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Prelim 2023 Construction Spending Outlook

2-2-23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much more to come.

Construction Year-End Spending Forecast Dec’22

A few brief comments. More comments to follow

See also Construction Briefs Nov’22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midyear 2022 Spending Forecasts Compared – updated 2-1-23

How we doin?

In the AIA Midyear 2022 Consensus, eight firms provided forecasts for Nonresidential Bldgs markets construction spending for 2022. Their forecasts for 2022 are summarized here, percent +/- growth. Construction Analytics midyear forecast is included for comparison. Who is closest, who’s not? The year-to-date (YTD) value is through September 2022. I’ll update after final spending for 2022 is posted in Feb. 2023, and then revised in July. The Sept YTD data was released Nov.1st. I’ve included my current (Nov) forecast for 2022 final spending, the eventual target of all these forecasts, to the left of the table.

Here’s the initial 2022 total year spending released 2-1-23. This will get minor revisions in Mar, Apr and Jul. As in past years, I’ve highlighted in green for best estimate and red for worst estimate. This is the 3rd consecutive year I’ve produced collectively better forecasts than those published in the AIA Consensus. You can follow the links below this posts to prior year comparisons.

Construction Briefs Nov’22

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

STARTS

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

See also Construction Year-End Spending Forecast Dec’22

SPENDING BY SECTOR CURRENT $ AND INFLATION ADJUSTED CONSTANT $

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPENDING FORECAST

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

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

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

Inflation adjusted volume is spending minus inflation.

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

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

SPENDING TOTAL ALL $ CURRENT $ AND INFLATION ADJUSTED CONSTANT $

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

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

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

LABOR PRODUCTIVITY

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

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

Construction Spending thru Aug’22

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

Midyear 2022 Construction Data

8-16-22

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

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

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

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

Construction Starts forecast updated to 8-16-22

Construction Backlog forecast 8-16-22

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

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

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

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

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

See the PPI post for details on 2022 PPI data.

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

Burning Questions – Recession, Labor, Infrastructure

I gave two conference presentations in the past month. The most pressing questions from the audience were:

Are we headed into a recession? When will recession start?

What can be done about the labor shortage?

How can we support all the infrastructure work that is about to begin?

RECESSION

There is no question the sizable drop in starts in 2020 lead to a downturn in construction spending, mostly felt in 2021, but extending somewhat into 2022. However, this quickly turned around for residential spending and nonres bldgs spending is now past the low point caused by the pandemic initiated slowdown. With new construction starts to date at all-time highs and the forecast for new construction starts in the pipeline, it’s hard to envision how this would lead to a construction recession.

  • In 2021, new starts increased 17%. Residential +21%, Nonres Bldgs +15% and Nonbldg +9%.
  • In 2022, new starts are forecast up 11%. Residential +10%, Nonres Bldgs +18% and Nonbldg +4%.
  • In 2023, new starts are forecast up 10%. Residential +12%, Nonres Bldgs +7% and Nonbldg +11%.

Total of all starts year-to-date in 2022 are up 6% over Jan-May 2021. Nonres bldgs starts are up 17% year-to-date. For the past 6 months, Dec’21 to May’22, residential construction starts posted 5 of the 6 highest months ever. The 6mo total for residential starts is the highest 6mo total ever recorded, up 4% over the previous 6mo record, posted in 2021.

Residential new starts get spent at a ratio of 70:30. Nonresidential Bldgs spending from new starts, on average, gets spent over the next 3 years in the ratio of 20:50:30. That is, 20% of spending from all starts within the year gets spent within the year started, 50% gets spent in the following year and 30% gets spent in the 3rd and sometimes 4th year. So from this we can say, if new starts are up 10% for the year then spending from that source will increase 10% x 20% or 2% the 1st year, 10% x 50%, 5% the 2nd year and 10% x 30%, 3% the 3rd year. If we get 3 consecutive years of growth in new starts there would be no downward pressure on spending for the next 3 to 4 years.

