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Midyear 2021 Economic Forecast Presentation

Construction Spending 2021 Update 8-2-21

Construction Spending Actual through June 2021

Total Construction Spending is up 5.4% year-to-date (ytd) from the same six month period 2020. Residential is up 24.5%, Nonresidential Buildings is down -10.1% and Nonbuilding Infrastructure is down -5.4%.

The single largest impact to the change in this forecast from last month is Highway and Street. Highway spending in June fell 5%, while my forecast was predicting a gain of +3%. I then lowered my forecast for the rest of this year.

Year-to-date through June, while residential is up 24.5%+, all but one single nonresidential market is down. 15 of 16 nonresidential markets, 98% of combined total nonresidential market value, are down a total of -8%. Only Sewage/Waste Water is up 2.5% ytd. That’s half of the $ in the table item Sewer / Water / Conservation. For the remainder of the year, the rate of nonresidential decline will slow to -4%.

Construction starts are leading the way to recovery, but construction spending, which is dependent mostly on starts from previous years (nonres bldgs 2020 down -20%), will remain depressed for nonresidential construction well into 2022. New nonresidential starts could double from the current rate of growth and it still wouldn’t be enough to turn 2021 nonresidential spending positive.

It is remarkable that both total new construction starts and total construction spending are UP for 2021, but that needs further explanation.

Residential starts increased +9% in 2020 and forecast up +19% in 2021. Residential spending increased +15% in 2020 and is forecast up +18% in 2021 and up +7% in 2022. Both residential starts and spending are at all-time highs. That is what is driving the totals to new highs.

Nonresidential Bldgs starts fell -4% in 2019, -21% in 2020 and are forecast up only +2.5% in 2021. 2021 starts are still -22% below the peak in 2018. Nonresidential Bldgs spending fell only -2% in 2020 but is expected to fall -8% in 2021 and -5% in 2022.

Nonbuilding starts were flat in 2019, fell -15% in 2020 and forecast indicates +4% growth in 2021. Nonbuilding starts are 11% lower than 2019. Nonbuilding spending gained only +1% in 2020, but forecast fell -3% in 2021 and is expected to drop -5% in 2022.

The Total Construction Spending plot doesn’t show enough detail. As described above, more detail is needed to understand what is going on. The sector plot below shows residential up and nonresidential down..

Recovery in both nonresidential buildings and nonbuilding backlog begins to build in a few markets in 2021. But overall, spending in nonresidential buildings and nonbuilding is exceeding new starts, therefore both will begin 2022 with lower backlog than 2021. Total all nonresidential 2021 starting backlog dropped -13% from 2020. Starting backlog at beginning of 2022 will be down another -8%. Backlog increases for 2023.

Aside from residential, recovery to the levels of revenue (spending) recorded in Q1 2020 or earlier won’t show up before 2024.

The following table shows ytd through June $ and forecast for 2021/2022. Almost every nonresidential market is down ytd and down compared to the average in Q1 2020 before Pandemic Recession.

Impact of Pandemic Slowdown

The impact of reduced starts in 2020 is showing up in the 2021 year-to-date results. Total Nonresidential Buildings starts were down -20% in 2020. Nonres Bldgs starts for the 1st 6 months of 2021 are level with 2020, still down -8% from the pre-pandemic high in Q1 2020. There is some good news! Nonres Bldgs starts in Q2 2021 are now back above the pre-pandemic high, indicating recovery underway. Nonbuilding Infrastructure starts were down -10% in 2020, but returned to pre-pandemic high several months ago.

Due to the large drop in new starts from Apr 2020, that continued at a level down -20% to March 2021, some nonresidential markets will be affected by a downward trend in spending for two to three years.

The greatest downward impact from a -20%, year-long loss of starts on nonresidential spending will be felt throughout 2021 and into 2022.

Over the next 9 months, every sector will post more down months (in spending) than up months, although the declines will be most noticeable in nonresidential buildings.

Overall performance by sector has changed very little since May.

While most markets recover to positive new starts growth in 2021, spending growth lags, showing the downward trend in 2021 as a result of lost starts in 2020.

This next plot changes the scale of the spending plot so the nonresidential buildings data can be visualized much easier. This is the exact same data as in the Construction Spending by Sector plot above. The scale change helps immensely to visualize the decline in nonresidential buildings spending. By midyear 2022, the annual rate of spending will be -20% lower than the pre-pandemic peak. It could take two to three years after that to recover to the pre-pandemic level of spending.

A typical batch of new construction starts within a year gets spent over a cash flow schedule similar to 20/50/30, that is, 20% of all starts in the year gets spent in the year started (or over the 1st 12 months), 50% in the next year ( next 12 mo) and 30% in years following. Total nonresidential buildings starts in 2020 were down -20% ($90 bil in spending) and nonbuilding was down -10% ($35bil). Under normal conditions, we know how much of that $125 bil would have occurred in 2020, 2021 and 2022. That’s a loss of spending this year, and that loss remains a steeply downward slope as long as starts remain depressed. Nonresidential buildings starts, depressed for 13 months, posted strong starts indicating recovery beginning in April this year.

If INFRASTRUCTURE BILL starts don’t begin until the 2nd half of 2021, only 30% (of the 1st year cash flow 20/50/30 that is based on 12mo) gets spent in the 1st year. Therefore, even if $100 billion in new infrastructure starts begin in the 2nd half 2021, only 30% x 20% or only about 6% would get spent in 2021. That’s $6 billion, or less than 1% of annual construction spending. So, there will be very little, if any, impact on 2021 construction spending as a result.

Total Public Infrastructure and Public Institutional, the total public work pool for which infrastructure investment is a potential, represents a total LESS THAN $350 BILLION, only 25% of all construction.

All the forecast spending in the data above is developed from monthly cash flow of new starts. This plot shows what the history looks like when comparing the cash flow forecast to the actual spending growth. Although actual spending is somewhat more uneven, the forecast accurately predicts the direction spending is headed.

JOBS DATA updated 8-6-21

Construction Jobs for July are expected to increase. Jobs are now down 3 consecutive months. Comparing jobs year-over-year in residential is strongly skewed by the rapid declines then rapid growth in 2020. That did not occur in nonresidential. July posted an increase of 11,000 jobs. Year-to-date thru July construction is up by 21,000 jobs. Jobs are down -227K (-3.0%) from Feb 2020 peak. Hours worked are down less than -1%, equivalent to about 50,000 jobs. Expect this downward trend to accelerate into year end.

Construction spending minus inflation (Volume) supports jobs. Most of the increase in residential construction spending this year is INFLATION. Nonresidential spending and volume are both down. There is no meaningful increase in total construction volume to support jobs growth.

Don’t ignore inflation. While residential spending is forecast UP 19% in 2021, 11% of that is inflation. Real volume is up only +8%. Nonres Bldgs volume after inflation is forecast down -12%, Nonbuilding volume down -7%.

If you are still measuring your business growth by change in revenue, you’re including inflation as part of your growth. Inflation is simply more paper dollars exchanging hands, not growth.

Total construction jobs through July measured from peak pre-pandemic (Feb 2020) are down 3%. Volume growth (spending minus inflation) from Feb 2020 to July 2021 is down 6%. Since the onset of the pandemic, we now have 3% more jobs than we have volume of work to support those jobs. The result is a 3% loss in productivity.

