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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.

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

 

Construction Forecast Update 10-16-20

UPDATES to Construction Outlook 10-16-20 based on

  • Forecast includes US Census Aug 2020 year-to-date spending 10-1-20
  • Forecast includes Dodge September construction starts 10-15-20
  • Actual Jobs data includes BLS Jobs to Sept (12th) issued 10-2-20

This update accompanies pandemic-13-midyear-construction-outlook

Total construction starts year-to-date for 9 months through September are down 14%. Total starts have registered down -14% to -15% YTD for the last four months.

Residential new starts are down year-to-date only 1% from 2019. However, the last three months total residential starts posted the 2nd highest 3mo total in 15 years. The highest 3mo total since 2005 was for the period Dec’19-Jan-Feb’20. So two of the best 3mo periods of new residential construction starts in the last 15 years have occurred in 2020.

Nonresidential buildings starts are down 26% and non-building infrastructure starts are down 18%.

This chart shows a comparison of the cash flows predicted from new all construction starts vs the actual spending. Over time, the cash flows do a very good job of predicting where spending is headed. Note the divergence of residential in Jun-Jul-Aug 2020. Actual spending finished on avg 3%/mo higher than predicted. In 3 months the actual spending pushed 10% higher than predicted. This may be a reflection of forecasting too high an amount for delays and cancelations.

Starts CF 2015-2022 10-16-20

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.

Construction jobs gained slightly in Sept, but are still down 5% (400,000) from Feb peak. Construction may experience only slight jobs improvement in 2020 (residential spending is increasing), but nonresidential buildings declines through 2021 will drive construction jobs lower over next 18 months.

Jobs are supported by growth in construction volume. We will not see construction volume return to Feb 2020 level in the next three years. This time next year, volume will be 5% lower than today, 14% below the Feb 2020 level.

This is why the construction industry will have a hard time justifying growth in jobs. After 12 years of fairly even growth in jobs vs volume, that relation broke in 2018. Volume is currently at a 5-year low, well below jobs. Declining work volume is indicating by this time next year we may be down 600,000 jobs below the Feb 2020 high.

Jobs vs Volume 2015-Jan 2022 dashed 10-16-20

The following table shows which markets have the largest (and smallest) changes in new construction starts. With the exception of residential, due to longer durations, spending in all other markets is most affected by a decline in new starts, not in this year, but in years following. Residential spending hit bottom in May, will post an increase in 2020. Nonres Bldgs spending won’t hit bottom until 2022.

A recent AGC survey of construction firms asked the question, How long do you think it will be before you recover back to pre-Covid? The survey offered “longer than 6 months” as an answer choice. My current forecast is longer than 6 years.

Some effects have not even begun to show up in the data. A 20% decline in new nonres bldgs starts in 2020 means a huge decline in spending and jobs in 2021-2022. How long before construction returns to the level it was at in Feb? 6 to 8 years.

Many nonresidential buildings have durations that last 24 to 36 months, with peak spending 12 to 18 months from now. With the drop in new starts this year, that peak spending 12 to 18 months from now will be impacted. Some nonbuilding markets have project durations that go out 5 or 6 years, so the impact of a decline in 2020 starts may be felt at least until 2025.

If construction starts in 2020 do not outperform 2020 construction spending, then starting backlog Jan. 1, 2021 will be lower. My current forecast (starts down 11%) is indicating 2021 starting backlog will be down by almost 10%. Spending declines into 2021 and remains depressed through 2023.

The last time starting backlog decreased was 2011. Starting backlog will fall 10% in 2021 and 2% in 2022. Except for residential, about 80% of annual spending comes from starting backlog.

The next table shows spending year-to-date through August (released 10-1-20) and the spending forecast for the year. 2nd quarter construction spending activity low-point is down only 5.5% from the Feb peak. Construction spending in August YTD is up 4.2%.

Residential ytd is up 7.2%. Single Family is +3.0%, multifamily is +2.7% and renovations is Reno +15.6%. Nonresidential buildings ytd is down -0.3% and Nonbuilding Infrastructure ytd is +5.8%.

Take note here, the YTD spending for Nonresidential Buildings is currently -0.3% and my 2020 forecast shows Nonres Bldgs ending the year down -2.6%. Some forecasters are predicting spending for nonresidential buildings will end the year down much worse than -2.6% compared to 2019.