In the 2nd half of 2021, residential starts, although still strong, posted a few lower monthly totals. Although 2022 spending will still finish the year up, these lower monthly starts from late 2021 will work to cause a slight spending dip in the 2nd half of 2022. Nonresidential Bldgs spending is slowly increasing in 2nd half 2022. Nonbldg spending is flat or very slowly decreasing. The net effect is spending will post a decline in 4 of the next 8 months of 2022, but the total declines may not result in 2 consecutive quarters of declines. By the time we head into 2023, all three major construction sectors are in a growth pattern.

So, we will see a few months of spending declines, but the new starts pool of work is growing, not decreasing. The current forecast model is predicting no recession on the horizon.

LABOR SHORTAGE

This next plot shows labor and volume of work (spending minus inflation) to support that labor growing equally, albeit with short-term peaks and troughs, from 2011 to 2018. In fact, this equal growth extends far back with only few years causing exception to this pattern. This plot, and the extension of this plot to older data, shows that normally, labor increases at the same rate as volume. You can see that 2018 posted a significant drop in volume while jobs continued to increase. This departure had nearly corrected itself by Jan 2020.

The most recent construction spending report, issued July 1, revised unadjusted spending data for 2020 and 2021, both years added $30+bil. That brought volume up those years on this plot. The current spread between jobs and volume of work is still 10%.

In May of 2020, jobs were already on the rebound, but the volume of work was not. Work volume did recover some at the end of 2020 but then fell again, as was predicted, into mid-2021. In May of 2020, jobs and the volume of work were near balance. Since May of 2020, spending increased by 22%, but most of that was inflation. Since May 2020, actual work volume increased by only 1.5%. Jobs increased by 9%.

The last time the normal jobs/volume growth pattern was disrupted like this was 2006, the only other time in the last 25 years this occurred.

Volume, not spending, supports jobs. If volume is down, support for more jobs drops. If jobs increase while volume is declining then productivity is declining and the number of jobs required to put-in-place $1 billion of construction volume increases. At the same time, the inverse, the amount of volume put-in-place per job, decreases. This productivity loss drives up construction labor cost inflation and the need for additional labor to complete the job.

edited/added 8-6-22 Where the construction jobs are:

From Feb 2020 to Jul 2022 Nonres Bldgs and Nonbldg jobs are down 3.5% and 1.5%. Volume of work is down 20%.

Residential jobs are up 6.5%. Rsdn volume is up 14%.

It’s not quite that bad in either sector because some workers classified and counted as nonresidential perform work in the residential sector.

Total jobs up 1%. Total volume down 7%. That’s a slip of 8% in productivity. If labor is only 30% of total construction cost, an 8% slip in productivity is a 2.4% increase in inflation. That’s in addition to changes in wages.

INFRASTRUCTURE

The current administration has approved an infrastructure spending bill that earmarks approximately $500 billion for construction spending. It will take several years to start all this work.

The infrastructure spending bill may fund construction for a variety of buildings and non-building types of construction, for example, highway, water and sewer, educational, healthcare, etc. Rather than strictly classified as infrastructure, or as commonly referred to as nonbuilding construction, this bill will fund some forms of buildings and non-building construction in the public construction sector.

The total of all public construction is only 25% of all construction. This subset of construction totals about $360 billion in annual construction spending. It has never increased by more than $37 billion in spending ($35 billion in volume) in a year. Average growth is closer to $10-$15 billion/year. This public sector of construction does not have the capacity to increase by $100 billion/year.

As you can see in the plot above, it takes about 5000 jobs to support $1 billion of volume for 1 year. So, increasing volume by $35 billion in one year would require 35 x 5000 = 175,000 new jobs for that year. Keep in mind, this is to support a subset of construction that is only 25% of all construction.

Jobs rarely (4 out of 50 yrs) increase by more than 400,000 in one year for all construction. Even taking out the 13 years when jobs dropped, the average jobs growth for the past 50 years is only 220,000/year for all construction. That would seem to indicate the average growth for the public sector, at 25% of all construction, averages only 55,000 jobs/year.

