobs and volume growth in balance, then going quickly and hugely out-of-balance. That has major implications for labor cost inflation and productivity which could affect schedules, and that’s not the kind of inflation easily tracked in wages. But it’s real.

SEE ALSO

2020 Construction Spending Increases, but Volume is Down

Expect Construction Jobs Growth to Slow in 2020

To Support Construction Jobs, We Need Volume

Construction Jobs and JOLTS

 

 

 

Next Level of Tariffs Will Be Unknowns

Assessing the impact of this next level tariffs on the cost of construction has now become a nearly impossible task. Tariffs are on PARTS use in manufacture of goods. Who (architect? engineer?) will identify what parts are included in which products used in the building?

For example, look at something simple like light fixtures. The shell, the ballast, the reflector, the shade, the lamps or the wiring could be made in China. Who identifies where parts are made? Who now estimates the share of tariff increase on those parts to determine tariff impact on cost of manufacturing the entire light fixture?

Expand that issue to a pump assembly with valves and pressure gauges. Who identifies which parts in the pump assembly come from what country? How does an estimator determine the cost of manufacturing the pumps, valves and gauges and determine what fraction of total cost has a tariff?

This will inevitably lead to inflation, but it will be hidden inflation, hard to determine if a manufacturer’s price increase for a product is substantiated. This is not like the tariff on mill steel, a 25% tariff on mill steel which represents 25% of final structural steel bid, which represents 10% of the building cost.

At the conceptual or schematic design phase of construction, all the products are not even identified. And the project start date might be two years out. It can’t possibly be determined with certainty what factor should be carried to cover cost increases due to tariffs.

Inflation factors and contingency factors will need to increase to cover unknown costs. This increases the share of the budget that is unidentified, always a contentious issues with owners. Frankly with the margins general contractors or construction managers get for services on a large construction project, these unknown factors, if understated in cost factors, could wipe out the total fee or profit for the job.

This is not a good position to be in, but I don’t yet see how it would be any different.

Construction Analytics Voted Best Construction Blog 2019

Ed Zarenski’s Construction Analytics blog

won the 2019 Best Construction Blog competition.

blog best

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

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

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

Construction Analytics wins 2019 Best Construction Blog competition

 

 

Brief Notes on Mar2019 Construction Spending Report

5-1-19

Census released March spending today and from my point of view the numbers are showing a surprise downward shift. Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure both showed upward movement as expected but Residential spending posted the eight decline in nine months.

Construction Spending for March posted at $1.282 trillion, 1.5% below (my) expectations. Nonresidential increased BUT Residential is down 2% from Feb. Jan was revised down 4.6% and Feb revised down 5.6%.

Residential spending is now 8% below March 2018. The decline is about half in single family and half in renovations. Multi-family spending is up 11% year/year.

The only monthly gain in residential spending since July 2018 is in Dec, but in the nine months Jul to Mar spending is down 10%. Q1 2019 spending has dropped back to a level of Q1 2017. This is pushing my 2019 residential spending forecast into a decline, 1st decline since 2010.

I’ve posted reasons why I expect upward revisions to residential spending, but I question if revisions can turn around the current 10% decline from last July. It now looks like residential construction spending will NOT post any gains in 2019. That’s more serious than it first appears, since spending needs to increase at least 4% to 5% just to counter inflation. In other words, if residential spending in 2019 posts a 2% decline, real residential volume after inflation would decline by 6% or 7%.

In real volume, after adjusting for inflation, residential construction spending, as of March, is down 12.5% year over year. That hasn’t happened since 2009. Perhaps revisions will recover half that decline, but not all. Contrary to the decline in real volume, in the last year residential construction jobs are UP 3.5%.

Manufacturing currently appears stronger than it is expected to finish the year. Up 6% year-to-date and up 10% from last March, we could see those gains fall off over the next 6 months. Backlog is still very strong, but the schedule of cash flows from old jobs will lead to several months of moderate declines. Initial forecast was for 2% growth in 2019. Current expectations are that manufacturing will finish the year up between 2% to 4%. 2020 will be an extremely strong growth year.