Residential change in revenue from Feb 2020 to July 2021 is up +28%. But the real change in volume after inflation is up only +13%. Residential jobs are up only 3%. This is where the greatest need is currently.

Nonresidential Buildings change in revenue from Feb 2020 to July 2021 is down -15%. After inflation, the real change in volume is down -19%. Nonres Bldgs jobs are down only -7%. This is considerable excess jobs to support the current work.

Nonbuilding Infrastructure change in revenue from Feb 2020 to July 2021 is down -10%. After inflation, the real change in volume is down -17%. Nonres Bldgs jobs are down only -6%. This is considerable excess jobs to support the current work.

The need identified in residential, and likewise the excess identified in nonresidential are not as extreme as both seem. There are a large number of jobs classified as nonresidential that actually perform residential work. Any large firm, and all it’s employees, regardless of the job they perform, if they primarily work on nonresidential buildings, is classified nonresidential for the purpose of the jobs count. However, the buildings they work on are always classified as to building type. This often occurs in several large primarily nonresidential trades such as concrete, structural steel and HVAC, when working on multifamily high-rise buildings. These crossover jobs are not separable from the major classification.

In constant $ (spending adjusted for inflation), even though residential constant $ volume is up 13% from Q1 2020, current total $ volume of all types of work, residential and nonresidential, is 6% lower than the peak average in Q1 2020. Total all $ volume will fall another 5% by year end 2021.

Construction spending is on track to increase 4.7% in 2021 over 2020. But after taking out inflation, spending minus inflation in 2021 will be DOWN 2%. Residential spending increases $115 billion (+18%), but after 11% inflation residential volume increases only $50 billion. All nonresidential spending decreases $49 billion but after adjusting for 4%+ inflation real nonresidential volume is down $86 billion. Total construction volume (spending minus inflation) is expected to decline 5% from May to Dec. Construction Jobs are expected to follow suit.

Construction volume growth is falling due to huge volume of nonresidential starts (-22%) that disappeared in 2020. The affect of those lost starts, which would have had peak spending in mid-2021, is such that the volume of work is declining throughout 2021.

Of concern is that since Feb 2020, total construction volume has recovered to a point that is down 7%, but jobs have increased back to a level that is down only 3%. Jobs are increasing at a rate that is closer to the growth in construction spending, which is substantially greater than the rate of growth of construction volume.

Jobs are increasing faster than the volume of work (which supports jobs). What are the implications of this to the construction industry? The industry as a whole now expends 4% more labor (jobs) to put-in-place every $1 billion worth of work than it did in Feb 2020. That impacts job total labor cost. That is lost productivity and impacts inflation.

Although residential jobs are currently increasing, nonresidential jobs will continue to fall, dropping another 4% over the next 12 months. If jobs growth follows more closely to volume growth, which it should, this time next year construction could be down another 200,000 jobs.

2021 Midyear Forecasts

Here’s how the current year-to-date spending performance, as of June data, compares to various firms’ Midyear Forecasts. The ytd provides insight into expected final 2021 performance. For example, the year-to-date Educational spending is -10.8% with 6 months of spending recorded. One firm has forecast educational will finish up 3.5% for the year. With only 6 months remaining (estimate to complete or etc), here’s how the remaining 6 months would need to perform for that to happen.

[(forecast% x 12) – (YTD% x 6)] /6mo etc = [(+3.5% x 12) – (-10.5% x 6)] /6 = [(+42) – (-64)] /6 = 106/6 = +17.6%.

For the next six months Educational spending would need to average +17.6% growth over last year to swing from currently down -10.8% to end the year up +3.5%. Well, Educational spending is down 16% from the 2020 high, has fallen 9 of the last 13 months and is down an average of -1.5%/mo for the last 5 months. With this performance over the past year, the probability is exceedingly low that Educational construction spending is going to flip from a negative monthly rate of spending to an avg of +17%/mo for the next six months to finish the year up +3.5%. There are numerous examples like this in the forecasts.

Construction Spending 2021 updated 7-2-21

Construction Spending Actual through May 2021

Total Construction Spending is up 4.6% year-to-date (ytd) from the same five month period 2020. Residential is up 23.4%, Nonresidential Buildings is down -10.5% and Nonbuilding Infrastructure is down -5.8%.

This analysis includes spending revisions to 2019 (up $26bil, +1.9%) and 2020 (up up $37bil, +2,6%).

In the 1st 3 months of 2020, spending had reached an all-time high averaging a SAAR of $1,521 billion.

In the 1st 3 months of 2021, spending again hit a new all-time high averaging a SAAR of $1,544 billion. In May, spending is $1,545 billion.

Year-to-date through May, while residential is up 23%+, 15 of 16 nonresidential markets, 98% of total nonresidential market value, are down a total of -8.6%. For the remainder of the year, the rate of nonresidential decline will slow to -4%.

Construction starts are leading the way to recovery, but construction spending, which is dependent mostly on starts from previous years (2020 down -22%), will remain depressed for nonresidential construction well into 2022. Recovery in backlog begins to build in a few markets in 2021. However, new nonresidential starts could double from the current rate of growth and it still wouldn’t be enough to turn 2021 nonresidential spending positive.

Aside from residential, recovery to the levels of revenue (spending) recorded in Q1 2020 won’t show up before 2024.

The following table shows ytd through May $ and forecast for 2021/2022. Almost every nonresidential market is down ytd and down compared to the average in Q1 2020 before Pandemic Recession.

The impact of reduced starts in 2020 is showing up in the 2021 year-to-date results. Total Nonres Bldgs starts were down 22% in 2020. Nonbldg Infrastructure starts were down 13%. Some of these markets will be affected by a downward trend in spending for two to three years.

2020 starts for select markets:

  • Amusement -38%
  • Commercial/Retail -14%
  • Office -20%
  • Lodging -50%
  • Manufacturing -57%
  • Power -38%

The greatest downward impact on spending will be felt in mid-2021. Over the next 9 months, every sector will post more down months than up months, although the declines will be most noticeable in nonresidential buildings.

For the next few months the residential year-to-date comparison will be skewed. It is going to increase due to the steep fall-off in spending back in April and May 2020. Then, months of strong growth, a total +38% in 7 months in residential from May 2020 onward, with no equivalent growth increase this year, will cause ytd comparisons to decrease. So, even though residential spending is not forecast to increase any more in 2021, residential spending will peak at +25% year-to-date in the May-June data (due to the steep decline in spending in 2020) before falling back to end at +16% ytd for year end.

While most markets recover to positive new starts growth in 2021, spending growth lags, showing the downward trend in 2021 as a result of lost starts in 2020.

This next plot changes the scale of the spending plot so the nonresidential buildings data can be visualized much easier. This is the exact same data as in the Construction Spending by Sector plot above. The scale change helps immensely to visualize the decline in nonresidential buildings spending. By midyear 2022, the annual rate of spending will be 20% lower than the pre-pandemic peak. It could take two to three years after that to recovery to the pre-pandemic level of spending.