Total all construction for the three years 2022-2023-2024 is forecast to increase $140 billion, $117 billion and $116 billion. The remaining 75% of the construction industry still adds a lot of demand for growth and jobs beyond just that of the public sector that gets a boost from the infrastructure bill. But after adjusting for inflation, the growth in volume over this three-year period is only about $120 billion. That would generate a need to create 600,000 new jobs over the next three years. About 25% of those jobs support the infrastructure funded growth.

If the infrastructure spending bill adds $35-$40 billion/year in spending, $30-$35 billion/year in volume, the need would be 150,000 to 175,000 jobs/year to support that 25% of the construction industry. Since it is unlikely the public sector of construction could add that many jobs, it is more likely the amount of construction spending added yearly will be somewhat lower.

Infrastructure has a slower spending curve than the 20:50:30 for nonres bldgs, roughly more like 15:40:30:15. If $100 bil of new contract awards start in 2022 then spending would be $15 bil in 2022, $40 bil in 2023, etc.. At $100 bil of new starts per year, the highest one-year growth would be $40 bil, probably double the pace the sector can grow.

Construction Forecast 2022 Update May22

Construction Spending is up +12% year-to-date for the 1st three months of 2022, again mostly driven by residential which is up 18.6% ytd. Total spending is up 11.7% year over year (Mar’22 vs Mar’21).

See end of post for downloadable pdf.

Total construction spending for the 1st quarter 2022 vs the 4th quarter 2021 is up +6.5%. I expect this rate of spending growth to flatten over the next six months.

Residential is about half of all construction spending. For the past 6 months, residential construction starts ($ by Dodge) posted the highest 6mo total ever recorded. Dec, Jan and Mar are all near Feb, the highest monthly total on record. This implies no slowdown in residential spending at least for the next 6 months although I expect by year end, residential (annual rate of) spending will be down about 2-3%.

Spending up year-to-date: Manufacturing up 34%, Commercial/Retail up 18% and Highway up 9%.

Spending down year-to-date: Public Safety (80% of Other) -31%, Lodging -27%.

Now 2 yrs since the onset of the pandemic, total construction spending in March 2022 is up 15%. Residential spending is 42% higher than March 2020, Nonresidential Bldgs is down 5%, Nonbuilding Infrastructure is down 6%.

Why is spending coming in well above any forecast prepared at the beginning of the year? Since October, new starts have come in much stronger than predicted, 8% higher than the previous high 6mo period which immediately preceded. But some markets increased way above average, residential and manufacturing. This most recent 6 month period for nonresidential buildings includes two months in which starts came in 30% higher than average. You can’t predict that. Residential construction starts posted the highest 6 month total ever recorded and Q1 2022 is the highest quarter ever. Not only are starts stronger than expected, but also the very high rates of inflation are inflating the spending data. Original forecasts for spending did not anticipate all types of work would experience such high inflation.

Construction buildings cost inflation over the last 4 years is up 21%. Labor cost is two parts, wages up 15% & productivity down 7%, for a net cost up 22%.

Labor is 35% of total building cost so 35% of cost that is up 22% = labor is 8% of that total 21% building cost inflation. Therefore, 8% out of 21% or fully 1/3 of construction inflation over last 4 years went into workers pockets.

Take out inflation and we get construction volume. In 2 yrs since the onset of the pandemic total construction volume (spending minus inflation) is down 2.5%. Residential construction volume is up 15%. Nonresidential Bldgs volume is down 16% Nonbuilding Infrastructure volume is down 15%.

Volume, not spending, supports jobs. If volume is down, support for jobs drops. If jobs increase while volume declines, then productivity drops and labor cost inflation increases.

Since Feb 2020, the last 2 years

Volume: Residential is up 10%; Nonres Bldgs down 17%; Nonbldg Infra down 15%.