Office spending, similar to manufacturing, could post several months of moderate declines. In fact, my forecast shows office spending declines in 6 out of the next 7 months and finishes the year at the same monthly rate of spending as we are at now. Office is up 8.4% ytd but I expect the year to finish up 4% or less. Initial forecast was up 6% for 2019. New starts in 2018 were up 11% but most of that spending will benefit 2020 when I expect to see growth of 6%.

Commercial spending is currently down 4.8% ytd and 7% lower than last March. It will move slightly lower before it improves, finishing the year down only 1% to 2%. 2020 may not get more than a 1% gain.

Educational spending will finish 2019 much stronger than current spending but the year will only make slight gains over 2018. Current spending is up 5.5% ytd over 2018 but that will taper off.  However, the strong activity in the 2nd half of 2019 will lead to substantial growth in 2020.

 

More notes will be added in the coming days as I review all other markets in the spending report.

 

Inflation and Forecasting Presentation Advancing Precon & Estm Conf 5-22-19

This is a PDF of slides (including notes) from my

Construction Inflation & Forecasting Presentation

at Hanson Wade

Advancing Preconstruction & Estimating Conference

 Dallas, TX 5-22-19

Advancing Pre-construction & Estimating conference 2019

Full EdZ Presentation Inflation-Forecasting w notes HW-APE 5-22-19 PDF

Construction Forecasting – Volume

Feb 26, 2019

Since the bottom of the construction recession year 2011, through 2018 construction spending has increased 67%. During that time construction volume has increased only 32%. All the rest was inflation.

Construction spending is not the only factor for business growth planning. The adjustment for Inflation is the most important factor.

If your company revenues are increasing at a rate of 7% per year at a time when construction inflation is 5%, your business volume is increasing only 2% per year. If you do not factor inflation into your growth projections, you are not forecasting growth properly. Spending is revenue. Volume is spending minus inflation.

Spend current vs constant 2018 2-26-19

Look at the data to the left of the vertical line through 2006. Notice in the bottom plot in the years 2004 and 2005 there is very high spending but very low volume. In 2006 spending was up 4% but real volume declined 3%. For those three years inflation totaled nearly 30%. On the top plot you can see the cumulative effect of several years of high inflation. From 2000 to 2006 spending increased 45% but volume barely moved at all. During this period jobs increased by about 15% and even that outpaced volume. Businesses watched as spending increased 45% in seven years. They increased staff by 15%, but real volume was flat. Heading into the recession construction dollars on the books had been increasing for years but volume was stagnant and companies were top-heavy with jobs.

Addressing the current period 2011 through 2018, if you base business growth on your annual revenue growth, or spending, rather than using inflation adjusted dollars, your forecast for business growth over this eight year time period would be more than double actual volume growth.

Notice the blue bars for annual spending growth in 2017 and 2018 at approximately 4% and 5% respectively. But look at the black lines superimposed on those bars that reflect real volume growth after inflation. There has been only 1% real volume growth in the last two years. Yet jobs increased 8% in two years. Most of the growth in spending is inflation dollars, not real volume growth. Inflation does not support jobs growth.

For 2017-2018 residential spending increased 17% but volume was up only 7%. Nonresidential buildings spending up 6.5% but volume was down 2.5%. Non-building infrastructure spending was up 4% but volume was down by 3%. Inflation across these sectors totaled 7% to 10% for these two years.

Construction jobs, now over 7,400,000 have been over 7,300,000 since summer 2018. The last time jobs were over 7,300,000 was mid-2005 through early 2008, at which point the recession abruptly caused the loss of over 700,000 jobs within 10 months and more than 2 million jobs over the next three years. Jobs are now only 5% lower than the previous high of 7,700,000 in 2006-2007. But construction volume is still 15% below peak constant $ volume reached in early 2006. So the current situation of jobs growth rate exceeding volume growth is worse than it was leading into the last recession.

For 2019 I expect residential and nonresidential buildings to experience a slight decline in volume. I do not yet see a recession as volume picks up again in 2020, but  nonresidential construction jobs in particularly have been increasing faster than volume for several years. Part of that is explained by some nonresidential workers are used to build residential space (hi-rise structure). When the next downturn hits, the potential need to cut nonresidential construction jobs may be quite painful.