A typical batch of new construction starts within a year gets spent over a cash flow schedule similar to 20/50/30, that is, 20% of all starts in the year gets spent in the year started, 50% in the next year and 30% in years following. Total nonresidential buildings starts in 2020 were down -22% ($100bil in spending) and nonbuilding was down -13% ($50bil). Under normal conditions, we know how much of that $150 bil would have occurred in 2020, 2021 and 2022. That’s a loss of spending this year, and that loss remains a steeply downward slope as long as starts remain depressed. Nonresidential buildings starts, down now for 12 months, posted some hint of recovery in April.

If new infrastructure bill starts don’t begin until the 2nd half of the year, only 25% to 30% (of the 1st year 20/50/30 that is based on 12mo) gets spent in the 1st year. Therefore, even if $100 billion in new infrastructure starts begin in the 2nd half 2021, only 30% x 20% or only about 6% would get spent in 2021. That’s $6 billion, or less than 1% of annual construction spending. So, there will be very little if any impact on 2021 construction spending as a result.

In constant $, spending adjusted for inflation, even though residential constant $ volume is up 13% from Q1 2020, current total $ volume of work is 5% lower than the peak average in Q1 2020. This will fall another 5% by year end 2021.

JOBS DATA updated 7-2-21

Construction Jobs for June (May16 thru June12) are down slightly (-7,000) from May. May was revised down slightly (-6k) and April (-4k) revised down slightly. Jobs are now down 3 consecutive months. Comparing jobs year-over-year is strongly skewed by the rapid declines then rapid growth in 2020. Year-to-date thru June construction is up only 10,000 jobs. Jobs are down 238K (-3.1%) from Feb 2020 peak. But also, hours worked dropped -1.3%, equivalent to another 100,000 jobs. Expect this downward trend to accelerate into year end.

Construction spending minus inflation (Volume) supports jobs. All of the increase in construction spending this year is INFLATION. There is no meaningful increase in construction volume to support jobs growth.

Construction spending is on track to increase 3.8% in 2021 over 2020. But after taking out average 6% inflation, spending minus inflation in 2021 will be DOWN 2%. Residential spending increases $103 billion (+16%), but after 8% inflation residential volume increases only $47 billion. All nonresidential spending decreases $47 billion but after adjusting for 4% inflation real nonresidential volume is down $77 billion. Total construction volume (spending minus inflation) is expected to decline 5% from May to Dec. Construction Jobs are expected to follow suit.

Although residential jobs are currently increasing, nonresidential jobs will continue to fall, dropping another 4% over the next 12 months. This time next year construction could be down another 200,000 jobs.

Construction Spending 2021 update 6-1-21

Construction spending April 2021

Construction Spending is up 5.8% year-to-date (ytd), however that’s broken down into three parts, up 21.8% for residential, down -6.2% for nonresidential buildings and down -4.9% for nonbuilding infrastructure.

In the 1st 3 months of 2020, spending had reached an all-time high averaging a SAAR of $1,461 billion.

In the 1st 3 months of 2021, spending hit a new all-time high averaging a SAAR of $1,515 billion. In April, spending is now up to $1,524 billion.

But these new highs belie the situation in spending. Year-to-date, while residential is up 20%+, 14 of 16 nonresidential markets, 95% of total nonresidential market value, are down.

In Apr and May 2020, residential spending fell -6% and -5%, down a total of -11% in two months. Then residential spending increased every month for the remainder of 2020, By Dec 2020 residential spending was 24% higher than in Q1 2020. Residential spending for 2021 is forecast to end up 15.4% for the year, but (the annual rate in) Dec 2021 will be -8% lower than Dec 2020.

Nonresidential Bldgs did not follow the same magnitude of declines, down only -3.5% in April 2020 and only -0.5% in May. But Nonresidential Bldgs spending has been down 10 out of 13 months since March 2020, now down -7.5% from the avg in Q1 2020. Nonres Bldgs spending, forecast down -5.7% from current over the next eight months, is forecast to end at -6.0% for 2021.

Construction starts are leading the way to recovery, but construction spending this year, which is dependent mostly on starts from the previous year (down -22%), will remain depressed for nonresidential construction well into 2022. Recovery in backlog begins to build in a few markets in 2021. However, new nonresidential starts could double from the current rate of growth and it still wouldn’t be enough to turn 2021 nonresidential spending positive.

Aside from residential, recovery of revenue (spending) won’t begin in earnest until 2023.

The following table shows ytd through Apr $ and forecast for 2021/2022. Almost every nonresidential market is down ytd and down compared to the average in Q1 2020 before Pandemic Recession.

The impact of reduced starts in 2020 is starting to show up in the 2021 year-to-date results. Total Nonres Bldgs starts were down 22% in 2020, Nonbldg Infrastructure down 13%. Some of these markets will be affected by a downward trend in spending for two to three years.

2020 starts for select markets:

  • Amusement -38%
  • Commercial/Retail -14%
  • Office -20%
  • Lodging -50%
  • Manufacturing -57%
  • Power -38%

The greatest downward impact on spending will be felt in mid-2021. Over the next 9 months, every sector will post more down months than up months, although the declines will be most noticeable in nonresidential buildings.

For the next few months the residential year-to-date comparison will be skewed. It is going to increase due to the steep fall-off in spending back in April and May 2020. Then months of strong growth, a total +38% in 7 months in residential from May 2020 onward, with no equivalent growth increase this year, will cause ytd comparisons to decrease. So, even though residential spending is not forecast to increase any more in 2021, residential spending will peak at +25% year-to-date in the May-June data (due to the steep decline in spending in 2020) before falling back to end at +15% ytd for year end.

YTD for nonresidential buildings, currently at -6.2%, will remain near this level for the rest of the year.

The following table shows two data sets: all markets spending compared to avg 1st qtr 2020 and forecast change for next 8 months. The forecast for the remainder of 2021 showing the trend, up or down, is down for almost every nonresidential market. So while most markets recovery to positive new starts growth in 2021, spending growth lags showing the downward trend in 2021 as a result of lost starts in 2020.

This next plot changes the scale of the spending plot so the nonresidential buildings data can be visualized much easier. This is the exact same data as in the Construction Spending by Sector plot above. The scale change helps immensely.

A typical batch of new construction starts within a year gets spent over a cash flow schedule similar to 20/50/30, that is, 20% of all starts in the year gets spent in the year started, 50% in the next year and 30% in years following. Total nonresidential buildings starts in 2020 were down 22% ($100bil in spending) and nonbuilding was down 13% ($50bil). Under normal conditions, we know how much of that $150 bil would have occurred in 2020, 2021 and 2022. That’s a loss of spending this year, and that loss remains a steeply downward slope as long as starts remain depressed. Nonresidential starts, down now for 12 months, posted some hint of recovery in April.

If infrastructure starts don’t begin until the 2nd half of the year, only 25% to 30% (of the 1st year 20/50/30 that is based on 12mo) gets spent in the 1st year. Therefore, even if $100 billion in new infrastructure starts begin in the 2nd half 2021, only 30% x 20% or only about 6% would get spent in 2021. That’s $6 billion, or less than 1% of annual construction spending.

This table shows the ytd 2021 compared to the initial forecasts by Construction Analytics and eight other firms. The ytd and the forecast for the remainder of 2021 (table above) provide insight into expected final 2021 performance. Up above I’ve compared ytd to my current forecast. Here, ytd$ is compared to all the initial forecasts for 2021.