With only 4 months remaining, in order for Nonres Bldgs spending to finish down even -5%, the monthly rate of spending compared to 2019 would need to drop to -14%/mo for each of the remaining 4 months of 2020. (8mo x avg -0.3% + 4 mo x avg -14%) / 12mo = -5% total for the year. To end the year down -8%, nonres bldgs spending for the next 4 months would need to come in 25% lower than 2019. That’s “Great Recession” territory.

How unlikely is this to occur? The greatest monthly declines in 2020 so far are July and August in which the monthly rate of spending dropped -3% to -4% compared to same month 2019. Essentially, for nonresidential buildings spending to end the year down -5%, the bottom would need to drop out of the nonresidential markets, beginning back on Sept 1 and continuing for the final 4 months of the year.

Not sayin’ it can’t happen. This is 2020!

2020 Construction Forecast Briefs

2020 Construction Forecast Briefs

12-23-19 updated 1-4-20

updated 1-4-20 – The construction spending forecast for 2019 is revised up to $1,304 billion, still a decrease of 0.2% vs 2018. Almost all of the revision up is residential spending that was added in Oct and Sept Census spending revisions released 1-3-20.

The forecast for 2020 construction spending is $1,360 billion, up 4.5% over 2019.

Total Spending increased 9%/yr. from 2012 to 2016, then in 2017 and 2018 slowed to 4%/yr. Spending declined <1% in 2019 and is forecast up 3% to 4% for both 2020 and 2021. 

New construction starts, as reported by Dodge Data and Analytics, increased 7%/year in 2016 and 2017, but only 3% in 2018. Starts are forecast to decline slightly in 2019 and 2020.

New construction starts data captures a share of the total market or a portion of all construction spending, on average about 60% of all construction. In this analysis every market is adjusted by its own individual market share factor.

Applying the market share factors, starts are forecast up slightly in both 2019 and 2020.

Backlog reaches a post-recession high starting 2020, up 20% from 2017, up 100% from 2013. Starts and backlog growth are forecast to remain below 3%/year gain or decline over the next few years. Total spending has only slight gains in 2021 and 2022.

Backlog at the beginning of the year or new starts within the year does not give an indication of what spending will be like within the year. Backlog increases if new starts during the year is greater than spending during the year. An increase in backlog could be a level rate of market activity for a longer duration. It takes several years for all the starts in a year to be completed. Cash flow shows the spending over time. 

The best indicator of future construction activity is the sum of the projected cash flow generated by all the construction starts that have been recorded.

plots updated 1-4-20

Spending cash flow predicted from Dodge Starts and construction spending to date.

Starts CF 2015-2022 1-18-20

A what if scenario in which new construction starts drop by 10%:

On average about 20% of new nonresidential 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%). If new starts drop by 10% this year, that has only a -2% impact on total nonresidential buildings spending for this year. It would be -5% next year, -3% after. If starts drop a second year, the same impacts occur, shifted one year out, and the total impact for both years is added.

Only about 30% of residential spending within the year comes from backlog and 70% from new starts. If residential new starts drop 10% that impacts total residential spending by 7% in that year.

Nonresidential Buildings starts (excluding Terminals) have reached a new high every year since 2009, but the last three years starts are up only 2% to 3%/year. Every market posted increases in 2017 and 2018. Only Commercial/Retail and Amusement/Recreation declined in 2019. Backlog for Office Buildings, which includes data centers, is up 100%+ since 2015. Spending is still up 4% in 2020 but then with the slowdown in starts forecast in 2020, backlog growth stalls and spending slows in 2021-2022.

Nonresidential buildings markets advancing in 2020-2021 are Educational, Healthcare, Office and Manufacturing. Markets declining are Amusement/Recreation, Commercial/Retail and Lodging.

Non-building Infrastructure starts (including Terminals), up 4% in 2019, are at an all-time high. The two markets with the largest share of new starts are Highway/Bridge and Transportation. Transportation terminals and rail starts are up 30% in the last three years, but backlog has nearly doubled because a large portion of those starts is very long duration projects. Starts are forecast up only 1% in 2020 but backlog peaks in 2021. Spending increases are in the 6% to 8% range at least for the next two years.