Jobs: Rsdn up 5.75% (+171k), Nonres Bldgs down 4.5%(-159k), Nonbldg down 2.3% (-30k).

In 2021, jobs increased +2.3%. Volume was down -1.1%.

Post-pandemic recovery volume of construction may have temporarily peaked in the 1st quarter 2022 at 3.3% below Feb 2020. Over the next few months, spending mostly holds level, but inflation eats away at growth and volume declines by year end. This should hold jobs down.

In January, I wrote Construction Forecast 2022 – Jan22 a full length post and article on the Outlook for 2022. Below I’ve updated the complete article to include all data up to May 6, 2022

Construction Jobs and Spending Briefs 4-1-22

Construction Jobs report for Mar 2022 shows total jobs up 19,000 from Feb

Rsdn jobs +7,600, Nonres Bldgs +6,300, Civil +5,000

Although construction jobs increased by 19,000 in March, total hours worked dropped by 1.8% from Feb, so total workforce output is down.

It’s real hard to compare construction jobs growth by sector. If you work for a concrete firm or structural steel firm, with firm doing primarily nonresidential work, but you are out there putting in concrete or steel for a high-rise multifamily buildings, your job is still classified as nonresidential.

Jobs are up 82,000 year-to-date, 1.1% from Dec, but that’s also up 3.5% from ytd 2021. With the latest quarter at +1.1%, jobs are increasing at a rate of 4%/year. But inflation adjusted spending, building activity, is expected up only 2.5% in 2022, after dropping -2% in 2021. Jobs increased 2.5% in 2021.

2022 spending started the year at the highpoint. I expect a slow decline in monthly spending in all sectors of 2% over the 2nd half. That provides no support for jobs growth.

Construction jobs have nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels. The problem with construction jobs having returned to pre-pandemic levels is the level of inflation adjusted construction volume of activity that is needed to support those jobs is still 5% below Feb 2020 and 13% below the 2006 peak. So since Feb 2020, jobs are back to that level, but volume is not so productivity has dropped by 5%.

Construction Spending is up +10.4% year-to-date (in 2 months!) mostly driven by +15.5% ytd Residential.

A plot of residential construction spending inflation adjusted. Taking out inflation shows volume of building activity. Perhaps the trend in residential is strong enough to keep going.

Total spending is up +4% in 3mo since Nov 2021 (and 10% ytd-2mo), but I don’t expect this rate of growth to hold. However, this and any other changed data inputs revises my 2022 spending forecast.

Examples of big changes since initial forecast:

Manufacturing spending has increased so much in Jan-Feb, (up 35% ytd) that even if the next 10 months finish flat year/year, Mnfg will still finish up 5% for 2022.

Residential new starts for the latest 3 mo, Dec-Jan-Feb, avg is as high as any quarter last year. Nearly all of this spending occurs in 2022.

Construction buildings cost inflation over the last 4 years is up 25%. Labor cost, wages up 15% & productivity down 7%, is up 22%. But labor is 35% of total building cost so 22% x 35% = labor is 8% of that total 25% building cost inflation. Fully 1/3 of construction inflation over last 4 years went into workers pockets.

Construction Forecast 2022 – Jan22

Spending and Volume updated 1-4-22. Jobs updated 1-7-22

1-28-22 See the bottom of this post for a link to download a PDF of the complete article.

See the link at end for full report updated 2-11-22 to include year-end data.

5-6-22 The complete article has been updated and is here

Construction Forecast 2022 Update 5-6-22

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

New Construction Starts for 2022, as reported by Dodge Data and Analytics, are forecast up +5% total for the year. Residential starts will be up +2%, but that is on top of a +33% gain over the previous two years. Nonresidential Bldgs starts will be up +8%, just recovering to pre-pandemic levels. Nonbuilding starts are forecast up +8%, still -6% below 2019.