6-4-21 Construction jobs report released. Down 20,000 jobs for May. Both March and April revised down slightly. Jobs have increased only 23,000 for the 1st 5 months of 2021. Construction is still down 225,000 from Q1 2020.

I’ve been calling for a slowdown or slight decline in jobs growth. Construction spending adjusted for inflation (constant $) is down 2% since Dec-Jan. The trend is down for the rest of the year.

Construction volume growth is falling due to huge volume of nonresidential starts (-22%) that disappeared in 2020. The affect of those lost starts, which would have had peak spending in mid-2021, is such that volume of work is declining throughout 2021.

Nonres Bldgs Recovery to Pre-Pandemic? When?

5-10-21

Economists should be talking about this. While residential starts and spending are at all-time highs, nonresidential buildings starts have been down for months and spending is still declining.

Since Apr 2020 and now through March 2021, Nonresidential Bldgs construction starts, for 12 months, have averaged down 25%+ compared to Q1 2020. Recent Q1 2021 is still down 22% from Q1 2020.

A full year of nonres bldgs starts generates over $400 billion in spending. With starts down 25% for the past 12 months, that’s a loss of over $100 billion in spending that would have occurred over the next 1 to 3 years.

Spending follows as starts move, only later, so spending will fall.

Actual nonresidential buildings construction spending has been down 10 of the last 12 months. Now in Mar 2021 it is at its low point, 9% lower than Q1 2020. The forecast for the remainder of 2021 is down near 1%/month.

A simple model built to show when starts have maximum impact on spending indicates by Dec 2020 Nonres Bldgs construction spending put-in-place would be 10% lower than Q1 2020. Spending was actually 9% below Q1 2020. So the model seems to be on track.

This table sets Feb 2020 starts to a baseline of 10.0. All other starts afterwards are entered at the percentage of actual $ starts that month compared to Feb 2020, so 8.30 in March of 2021 represents starts for Mar 2021 were 83% of Feb 2020. A lost start is negative spending. So, instead of thinking of the peak month of spending, that becomes the month of greatest loss. Those months near the middle of the schedule, are highlighted here.

Dodge is forecasting new construction starts for nonres bldgs will increase ~4% in 2021 and ~10% in 2022. That means starts in 2021 will still be 20% lower than Q1 2020 and starts in 2022 will still be 12% lower. This has major implications.

Even at 10%/yr growth in new starts in 2022, 2023 and 2024, Nonres Bldgs Starts would not return to pre-pandemic level until mid 2024. If starts remain lower than Feb 2020 through 2023, then spending will remain lower than Feb 2020 through 2024.

That model, that’s on track so far, shows maximum impact from reduced 2020 starts will occur in Q2-Q3 2021. But what about 2021 starts? Negative impact continues longer than the # of months starts remain lower than Q1 2020. We now have 12 months of starts still averaging 22% below Q1 2020, so even when we begin to improve, we are measuring from a new base 22% down. For each lower month the greatest negative impact in spending is 10-12 months later. That loss of spending is shown in the following chart for Nonres Bldgs Spending.

By the end of 2021, Nonres Bldgs construction spending put-in-place is forecast to be almost 20% lower than Q1 2020. If the Dodge forecast of 4% growth in starts for 2021 is correct, then, even though 2021 had growth, it’s off the bottom, and 21 months of starts will have averaged down 22% from Q1 2020.

Nonresidential Bldgs construction spending follows as starts go. If starts are down, future spending will be down.

Nonresidential Buildings spending $ put-in-place will not return to pre-pandemic levels before 2024 or 2025.

Construction Economics – An Eye on Forecasts

5-5-21

How can you tell if your preferred construction economic forecast is on track to finish the year as predicted?

For comparison, in the following link I’ve collected initial 2021 construction spending forecasts from nine different sources. Measuring Forecasting Methodology & Accuracy

As of 5-3-21, three months of actual data are in. The first step is to compare that current actual data to the predictions. The next step is to use a bit of math to answer the question, Can we get there from here?

Here’s examples:

First let’s look at Lodging. In the AIA initial 2021 Outlook, ABC forecast -13% and Moody’s forecast -52%. Current spending year to date through March is -25%. Are either of these forecasts achievable?

Lodging construction starts dropped 11% in 2019 and dropped another 50% in 2020. The seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of spending fell from $33bil in Q1 2020 to $24bil in Q1 2021, down 27%. The current rate of spending is coming in between 25%-30% below same month last year (yoy).

Now do the math.

Look at the ABC forecast for lodging. To finish the year down -13%, monthly spending needs to average -13% for all 12 months of 2021. 12 months x -13% = -157. But 3 months, down cumulatively 25%, are already known. 3 months x -25% = -75. What would need to occur for the last 9 months to reach a total 2021 spending down -13%?

12 x -13% = -157 minus 3 x -25% = -75, therefore -157 minus -75 = -82. In the remaining nine months, Lodging would need to fall a cumulative 82%, or 82/9 = an average of 9%/month.

Well, the current rate of spending is down 25% yoy and construction starts the previous two years are down 60%. Cash flows seem to indicate spending will not increase this year. There is little hope of seeing an increase in monthly spending in 2021. Since new starts are less than half of only two years ago, spending is unlikely to increase from a monthly rate down 25% to a monthly rate down only 9% for the next nine consecutive months. Therefore this forecast is unlikely to play out. The ABC forecast is too optimistic.

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Now let’s look at the Moody’s forecast for lodging. To finish the year down -52%, monthly spending needs to average -52% for all 12 months of 2021. 12 months x -52% = -624. But 3 months, down cumulatively 25%, are already known. 3 months x -25% = -75. What would need to occur for the last 9 months to reach a total 2021 spending down -52%?

12 x -52% = -624 minus 3 x -25% = -75, therefore -624 minus -75 = -549. In the remaining nine months, Lodging would need to fall a cumulative 549%, or 549/9 = an average of 61%/month.

Well, the current rate of spending is down 25% yoy and construction starts the previous two years are down 60%. Cash flows are indicating monthly spending will drop 3% to 4% per month this year. Spending would need to decline 61-25=36% in one month and stay at that rate for the remainder of the year, OR, spending would need to start falling at a rate of 12%/month and continue 12% lower every month for the remainder of the year. By December, spending would be down over 100%, so this is not even feasible. Therefore this forecast cannot play out. The Moody’s forecast is far too pesimistic.

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Second, let’s look at Manufacturing. In the AIA initial 2021 Outlook, ABC forecast +6.5% and Moody’s forecast -3.4%. Current spending year to date through March is -9%. Are either of these forecasts achievable?

Manufacturing construction starts dropped 10% in 2019 and dropped another 57% in 2020. The seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of spending fell from $78bil in Q1 2020 to $71bil in Q1 2021, down 10%. The current rate of spending is coming in between 7%-11% below same month last year (yoy).

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Look at the ABC forecast for manufacturing. To finish the year up +6.5%, monthly spending needs to average +6.5% for all 12 months of 2021. 12 months x +6.5% = +78. But 3 months, down cumulatively 9%, are already known. 3 months x -9% = -27. What would need to occur for the last 9 months to reach a total 2021 spending up+6.5%?