Spending in recent years has been boosted by Transportation terminals, Highway and Public Works projects. Power is flat or down slightly.

Residential starts averaged 19%/year growth from 2012 to 2016 but slowed to 5%/year for 2017 and 2018. Starts declined in 2019 and are forecast to decline again in 2020.

The outlook for residential construction spending has improved slightly. Previous forecast had residential spending in 2019 down 6% and 2020 up only 2%. That’s been revised to now forecast 2019 down 4.5% and 2020 up 5%. Spending holds steady in 2021.

If spending is increasing 3%/year at a time when inflation is 5%/year, then real volume is declining. In the last two years, spending increased only 3%, but construction inflation totaled 9%, therefore

in two years, real volume declined by 6%, yet jobs increased by 7.5%.

Since early 2018, jobs have been increasing while construction volume is declining. The volume of work in the last two years does not support jobs growth.

Volume, spending adjusted for inflation in Constant 2017$

Spend Sector 2015-2021 1-4-20.JPG

Nonresidential Buildings will post declines in volume in 2020 & 2021. Residential volume gains 1% in 2020 but slips again in 2021. Non-building Infrastructure will increase volume about 3%/year. Overall, total construction volume declined in 4 of the last 6 quarters and is forecast to drop slightly in 2 or 3 quarters in 2020.

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

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.

Jobs vs Volume growth set to base year 2011

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

Average long-term nonresidential buildings inflation excluding recession years is 4.2%.

Average long-term (30 years) nonresidential construction cost inflation is 3.5% even with any/all recession years included.

Nonresidential buildings cost inflation for 2018 and 2019 averaged 5%. It’s predicted closer to 4.5% for 2020 and 4% for 2021.

Residential buildings cost inflation for 2018 and 2019 averaged 4%. It’s predicted at 3.75% for 2020 and 2021.

BCI 2005-2022 12-9-19

 

For more on the 2020 Forecast see these

2020 Construction Spending Increases, but Volume is Down

Expect Construction Jobs Growth to Slow in 2020

2020 Construction Spending Increases, but Volume is Down

12-10-19 updated 1-4-20

2020 Construction Forecast

Construction Spending for 2019 finishes flat for Nonresidential Buildings, Up 7% for Non-building Infrastructure and Down 5% for Residential.

Spending UNadjusted for inflation.

Spend Sector 2015-2021 1-5-20

After adjusting for inflation, we see that real construction volume is down. Only Non-building Infrastructure realizes gains in 2019 & 2020. Nonresidential Buildings Volume has been up and down since Q1 2017. Residential volume has been declining since early 2018.

Volume, spending adjusted for inflation in Constant 2017$

Spend Sector 2015-2021 1-4-20

I’m predicting Nonresidential Buildings will post declines in volume in 2020 & 2021. Residential gains 1% in 2020 but slips again in 2021. Non-building Infrastructure will increase at about 3%/year. Overall, total construction volume declined in 4 of the last 6 quarters and is forecast to drop slightly in 2 or 3 quarters in 2020.

Volume declines drive labor to slower growth. We had 6 years of 250,000-300,000 annual growth. Jobs will increase only 150,000 in 2019. In 2020, it could be lower to 100,000.

After 2006, and all the way to 2017, jobs and volume growth were pretty equal. Since 2017 there is a divergence forming. That can’t be sustained. 

Jobs vs Volume growth set to base 2006

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

See the Jobs analysis here Expect Construction Jobs Growth to Slow in 2020

The plot below shows the predicted spending from modeling Dodge data new construction starts. Overlaying this plot is the actual census spending. You can see the actual value follows pretty closely to the predicted. None of this data is adjusted for inflation.

Spending predicted from Dodge Starts and actual spending to date.

Starts CF 2015-2022 1-18-20

Healthcare and Office are strong markets in 2020, as well as Highway, Transportation and Public Works. Backlog is strongest for Non-building Infrastructure leading into 2021. In the three years since 2017, backlog in Transportation is up 80%, Environmental Public Works up 40%. Within nonresidential buildings, Office backlog is up 60%, Educational is up 15% and Healthcare up 25%. Commercial Retail is the only market with a decline in backlog over this  three year period, down 15%.