Construction Backlog leading into Jan 2022 vs Jan 2021 is up only +1%, but it’s still down 8% vs Jan 2020. Residential backlog is up +21%, but Nonresidential Bldgs backlog is up only +2%, still down -14% from the start of 2020 and Non-Building backlog is down -8% yoy, now -17% below the start of 2020.

Nonresidential Bldgs starting backlog for 2022 is still down -14% from the start of 2020 and Non-Building backlog is now -17% lower than the start of 2020. That could weigh on spending for several years.

(Construction Analytics measures Backlog at the start of the year vs backlog at the start of the previous year. This is different than the ABC Backlog indicator, which measures current month’s backlog compared to previous year’s total revenue).

Backlog at the beginning of the year or new starts within the year does not give an indication of what direction spending will take within the year. Backlog is increasing if new starts during the year is greater than spending during the year. An increase in backlog could immediately increase the level of monthly spending activity, or it could maintain a level rate of market activity, but spread over a longer duration. In this case, there is some of both in the forecast. It takes several years for all the starts in a year to be completed. Cash flow shows the spending over time.

Spending for 2021, with 11 months actual in year-to-date, is forecast up +7.9%. However, that can be misleading. Residential spending for 2021 is up 22% while Nonresidential Bldgs is down -5% and Non-Bldg is down -1%.

In almost every data release this year, Census has revised the previous month upwards. That has been adding to my forecast throughout the year.

Spending includes inflation which does not add to the volume of work.

My current and predicted Inflation rates:

  • 2020 Residential 5%, Nonres Bldgs 4.8%, Nonbldg Infra Avg 4.5%
  • 2021 Residential 14.2%, Nonres Bldgs 6.8%, Nonbldg Infra Avg 7.8%
  • 2022 Residential 7%, Nonres Bldgs 4.5%, Nonbldg Infra Avg 3.7%
  • There is greater chance for rates to move up than down.

After adjusting for inflation, total volume in 2021 is down -2.5%. Residential volume for 2021 is up +7.4% while Nonresidential Bldgs volume is down -11% and Non-Bldg volume is down -8.1%.

Volume declines should lead to lower inflation as firms compete for fewer new projects. However, if jobs growth continues while volume declines, then productivity continues to decline and that will add to labor cost inflation. Since 2010, Construction Spending is up over 100%, but after adjusting for inflation, Volume is up only 28%. Jobs are up 41%.

Jobs average over the year 2021 increased +2.3%. Volume was down -2.5%

Spending Forecast for 2022 is expected to increase +3.0%. Residential spending for 2022 is forecast up +5.7%. Nonresidential Bldgs forecast is up +3.5%. Non-Bldg forecast is down -3.6%.

Some of the biggest impacts to nonresidential buildings spending are: Warehouses, 60% of Comm/Retail, new starts are up 50% since Jan 2020. Comm/Retail could post the largest gains in 2022 nonres bldgs spending. Lodging starts even with 24% growth in 2022, are still down 50% from Jan 2020. Manufacturing starts dropped over 50% in 2020 but gained nearly all of that back in 2021. Manufacturing spending in 2022 should return to the level of 2019.

Many construction firms judge their backlog growth by the remaining estimate to complete of all jobs under contract. The problem with that, for example, is that Nonresidential Buildings spending (revenues) are expected to grow +3.5% in 2022, but after adjusting for inflation the actual volume of work is down about -1%. By this method, in part, these firms are accounting for an increase in inflation dollars passing through their hands. Spending includes inflation, which does not add to the volume of work.

Total volume for 2022 is forecast down -2.5%. After adjusting for inflation, Residential volume for 2022 is forecast down -1%. Nonresidential Bldgs volume is also forecast down -1% and Non-Bldg volume is forecast down -7%.

The Non-Building Infrastructure spending forecast for 2022 is more affected by a drop of -17% in starts in 2020 (2020 starts would have generated 30% of 2022 spending) than by any increase in starts in 2022 (which would generate only 15% of 2022 spending).