Advanced Building Estimation 5-16-18

This is a partial selection of slides I will be presenting on May 16 in Dallas at Hanson Wade’s Advanced Building Estimation Conference. I’m covering the topics Inflation/Escalation and Forecasting particularly as it relates to staffing planning.

http://advancing-building-estimation.com/

EdZarenski ABE Presentation on Twitter 5-18-18

EdZ ABE slides ALL PDF 5-18

 

 

 

Construction Economic Activity Notes 4-25-18

4-25-18

Brief notes on spending, starts, backlog, jobs and inflation from March and April tweets.

Nonresidential construction spending is not decelerating in 2018. Will see best growth since 14% in 2015.

Residential construction spending is slowing to +7% growth in 2018, after 6 consecutive years of strong growth averaging 13%/year.

Non-building Infrastructure forecast growth of 8% in 2018, potential to hit a new all-time high due to very large projects in Power and Transportation.

Public construction spending in 2018 is forecast to reach $307 billion, an increase of 8% over 2017, the best growth in 10 years. Educational and Transportation will contribute equally and together account for more than half of the Public spending growth in 2018.

In Oct 2016 and again in Feb 2017, I forecast Manufacturing spending would fall 13% in 2017 after hitting peak spending in 2015 from massive growth in new starts in 2014. At that time, the AIA consensus forecast (average of seven analysts) was that spending would increase +0.4%. By July the consensus had been revised to average -6.6%. I updated my forecast to -11.8%. Based on cash flows, from April 2016 through the end of 2017 I expected spending to decline in 17 of 21 months. It declined in 14 of those months. Manufacturing spending finished 2017 down 11.9%.

In Fall 2017, I predicted Manufacturing construction spending would increase +9% in 2018. However, through March, total construction starts for Manufacturing over the last 12 months would count as the 2nd highest year on record. Therefore I’ve recently revised my forecast up to +13% spending in 2018. I’m now expecting double digit % spending growth in both 2018 & 2019. The January 2018 AIA consensus estimate is for +2.8% increase in 2018 spending and +5.2% in 2019. Some analysts predict 2018 spending will decline. My data shows increases in starts and backlog indicate large gains.

Nonresidential Buildings new starts are up 55% in four years. 2018 starting backlog is the highest ever, up 24% in two years.

Nonresidential Bldgs 2018 starting backlog is 55% higher than at the start of 2014, the beginning of the current growth cycle. Spending is UP 38% with 2018 spending forecast up 9%. Institutional accounts for 52% of 2018 construction spending growth, Commercial 27%, Industrial 21%.

80% of all nonresidential buildings construction spending forecast in 2018 is already in backlog projects at the start of the year.

New Construction Starts are booming (need to look past the mo/mo and ytd)

  • Residential – 2 highest qtrs since 2006 in last 12 months
  • Nonres Bldgs – 3 highest qtrs since Q1 2008 in last 15 months
  • Nonbldg Infra – highet qtr since Q1 2015 peak in last 6 months.

Construction Starts data is regularly misinterpreted in common industry forecasting articles. Starts do not directly indicate changes in spending. A Forecast Cash Flow from Starts gives an indication of the rate of change in spending.

Educational new construction starts total from the last five months of 2017 posted the highest 5mo total starts in at least seven years, 13% higher than the next best 5mo. Jan 2018 monthly spending up 12% from 2017 mid-year low.

Healthcare construction starts have quietly increased to a record high over the last two years, up 30% for the 12 months through August 2017 vs the previous 12 months. Spending will increase slowly.

Amusement/Rec construction starts avg of +15%/yr for 5yrs, up 30% in 2016, 5% in 2017. In last 6mo, Aug 2017 to Jan 2018, four very large billion$+ projects started, almost a year’s worth of new starts in 6mo. Backlog indicates 15%-20% spending increases for 2018 and 2019.

In 2010, Warehouse new construction starts were only 1/3 of Store new starts. In 2018, Warehouse starts will be 50% greater than Store starts. Warehouse starts have increased between 20%-40%/year for seven years and are now five times greater than in 2010.

Lodging starting backlog up 13% for 2018, having already averaged increases of 30%/yr since 2015. Starting backlog jumped from $7 bil/yr in 2014 to $17 bil/yr in 2018, supported similar spending growth. Although 2016 was peak starts, it looks like 2018 will be peak backlog.