Table of Spending by Market Type. updated 1-4-20

Spend Forecast 2018-2022 1-4-20

A reminder, You can’t interpret new construction starts directly to backlog or spending. Starts growth is one thing, but starts data requires cash flow modeling to get spending. Why are Transportation starts for 2018+2019 down 35% but both 2019 and 2020 spending are up? Because in 2017, the year before the data in this table, starts were up 75% and much of that was very long duration work, some that potentially has peak spending 3 to 4 years out, so is still adding a boost to 2020 spending and backlog.

Starts Backlog Spending 11-19-19 VG HW slide

 

For more on the 2020 Forecast see these:

2020 Construction Forecast Briefs

Expect Construction Jobs Growth to Slow in 2020

 

 

 

 

Construction Starts > Cashflow > Backlog > Spending

The path from construction starts to spending is not direct and not quite as simple as you might think. Spending is the market activity measure that drives all construction economics, so that’s where we need to get too. With an appropriate modeling technique we can get from new starts to predicted spending in a few steps.

Starts CF 2015-2020 11-27-19

New Construction Starts (construction starts referred to here is Dodge Data & Analytics New Construction Starts) is excellent data for forecasting. The following forecast is entirely developed from starts data. No actual spending is incorporated into this forecast. The purpose is to show that using the data properly can produce an accurate forecast.

The starts data is a survey. As in any survey, starts represents a portion of new construction activity. Study shows the survey size varies with each market from about 40% to 70% of actual. Starts data captures a share of the total market or a portion of all construction, on average about 60% of all construction.

The easiest way to understand this is to compare total annual construction starts to total annual spending. National construction starts from 2016 to 2019 range from $750 billion/year to $800 billion/year, while spending in this period ranges from $1,200 billion/year to $1,300 billion/year. From this we see starts data captures a share of about 60% of the total construction market.

The total starts survey averages about 60% of the actual market. In this analysis every market is adjusted by its own individual market share factor. The adjusted starts represent the full amount of starts that would generate the full amount of spending.

To predict spending activity from new construction starts, the starts data must be spread over time using appropriate cash flow curves. On average about 20% of new construction starts gets spent within the year started, 50% is spent in the next year and 30% is spent in years three and four. The cash flow curves used in this model are specific to each market type and can vary from the average. 

Applying a market survey factor to develop full magnitude of spending and an expected duration for all starts, depending on market type, to produce a forecast cash flow from starts data, the predicted pattern of spending is developed. The factors have been shown to produce a reliable prediction of total future market activity.

Forecast Summary Table National 10-14-19

Backlog at the beginning of the year or new starts within the year does not give an indication of spending within the year. New starts within the year could contribute spending spread out over several years. Total cash flow in the year, or spending, could include cash flow from projects that started or entered backlog years ago.

Backlog increases if new starts during the year is greater than spending during the year. However, an increase in backlog does not necessarily indicate there will be an increase in market activity. An increase in backlog could represent a level rate of market activity, but for a longer duration.

Cash flow provides the best indicator of how much and when spending will occur. Cash flow from all previous starts gives a prediction of how spending will change monthly from all projects in backlog. Cash flow totals of all jobs can vary considerably from month to month, are not only driven by new jobs starting but also old jobs ending, and are heavily dependent on the type, size and duration of jobs.

Total of all national construction starts increased every year since 2008. New starts slowed to +2% in 2018 and are forecast at a potential decline of 0.2% in 2019. Backlog is still up leading into 2020 but after that starts and backlog are forecast to remain flat or decline over the next few years. Total spending declines in 2022. However, as the next tables will show, work distribution is uneven with residential declining and nonresidential up.

Forecast Total All Markets Table National 10-14-19

Nonresidential Buildings starts (excluding Terminals) reached a new high every year since 2009. The last three years starts are up 3% to 4% per year. Every market posted increases in 2017 and 2018. Only Commercial/Retail declined in 2019. The largest increases over the last two years were Educational and Office Buildings. Spending is still strong in 2020 but then with the slowdown in starts forecast in 2020, backlog growth stalls and spending slows in 2021-2022.

75%-80% of all Nonresidential Buildings spending within the year will be generated from projects that were booked in starting backlog at the beginning of the year.