12 x +6.5% = +78 minus 3 x -9% = -27, therefore +78 minus -27 = +105. In the remaining nine months, Manufacturing would need to gain a cumulative 105%, or 105/9 = an average of +12%/month.

Well, the current rate of spending is down 9% yoy and construction starts the previous two years are down 67%. Cash flows seem to indicate spending will continue to drop at a rate of 2% to 3% per month this year. There is little hope of seeing an increase in monthly spending in 2021. Since new starts are down 67% from two years ago, spending is unlikely to increase from a monthly rate down 9% to a monthly rate up 12%, a swing of 21%, for the next nine consecutive months. Therefore this forecast is highly unlikely to play out. The ABC forecast is far to optimistic.

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Now let’s look at the Moody’s forecast for manufacturing. To finish the year down -3.4%, monthly spending needs to average -3.4% for all 12 months of 2021. 12 months x -3.4% = -41. But 3 months, down cumulatively 9%, are already known. 3 months x -9% = -27. What would need to occur for the last 9 months to reach a total 2021 spending down +3.4%?

12 x -3.4% = -41 minus 3 x -9% = -27, therefore -41 minus -27 = -14. In the remaining nine months, Manufacturing would need to fall a cumulative -14%, or -14/9 = an average of -1.5%/month.

Well, the current rate of spending is down 9% yoy and construction starts the previous two years are down 67%. Cash flows are indicating monthly spending will drop 2% to 3% per month, every month this year. Spending would need to begin falling at a rate of only -1.5%/month and continue -1.5% lower every month for the remainder of the year. A decline of 67% in starts over the previous two years solidifies a rate of decline beyond that at near 3%/month. This scenario would depend on cutting the rate of decline in half for the remainder of the year, but the lack of starts in previous years provides no help to achieve that goal. The Moody’s forecast is too optimistic.

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It’s in your best interest to know how to assess the plausibility of forecast components before you question an analysis that varies widely from your preferred forecast. It may be your preferred forecast that is way off.

Construction Spending 2021 update 5-3-21

Construction Spending March 2021

Total ALL construction is up ytd 4.5%. Except for Residential which is UP 21% ytd, and Public Safety, up 14% ytd, every other market is down ytd. In total, Nonres Bldgs is down 8% ytd and Nonbldg Infra is down 6% ytd.

In the 1st 3 months of 2020, spending had reached an all-time high averaging a SAAR of $1,461 billion.

In the 1st 3 months of 2021, spending is at a new all-time high averaging a SAAR of $1,527 billion.

By more than 2:1 margin, nonresidential markets declined in Mar from Feb. Markets that declined make up 80% of the $ value of all nonresidential work. Year-to-date, 14 of 16 nonresidential markets, 95% of total market value, are down.

In current dollars, ytd 2021 spending is $328 billion vs $314 billion in the 1st qtr 2020. Residential gains overcompensate for nonresidential losses.

For the next few months the year-to-date comparison is going to increase due to the fall-off in spending throughout 2020. However, the strong growth in residential will skew results. Residential spending will climb to +27% year-to-date by June and July (due to the steep decline in spending in 2020) before falling back to +17% ytd by year end.

https://census.gov/construction/c30/pdf/release.pdf

This table includes updated forecast for 2021 and 2022. Forecast has increased since January, mostly in residential. Dodge has revised its forecast for construction starts and census reported spending through March is included. Dodge forecast includes increases for infrastructure projects. However, infrastructure will add less than 1% to 2021 spending.

A typical batch of new construction starts within a year gets spent over a cash flow schedule similar to this, 20/50/30, that is 20% of all starts in 2021 gets spent in 2021, the year started, 50% in the next year and 30% in years following. However, if (infrastructure) starts don’t begin until the 2nd half of the year, only 25% to 30% gets spent in the 1st year. Therefore, even if $100 billion in new infrastructure starts begin in the 2nd half 2021, only 25% x 20% or only about 5% would get spent this year. That’s $5 billion, or less than 1% of annual construction spending.

The impact of reduced starts in 2020 is starting to show up in the 2021 year-to-date results. Total Nonres Bldgs starts were down 22% in 2020, Nonbldg Infrastructure down 13%. Some of these markets will be affected by a downward trend in spending for two to three years. 2020 starts for select markets:

  • Amusement -38%
  • Commercial/Retail -14%
  • Office -20%
  • Lodging -50%
  • Manufacturing -57%
  • Power -38%

The greatest downward impact on spending will be felt in mid-2021. Over the next 9 months, every sector will post more down months than up months, although the declines will be most noticeable in nonresidential buildings.

Nonresidential Buildings construction is going to take a lot longer to recover than you might think. The deficit from lost starts in 2020 has not yet hit full impact. After adjusting for inflation, volume is down much more than spending. Nonres Bldgs volume will decline 11% in 2021, the 5th consecutive year of volume declines. Jobs are driven by changes in volume.

5-7-21 Jobs report > Construction Jobs for April posted no change. Although residential spending and volume gains have been helping create jobs, nonresidential volume declines are holding gains in check. Jobs are now 200,000 lower than February 2020.

A more accurate window into jobs compares jobs x hours worked for total labor hours input. YTD through March, jobs x hours was down 3% from same period last year. But in April, even though there was no gain in jobs in Apr 2021, the YTD performance changed from -3% to +1%, entirely due to April 2020 when jobs dropped off a cliff. The real picture in jobs is much closer to the -3% through March than the +1% through April. The spending/volume forecast is projecting total jobs for 2021 will end the year down less than 1% from total jobs in 2020, but by Dec 2021, year/year jobs will be down 6% from Dec 2020.

See Measuring Forecasting Methodology & Accuracy for a comparison of firms’ initial 2021 forecast vs year-to-date spending.

Projects On Hold vs Lost New Project Starts

Since the beginning of the Pandemic we’ve known there will be declines in construction spending due to #1: Projects halted and temporarily on hold, and #2: a huge reduction in the amount of new construction starts. That’s the easy part. The difficult part is calculating how much within the spending decline due to each cause is being counted in the most recent actual spending and the current forecast.

Although we may never know precisely, this is an attempt to identify how much of the declines in spending are due to #1 and #2. We can set up a model to calculate declines from lost new construction starts (#2), but no source is tracking the amount of projects put on hold (#1), for how long and how many of those projects become permanently shut down.

By comparing the amount of spending declines caused by lost starts to actual spending declines, we get a difference that could be identified in part as being caused by spending declines due to projects temporarily shut down. But that will have a distinct pattern to it. Initially we should see actual spending declines were greater than would have been caused by just the loss of starts, so the difference would be negative. Eventually, projects that were on hold start back up and we should see actual spending declines are not as great as the losses from new starts would indicate. This is caused by a revenue from a few months of previously on-hold projects extending the delayed spending to a later (current) point in time.

Finally, after all on-hold projects have restarted and been reabsorbed into monthly spending, the impact of delayed projects diminishes and the percent spending declines calculated by the loss of new construction starts should more closely reflect the actual declines in spending.

The following cash flow model may not be precise, but it is accurate in its representation of impact caused by lost new starts, and therefore allows to make the comparison noted above. This is strictly for nonresidential buildings.

HINT: Large view, Right Click on table – Open in a New Tab. Thank me later.