New construction starts for Manufacturing total for the last 12 months would count as the 2nd highest year on record. I’m now expecting double digit % spending growth in both 2018 & 2019. The consensus estimate is for +2.8% increase in 2018 spending and +5.2% in 2019. Some analysts predict 2018 manufacturing bldg spending will decline.

Structural steel contract includes structural shapes, steel joists, metal deck, stairs and rails, about 10% of total building final cost.

Other steel in a building can include reinforcing steel, exterior metal wall panels, metal ceiling frames, wall studs, door frames, canopies, steel duct, steel pipe and conduit, about 6% of total building cost.

All steel (in a structural steel building) is at least 16% of total building cost. There are more hidden costs of steel in mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment.

Raw mill steel is about one fourth the final cost of structural steel installed. A 25% increase in cost of mill steel could raise a structural steel subcontract bid price by 6.25%. At 10% of total building budget, that would raise total building cost by 0.625%.

A 25% increase in cost of mill steel could raise the other nonstructural steel costs by 6.25%. At 6% of total building budget, that would raise total building cost by 0.375%.

A 25% tariff on mill steel raises building cost inflation by at least 1%. That’s about $7.5 billion of unexpected cost inflation just in 2018.

Watch for unexpected impacts from steel tariffs, potentially adding 5% or more to total cost of bridges (plate steel). Also impacted, power industry, pipeline, transmission & communication towers, transportation.

Steel tariff could inflate the cost of the proposed $2.1 billion Gordy Howe International Bridge by $100 million. That would hurt the budget.

2018 Construction Spending Forecast – Nonresidential Bldgs construction spending in 2018 forecast to reach a new high, $459 billion, up 9% over 2017, passing the previous 2008 high. In constant $, 2018 will still be 18% below peak.

An estimator could be far off when indexing construction cost using a general cost index versus an actual selling price index.

Failure to account for the affect of inflation on the cost of construction could result in a failure to be profitable.

For the last 4 to 5 years average inflation for nonresidential buildings is 4.5% to 5%.

For the last 4 to 5 years average inflation for residential buildings is 5.5% to 6%. In 2013 it reached a 12-year high of 8%.

If you are hiring to meet your needs and you see that construction spending (revenue) has increased by 25%, do you hire to match revenue? No! Hiring requires a knowledge of volume growth, and revenue doesn’t show that. Revenue minus inflation shows volume.

Construction activity has a direct influence on construction inflation. Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure backlog are both at all-time highs.

Construction Jobs vs volume growth the last 5 years is nearly even, yet jobs imbalances exist within sectors. Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure show excess jobs while Residential shows a severe jobs deficit. But not all of the apparent deficit in residential jobs is real.

Are all residential jobs being counted? Several studies suggest that a large portion of residential construction jobs may be held by uncounted immigrant or day labor. So it’s possible the residential jobs deficit may not be as large as shown.

In addition to uncounted immigrant labor, some labor is mis-classified. Take for example, a high-rise multi-use building with commercial retail, office and residential space. Census definitions of spending classifications break out spending into the 3 market sectors, but the building is built by high-rise contractors (probably normally classified as commercial), not a residential contractor. This is residential space built using labor classified as non-residential commercial.

BLS writes this: “Establishments are classified into industries on the basis of their primary activity… For an establishment engaging in more than one activity, the entire employment of the establishment is included under the industry indicated by the principal activity.”

So, the mis-classified labor reduces the nonresidential excess and offsets a portion of the residential shortfall.

Construction added 1,339,000 jobs in the last 5 years. The only time in history that exceeded jobs growth like that was the period 1993-99 with the highest 5-year growth ever of 1,483,000 jobs. That same 1993-99 period had the previous highest 5-year spending and volume growth going back to 1984-88.

Construction added 177,000 jobs in the 4 months Nov’17-Feb’18. That’s happened, for any 4-month period, only 5 times since 1984. The last time was 2005-06, during the fastest rate of spending increases since 1984.

Construction jobs pulled back 15k in March, but this follows the strongest month (Feb +65k) in 12 years, so not totally unexpected. I think Mar Construction jobs, (-15k), more likely a pause after Feb (+65k), strongest month in 12 years.

see also Construction Economics Brief Notes 3-10-18

and also Notes on March 2018 Construction Spending 5-2-18

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