CF Forecast NonResidential Table National 10-14-19

Nonbuilding Infrastructure markets total spending amounts to only about 70% of nonresidential buildings markets. The largest infrastructure markets are Highway/Bridge and Power but the largest increases in new starts recently are in Transportation (including all terminals) and Environmental Public Works. Transportation starts are up 25% in the last last three years and backlog to start 2020 is up 80%. Public Works starts are up 22% and backlog is up 30%

Nonbuilding Infrastructure starts can be erratic with a long pattern of up then down years. Starts (including Terminals) gained only 2% in 2019 but that is only low because Power, the largest market overall saw starts decline by 7%. Total infrastructure starts are at an all-time high.

CF Forecast NonBuilding Table National 10-14-19

Infrastructure backlog peaks in 2020 and remains high into 2021. Spending increases are in the 6% to 8% range at least for the next two years. Infrastructure projects typically have the longest duration. Projects contribute spending sometimes up to 5 or 6 years. The largest spending increases in 2020 are in Transportation and Highway projects.

The Residential table shows that most of the spending in any year is cash flow from new starts. For short duration residential spending, single-family residential and renovations work, approximately 75% of the spending occurs in the year of the starts and 20% in the following year.

Forecast Residential Table National 10-14-19

For long duration residential spending, typical of multifamily residential, approximately 50%-55% of the spending occurs in the year of the start, 35%-40% in the next year and only 5%-10% occurs two years out.

Only 25% (for short duration SF and Reno) to 50% (for longer duration MF) residential spending within the year comes from work that was booked in backlog at the beginning of the year. The performance of residential spending in the year is very much dependent on new starts.

The level of activity has a direct impact on inflation. When the activity level is low, contractors are all competing for a smaller amount of work and therefore they may reduce bids. When activity is high, there is a greater opportunity to bid on more work and bids can be higher.

Residential construction saw a slowdown in inflation to only +3.5% in 2015. However, the average inflation for six years from 2013 to 2018 was 5.5%. It peaked at 8% in 2013. Residential construction spending dropped an unexpected 6% in 2019 and after adjusting for inflation that is a 10% decline in construction volume. Typically, large declines in volume are accompanied by declines in inflation. National average residential construction inflation for 2019 is now at 3.8%. 2020 is forecast at 3.75%.

Nonresidential Buildings indices have averaged 4.4% over the last five years and have reached over 5% in the last three years. But spending slowed dramatically in 2019. This forecast indicates spending in most nonresidential buildings markets will gain little in 2019, the slowest rate of growth post-recession. However, new starts in 2018 and 2019 boosted backlog and 2020 spending will post the strongest gains in four years. Strong gains in spending historically has led to accelerated inflation. National average nonresidential buildings construction inflation for 2019 is now at 4.8%. 2020 is forecast at 4.2%.

Construction Statistics – Behind The Headlines

Examples of how commonly reported construction data can often be misused – Construction Spending and Construction Starts

 

Construction Grew $41 billion, 3.3%, from 2017 to 2018

An increase in construction spending is often referred to as growth for the industry, but that is incorrect. Construction spending measures the change in the dollar value of work performed, not the volume of work performed.

Crate of Apples

The difference between spending (or revenue) and volume can be explained by a simple example, the Crate of Apples. A farm stand sold a crate of apples last year for $100. Costs have gone up. Today the same size crate of apples sells for $110. Farm stand revenues increased 10%, but the amount of business volume did not increase. Volume of sales is still one crate of apples. All the increase in revenue was inflation.

The $41 billion increase in construction spending from $1.266 trillion in 2017 to $1.307 trillion in 2018 is a 3.3% increase. However, construction inflation for that period averaged 4.7%. Construction inflation adds only cost, not volume, to the amount of work. Construction spending is measured in current dollars, actual dollars spent within the year in the value that year. Construction volume is measured in constant dollars, adjusted for inflation, so any and all years can be compared to each other.

Real construction volume adjusted for inflation actually decreased 1.4% from 2017 to 2018.

Total Construction volume, after accounting for inflation, has been down for five of the last six quarters. Construction volume peaked from Q1 2017 to Q1 2018, is now down 6% from the 2018 peak.

Spend current vs constant 2019 10-3-19

Construction volume is not directly reported. It is not a commonly referenced industry measure reported in the news. But it is a more important indicator of activity in the industry than spending. Volume is found only through analysis of spending and inflation data.