This cash flow schedule tracks reduced starts from 2019 through 2020. All other previous months are considered at 100% of the pre-pandemic high in Feb 2020. This sample uses $10bil/mo of new starts as 100%, the high in the 1st quarter, carried out over a 20mo schedule. If the rate of starts were to remain constant at $10bil/mo, then the spending would also remain constant at $10bil/mo. The amounts carried for all months 2019 and 2020 represent the percentage of actual starts recorded, measured as a percent of previous high, the 1st quarter 2020, so $6.6 bil in May is 66% of the pre-pandemic highpoint, February, which here is $10bil.

Notice although starts are forecast to increase about 5% each in 2021 and 2022, that percent growth is measured from the very low starts in 2020. Nonresidential Buildings starts in 2020 dropped 24%. We need 31% growth to get back to the Feb 2020 high. That will take several years.

With the onset of reduced starts in April 2020, spending began to fall, but only a few percent. The cumulative impact to spending of all reduced starts will be months later than the initial impact. Cash flow shows maximum impact is ~50% to 60% out in time of each individual schedule. The spending in any given month includes input from starts in 20 different months. It’s when a month lines up with all the inputs from reduced starts months that spending reaches its lowest.

In April 2020, we had loses from only one month of new starts which were down 39%. The cash flow schedule declines in the 1st month indicated that spending would drop 0.9% that month. The spending decreases from the next six months of losses in new construction starts indicated spending would drop approximately an additional 1% per month for six months; so down 1% after one month, down 2% after two months, 3% after 3 months, etc.

As expected, actual spending did not follow the pattern set forth by loss of new starts only. In the 1st month, spending actually dropped 3.9%, the difference that month being 3% between what was predicted from lost starts vs actual spending. Nonresidential Buildings Spending actually declined by approx. 4%/month for the 1st four months of the Pandemic, while the losses expected and identified from lost starts increased from 1% to 2%, 3% and 4%. With spending declining at a rate greater than loss of starts would indicate, we have some information to associate with the other cause of decline, delayed projects.

This greater negative performance eventually reached a balance point when actual losses equaled that predicted by lost starts. That would be expected if projects that were temporarily halted were restarted. And just beyond the balance point actual spending, in this case forecast spending, declines are not as great as would be predicted by lost starts. This would occur as the remaining schedule to finish halted projects added some spending to future months that was not in the expected cash flow schedule.

So, to recap, it’s easy to show the cash flow schedule predicting spending reductions caused by loss of starts in the schedule. Also, projects put on hold would show excess spending declines, not otherwise predictable, in the early months and would show unexpected spending increases later.

That’s exactly what the above model shows.

The subtotal line titled MONTHLY SPENDING of $ is construction spending per month, the sum of the contributions from the cash flow of all the still ongoing projects. That shows when greatest impact from lost starts occurs. The low point in spending can be measured in months from the initial event, April 2020. But the combined effect extends well beyond the initial event (reduced starts) which started in April but so far have lasted 10 months. This is why maximum impact of reduced spending for nonresidential buildings stretches over a long period in 2021-2022.

The bottom row shows the difference between Actual spending and predicted spending from starts. That difference behaves exactly as would be expected from projects that stopped spending and then resumed spending later.

The percent spending losses from on-hold projects amounted to no more than a 3%/month loss falling to a 1% loss in spending after six months. From month 10 through month 15, Jan 2021 to June 2021, spending increases 3%/month to 5%/month due to delayed projects resuming spending and completion later than originally scheduled.

So, why don’t we see spending increases from the completion of any delayed/resumed projects?

The spending increases due to resuming delayed projects is far less than the reduction in spending from loss of starts in 2020. By the 10 month, Jan 2021, spending declines attributed to lost starts in 2020 measured 11% decline compared to Feb 2020. By the 15th month, Jun 2021, spending will be down 17% due to lost starts. Delays were never down/up more than 3%/5% in a month.

The magnitude of spending declines from loss of starts in 2020 is three to four times the magnitude of losses, then gains, due to shifting of spending due to delays. The maximum (diminishing) negative impact of delays lasted six or seven months and fell from 3% to 0%. The positive (resumed spending) impact also last for six or seven months. The impact from lost starts reaches a maximum at a point approximately 10 to 12 months (to project scheduled midpoint) after the start. As long as starts are down from Feb 2020, the deepest impact will be 10 to 12 months beyond the last month of reduced starts. Starts in Dec and Jan are still down 20% from Feb 2020. Lower new starts in 2020 cause severe negative impact to spending in 2021 that may reach a maximum impact from May to Dec 2021. For each month that starts continue to come in substantially lower than Feb 2020, that will extend the end of maximum negative impact a month beyond Dec 2021.

Cumulative from 2017 – Annual Average Growth

Declining spending does not support jobs growth.

See Also Behind the Headlines – Construction Jobs in 2021

2021 Construction Economic Forecast – Summary

Initial Construction Outlook 2021, 2-5-21, based on data from:

  • Actual Jobs data includes BLS Jobs to Jan 16th, issued 2-5-21
  • Forecast includes US Census Dec 2020 year-to-date spending as of 2-1-21
  • Forecast includes Dodge Outlook 2021 and Dec construction starts 1-19-21

SUMMARY – CONCLUSIONS

Construction Spending drives the headlines. Construction Volume drives jobs demand. Volume is spending minus inflation. Current outlook shows the most recent peak volume was 2017-2018. Total Volume is forecast to decline every year out to 2023, but Residential is rising, Nonresidential is falling.

When spending increases less than the rate of inflation, the real work volume is declining. Nonresidential buildings spending for 2020 is down -2%, but with 3% to 5% inflation, volume is down 5% to 7%. The extent of volume declines would impact the jobs situation.

STARTS – BACKLOG – SPENDING

By far the greatest impact of the pandemic on construction is the massive reduction in new nonresidential construction starts in 2020 that will reduce spending and jobs in that sector for at least the next two years. Residential continues to increase.

  • 2020 new starts declined -8%. Res +7%, Nonres Bldgs -24%, Nonbuilding -14%.
  • New starts for residential reached an all-time high in 2020. Expect up +5% in 2021.

Nonresidential construction starts in backlog at the beginning of the year provide for 75% to 80% of all spending in 2021. New starts in 2020 were down 24% for buildings and 14% for non-buildings, so backlog is down. It would be difficult to show any scenario that has these sectors up in 2021.

  • Starting Backlog for 2021 is forecast down -10%. Backlog for 2022 is forecast down -5%.

Construction has yet to experience the greatest downward pressure from the pandemic. After hitting a post-pandemic spending high in December, spending and jobs losses won’t hit bottom until 2022. Nonresidential declines outweigh Residential gains.

  • Spending forecast for 2021 is up +1.4%, but nonresidential buildings is down -11%.
  • Almost all gains in spending are due to large 12%/yr gain in residential.

The largest declines in 2021 spending are Lodging -37%, Amusement/Recreation -26%,    Manufacturing -19% and Power -15%.

PROJECT COST ESCALATION – INFLATION

  • Inflation for nonresidential buildings near 4% the next few years. Residential 5% to 6%.