Non-building construction starts recorded 18 months (from April 2020 through September 2021) averaging 16% below the Q3’19-Q4’19 average of starts. Non-building Infrastructure Backlog beginning 2022 is down -17% from Jan 2020, the largest two-year drop on record. Non-building Infrastructure Spending has declined in 15 of the last 21 months.

Why is spending still down in Non-building? Here’s a few notes on construction starts that drive spending.

Power starts for the 3yr period 2020-2022, even with 11% growth in 2022, are expected to average 33% lower compared to 2017-2019. Transportation starts for the 3yr period 2020-2022 are expected to average 40% lower compared to 2017-2019. These two make up 50% of the Non-bldg sector and we could see spending remain depressed in both for the next two years.

Highway starts through 2020 are up 15% in 3 years. But spending in 2019 through 2021 has remained constant. This might be an example of adding new starts but it doesn’t show in spending because work is spread out over many years, or this could be indicating no real change in volume but a change in share of total market being captured in the starts.

On average about 20% of new nonresidential buildings construction starts gets spent within the year started, 50% is spent in the next year and 30% is spent in future years. (For residential the spending curve is more like 70%-30%).

Nonresidential Buildings construction starts recorded 12 consecutive months (from April 2020 through March 2021) at 20% or more below the Q4’19-Q1’20 average of starts. Nonres Bldgs spending has posted 17 of the last 21 months down and is still down 13% from Feb 2020.

Construction Analytics has been forecasting these drops in Nonresidential spending since August of 2020.

In constant (inflation adjusted) dollars, as of Nov. 2021, Nonres Bldgs spending is 20% below the Feb 2020 peak. The bottom is expected in mid-2022.

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

If new construction starts in 2022 post an add of $100 billion in new starts for infrastructure, only about $20 billion of that would get put-in-place in 2022. The cash flow schedule for that $100 bil of new starts would extend out over 3 or 4 years. Most of that $100 bil would get spent in 2023 and 2024.

Current Final Demand pricing for Nonres Bldgs and Trades is highest on record. Prices support high inflation this year and next. Do not expect inflation to turn to deflation in 2022 or any time in the near future. The only time in 50 years that construction experienced deflation was in the period 2008 to 2011. At that time conditions were 10x worse than now.

1-7-22 Construction Jobs growth

2021 Dec21 vs Dec20 Rsdn+75k, Nonres Bldgs +61k, Nonbldg +24k

but annual averages tell a much different story

AVG21 vs AVG20 Rsdn+153k(+5.3%), Nonres Bldgs +28k(+0.8%), Nonbldg +9k(+0.9%)

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

Jobs average over the year 2021 increased +2.3%. After adjusting for inflation, total volume in 2021 is down -2.5%. Residential volume for 2021 is up +7.4% while Nonresidential Bldgs volume is down -11% and Non-Bldg volume is down -8.1%.

If jobs are increasing faster than volume of work, productivity is declining. For example, nonres bdgs volume declined 11%, but nonres bldgs jobs increase 0.8%. That’s a 12% swing in productivity. Since labor is about 35% of the cost of a project, if productivity declines by 12% Then inflation rises by 12% x 35% = 4%. The most recent year drop in volume, while jobs increased, added 4% to nonres bldgs inflation for the year.

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

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

Looking at 2021 vs 2019, in the past 2 years, production jobs decreased by -1.5%, but supervisory jobs increased +1.7%. During this period spending increased +3.5%, but after adjusting for inflation, volume declined -9%.

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

Jobs and Volume of work growth should move in tandem.

If jobs grow faster than volume, productivity is declining. When these plot lines grow wider apart with jobs on top, that is a sign of productivity decline. That’s part of inflation.

And finally, here’s one of the markers I use to check my forecast modeling, my forecasting performance tracking index. The light plot line is forecast predicted from my modeling. The dark plot line is actual construction spending. Even after any separation in the indices, the plots should move at the same slope. Almost without fail, the forecast model, estimated spending from cashflow, predicts the changes in direction of actual spending.

See the full report updated 2-11-22 to include year-end data.

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