VOLUME – JOBS

Construction Jobs annual average for 2020 is down 220,000 jobs. The current spending forecast is indicating that December 2020 was the highpoint for jobs. Residential jobs will be up in 2021, but Nonresidential Buildings jobs are down steep. Net jobs will be down 15 of next 18 months. Forecast 2021 net annual average jobs losses of -200,000. Nonresidential Buildings 2021 jobs losses will outweigh residential gains.

Selected slides from Feb 2021 Construction Outlook Presentation

EdZ Econ Feb 2021 SAMPLE SLIDES PDF

Read More 2021 Construction Economic Forecast

2021 Construction Economic Forecast

Initial Construction Outlook 2021, 2-5-21, based on data from:

  • Actual Jobs data includes BLS Jobs to Jan 16th, issued 2-5-21
  • Forecast includes US Census Dec 2020 year-to-date total spending as of 2-1-21
  • Forecast includes Dodge Outlook 2021 and Dec construction starts 1-19-21

This analysis utilizes Dodge Data & Analytics construction starts data to generate spending cash flow to then determine how spending may affect future construction activity.

When spending increases less than the rate of inflation, real work volume is declining. In 2020, nonresidential buildings spending is down -2%, but with 3% inflation, volume declined 5%. The extent of volume declines negatively impacts the jobs situation. A 5% decline in Nonresidential Buildings volume impacts $22 billion worth of work and more than 100,000 jobs. In 2021, spending is forecast down 11%, volume down 14%.

2021 Residential spending will climb about 13%, up $80 billion to $695 billion. Nonresidential Buildings spending is forecast to drop -11% to $410 billion, a decline of $50 billion. Non-building spending drops -2% to $343 billion, a decline of only $8 billion.

By far the greatest impact of the pandemic on construction is the massive reduction in new nonresidential construction starts in 2020 that will reduce construction spending and jobs for at least the next two years. Although nonresidential buildings spending is down only -2% for 2020, the 15% to 25% drop in 2020 new construction starts will mostly be noticed in lower 2021 spending.

New Construction Starts

Total construction starts for 2020 ended down -8%, but Nonresidential Buildings starts finished down -24% and Non-building Infrastructure starts are down -14%.

Residential starts finished the year up +7% from 2019.

Most nonresidential buildings markets and residential new starts are forecast to increase 5% in 2021. Nonbuilding starts will increase 10% in 2021.

In the Great Recession, beginning in Q4 2008, nonresidential buildings new construction starts fell 5%, then fell 31% in 2009 and 4% in 2010. Spending began to drop by Dec 2008, then dropped steadily for the next 24 months. Spending dropped 40% over that next two years. During that period, residential starts and spending fell 70%.

In 2020, nonresidential buildings starts fell 24%, but the six months from Apr-Sep, starts fell 33%. Starts are forecast to fall 4% in 2021. Nonres Bldgs spending began to decline in Aug, is now down 10% from Feb high and is forecast to drop steadily the next 20 months, for a total decline of 25%. This time around residential starts and spending are increasing.

Over the final 5 months of 2020, new Residential construction starts posted 4 of the 5 highest monthly totals since 2004-2006. Residential new starts finished 2020 at a 15-year high, with almost 50% of new activity for the year posting in the final 5 months, which will put a lot of that spending into 2021. Total 2020 residential starts are up 7%, but the average for the last 5 months is up 10% from the same period 2019. There is a large portion of 2021 spending from that last 5 months of starts, that will be up 10%.

Nonresidential Buildings new construction starts in 2020 averaged down 24%: Manufacturing -57%, Lodging -46%, Amusement/Recreation -45%, Education -12%, Healthcare -7%. Most of the spending from those lost starts would have taken place in 2021, now showing up as a major decline in spending and work volume.

Manufacturing starts in 2020 fell 57%. Manufacturing projects can have a moderately long average duration, because some projects are 4-5 years. So, projects that fell out of the business plan starting gate in 2020 caused a drop in starting backlog of -32% for 2021 and -33% for 2022. It should not be hard to see how that leads to a huge decline in construction spending the next two years. The same thing happened with Amusement/Recreation and Lodging, although lodging tends to have shorter duration, so affects mostly 2021.

Commercial/Retail starts in 2020 dropped 16%. But this group includes warehouses which finished the year up +1% and warehouses is 60% of the total market. All other Commercial/Retail ended 2020 down 35%.

Non-building Infrastructure new construction starts in 2020 averaged down -13%. Power -37%, Transportation -22%. Highway (along with residential) was the only market to gain new starts in 2020, +8%.

Power new starts fell 37% in 2020, but Power backlog has not increased since 2018. Even though Power new starts in 2021 are forecast to increase 13%, that’s not enough to push spending to positive.

Transportation starts declined -22% in 2020. But Transportation backlog increased 50% over the last three years. There is a large volume of Transportation projects currently in backlog, and although backlog does drop slightly for 2021, spending is supported by the large volume of starting backlog and a forecast for increased new starts in 2021.

The following NEW STARTS table shows, for each market, the current forecast for new construction starts. With exception of residential, spending in all other markets, due to longer schedules, is most affected by a decline in new starts, not in the year of the start, but in years following. As we begin 2021, some effects of reduced starts have not even begun to show up in the data. A 24% decline in new nonresidential starts in 2020 results in a huge decline in spending and jobs in 2021-2022.

Almost every nonresidential construction market has a weaker spending outlook in 2021 than in 2020, because approximately 50% of spending in 2021 is generated from 2020 starts, and 2020 nonresidential starts are down 24%, with several markets down 40%. Starts lead to spending, but that spending is spread out over time. An average spending curve for nonresidential buildings is 20:50:30 over three years. Only about 20% of new starts gets spent in the year they started. 50% gets spent in the next year. The effect of new starts does not show up immediately. If new nonresidential buildings starts in 2020 are down 24%, the affect that has in 2020 is to reduce spending by -24% x 20% = – 4.8%.  The affect it has in 2021 is -24% x 50% = -12%. In 2022-2023 the affect is -24% x 30% = -7.2%.

Starting Backlog

Starting backlog is the estimate to complete (in this analysis taken at Jan 1) for all projects currently under contract. The last time starting backlog decreased was 2011.

Backlog leading into 2020 was at all-time high, up 30% in the last 4 years. Prior to the pandemic, 2020 starting backlog was forecast UP +5.5%. Due to delays and cancelations, that has been reduced to +1.8%, still an all-time high. Starting Backlog, from 2011-2019, increased at an avg. rate of 7%/year.

If new construction starts are greater than construction spending in the year, then for the following year starting backlog increases. It’s when new starts don’t replenish the amount of spending in the year that backlog declines. And that is the case this year.

Total starting backlog is down -10% for 2021 and -5% for 2022. 2021 Starting Backlog is back to the level in 2018. In 2022, backlog drops to the level of 2017.

Nonresidential Buildings new starts declined by -24% in 2020 resulting in starting backlog drops -19% for 2021 and drops -9% for 2022.

For Non-building Infrastructure, a drop of -14% in 2020 starts results in a drop of 9% in 2021 starting backlog and -5% for 2022. 

Residential starting backlog for 2021 is up +12%. New starts are up 6%.

2021 backlog declines in every nonresidential market, except Highway.

80% of all nonresidential spending in any given year is from backlog and could be supported by projects that started last year or 3 to 4 years ago. Residential spending is far more dependent on new starts than backlog. Only about 30% of residential spending comes from backlog and 70% from new starts.

Projects in starting backlog could have started last month or last year or several years ago. Many projects in backlog extend out several years in the schedule to support future spending. Current backlog could still contribute some spending for the next 6 years until all the projects in backlog are completed.

Reductions in starts and starting backlog lead to lower spending. Residential construction is going counter to the trend and will post positive results for new starts, backlog and spending for the next two years. Nonresidential buildings will experience the greatest reductions in new starts, backlog and spending through 2022.

Spending Forecast 2021

2021 Residential spending will climb about 13%, up $80 billion to $695 billion. Nonresidential Buildings spending is forecast to drop -11% to $410 billion, a decline of $50 billion. Non-building spending drops -2% to $343 billion, a decline of only $8 billion.

Most all the change in this forecast from previous is an increase to residential spending. Both recent starts and spending increased substantially since previous forecasts. When looking at Total Construction Spending for 2021, residential growth obscures the huge declines in nonresidential.

The monthly rate of spending for residential increased 33% in the 7 months from May to December. The last time we had growth like that was 1983. The last time we had rapid growth in residential work, 2013-2014 and 2004-2005, it took 2 years to increase 33%. Residential spending in Dec 2020 is 21% higher than Dec 2019.

Nonresidential Buildings spending drops -2% to -3% each quarter in 2021. Nonresidential Buildings spending as of Dec. 2020 is down 10% From Feb. 2020 and 8% from Q4 2019. By 3rd quarter 2021, nonresidential buildings spending is forecast down another 12% lower than Dec. 2020, or 20% below the Feb. 2020 peak. This tracks closely with the 24% decline in new construction starts in 2020.

Nonresidential Buildings construction will take several years to return to pre-pandemic levels. Although nonresidential buildings spending is down only -2% for 2020, the 15%-25% drop in 2020 construction starts will mostly be noticed in lower 2021 spending. Project starts that were canceled, dropping out of new backlog between April and September 2020, would have had midpoints, or peak spending, March to October 2021. Nonbuilding project midpoints could be even later. The impact of reduced new starts in 2020 is reduced spending and jobs in 2021 and 2022.

Almost every market has a weaker spending outlook in 2021 than in 2020, because of lower starts in 2020. Starts lead to spending, but on a curve. A good average for nonresidential buildings is 20:50:30 over three years. 20% of the total of all starts in 2020 gets spent in 2020 (yr1) and that represents also about 20% of all spending. 50% of the total value of 2020 starts gets spent in the following year, 2021. So, 50% of spending in 2021 is generated from 2020 starts. If starts are down 20% and 50% of spending comes from those starts, spending will be down 20% x 50% of the work.

For 2020, the biggest declines are Lodging (-14%), Manufacturing (-10%) and Amuse/Recreation (-7%). Commercial/Retail finishes up +4.2%, but this is entirely due to Warehouse, 60% of the total Commercial/Retail market. Office and Educational are down -4% and -1%. Nonresidential buildings takes the brunt of declines in both 2020 and 2021.

In 2021, every nonresidential building market is down from 2020, some markets down -10% to -20%. Educational, Healthcare and Office are all down -3% to -6%. Non-building infrastructure Power market is down -15%, but Transportation spending is up +10% due to strength in backlog from several multi-billion$ starts over the past few years.

Manufacturing projects have a moderately long duration. So, projects that fell out of the business plan caused a drop in starting backlog of -32% for 2021 and -33% for 2021. It should not be hard to see how that leads to a huge decline in construction spending the next two years. The same thing happened with Amusement/Recreation and Lodging, although lodging tends to have shorter duration, so affects mostly 2021.

A recent AGC survey of construction firms asked, how long do you think it will be before you recover back to pre-COVID-19 (levels of work)? The survey offered “longer than 6 months” as an answer choice. Less than 6 months was the right answer for residential, but my current forecast for full recovery of nonresidential buildings work is longer than 6 years.

Construction Spending drives the headlines. Construction Volume drives jobs demand. Volume is spending minus inflation. Inflation $ do not support jobs. Current outlook shows (recent) peak volume was 2017-2018. Volume is forecast to decline every year out to 2023.

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. Below that plot is adjusted for inflation and is presented in constant $. Constant $ show volume. Notice future residential remains in a narrow range after adjusting for inflation. No sector shows improvement in volume through Jan. 2023.

When we see spending increasing at less than the rate of inflation, the real work volume is declining. For example, with construction inflation at 3% annually, a nonresidential buildings spending decline of -2.1% in 2020 would reflect a work volume decline of 5.1%. The extent of volume declines would impact the jobs situation.

While 2021 Residential spending will climb about 13%, Nonresidential building spending is forecast to drop -11% and Non-building spending drops -2%.

But with 4% inflation, after inflation Residential Volume is up only 9%, Nonresidential Building is  down 15% and Non-building is down 6%.

By far the greatest decline in volume is in the nonresidential buildings sector. The greatest losses in 2020 are Lodging, Manufacturing, Amusement/Recreation and Commercial/Retail (without warehouse). In 2021, every major nonresidential building market drops in volume, with staggering 30% declines in Lodging and Amusement/Recreation. Commercial/Retail and Manufacturing will drop -13% to -15%.

Here’s the same graphic as above, but in Constant $, so it’s inflation adjusted. That provides the change in volume of work.


Volume of Work

Residential construction volume dropped 12% from the January 2020 peak to the May bottom, but has since recovered 22% and now stands at a post Great Recession high, 10% above one year ago. Although residential spending remains near this high level for the next year, volume after inflation begins to drop by midyear.

Nonresidential volume has been slowly declining and is now down 10% from one year ago. By 3rd quarter 2021, nonresidential buildings volume is forecast down another 15% lower than December, or 25% below the Feb 2020 peak. This tracks right in line with the 24% decline in new construction starts in 2020. Most of the spending from those lost starts would have taken place in 2021, now showing up as a major decline in spending and work volume.

While construction spending in 2021 is forecast up 1.3%, after inflation construction volume is expected to decline 2.5%. Residential construction spending is forecast up 13%, volume up almost 9%, but 2021 nonresidential buildings spending is forecast down -11% leading to a decline in volume after inflation of -14%. Nonbuilding Infrastructure spending in 2021 declines -2.5%, volume drops -6%.

Nonresidential buildings volume declines of 14% project to a loss of over 400,000 jobs next year and non-building infrastructure is projected to drop 60,000 jobs, but Residential could experience growth next year of 250,000 jobs. That could net annual average jobs losses to -200,000. Job losses continue into 2022 with net volume declines of 4%.

Jobs are supported by growth in construction volume, spending minus inflation. We will not see construction volume return to Feb 2020 level at any time in the next three years. This time next year, volume will be 5% lower than today, 10% below the Feb 2020 level.

Download the complete 2021 Initial Forecast here

Along with this forecast document, See these related articles

2021 Construction Economic Forecast – Summary

2021 Construction Inflation

Measuring Forecasting Methodology & Accuracy

Public/Private Construction Spending Forecast 2020-2021

Behind the Headlines – Construction Jobs in 2021

Construction Jobs 2020 down 207,000

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