Another common misrepresentation using spending data relates to jobs growth. Jobs growth is often compared to spending growth where a 3% to 4% increase in jobs from year to year is substantiated if we have a similar 3% to 4% growth in spending. However, current $ spending is not yet adjusted for inflation and does not represent growth in real volume of work. Jobs must be compared to volume. Real volume increases are represented by constant $, or construction spending adjusted for inflation.

In the last 2 years jobs have increased by about 8% but real construction volume has decreased by about 6%. In recent years, construction volume has not supported jobs growth.

Jobs vs Volume 1991-2019 10-3-19

 

Construction Starts Predict Changes in Spending

Two very important criteria must be known about new construction starts in order to properly predict spending.

1st – To predict spending from new starts, the starts data must be spread over time using an appropriate cash flow curve. A simple illustrative spending pattern for nonresidential buildings starts, or a typical cash flow curve, for total starts within a year is: 20% of the revenue gets spent in the 1st year, 50% in the 2nd year and 30% in the 3rd year. This shows predicting spending in any given year is dependent on several previous years of starts.

Starts vs Spending Cash Flow Illustrated 10-5-19

Multi-billion $ highway projects, manufacturing facilities, power projects and transportation terminals often have much longer duration cash flow curves. In other words, if your intent is to predict construction spending in 2019, you need to know what starts were at a minimum in 2017 and 2018, and in many cases back to 2016 or even 2015.

Starts spread over time with cash flow curves predict spending.

Starts CF 2015-2020 11-27-19

2nd – For new construction starts survey sample to be used to compare to itself from year to year to predict growth in spending, sample size must be known. Starts data captures a share of the total market or a portion of all construction, on average about 60% of all construction. The easiest way to see this is compare total construction starts to total spending. Starts from 2016 to 2019 range from $750 billion to $800 billion while spending in those years ranges from $1,200 billion to $1,300 billion. From this we see starts capture a share of the total market. Any time a survey of a total population is used to forecast the total, the survey share of total must be considered.  If sample size is not constant, the apparent growth in starts does not all reflect real growth in spending.

Amusement/Recreation is an example that shows starts that generate a predicted cash flow pretty well balanced with actual spending from year to year. The share of starts in the survey is fairly consistent never varying from 63% to 66% from year to year.

Starts SHARE Amuse 10-5-19

Office provides an example of variation in sample share of total. Starts generate predicted cash flow that increased substantially from 49% to 57% and remained higher compared to actual spending.

Starts SHARE Office 10-5-19

Office starts increased from $21 billion in 2013 to $50 billion in 2019. This data generates the predicted cash flow that is compared to actual spending. To predict total spending from unadjusted starts, unadjusted starts CF$ are factored up (divided by) share of total market. If the share of market captured in the survey remained constant then the predicted spending would remain close to 50%. 

CF$ Predicted/Actual shows that Cash Flow Share of actual spending was 48%-50% for several years but then jumped to 56%-57%. The predicted cash flow generated from the increase in starts is not entirely representative of an increase in spending but represents the combined value of the expected increase in spending and an increase in share of market data captured.

Starts cash flow and starts survey share of total spending are never directly known or published. These factors are found only through analysis of the data.

The Educational market data shows a similar situation as Office data. Starts generate predicted cash flow that increased substantially compared to actual spending.

Starts SHARE Educat 10-5-19

Starts data generate predicted cash flow to forecast spending. This requires tracking share of total market captured in the starts survey data to account for any growth in the market share captured vs growth in predicted spending.

 

 

Caution Reading the Recent 2018 Construction Spending $

3-19-19

Construction Spending for Jan was just released March 13th at $1.287 trillion saar, up 1.3% from Dec. But…

the most notable numbers in this March report are BIG REVISIONS DOWNWARD TO NOV (-2.3%) AND DEC (-2.2%), particularly to residential.

Residential revisions Nov -3.9%, Dec -4.4%.

Nonresidential revised down -0.8% in both Nov & Dec.

2018 total spending currently at $1.293 trillion, 2% below expected.

If these residential reports are correct, we have been in a residential construction spending downturn, now down 12% since last May. I predict these numbers are suspect.

Current total residential spending for 2018 in this most recent report is $545 billion, up 2.6% from 2017. But after deducting 4.4% residential inflation, that means real residential construction volume would be DOWN -1.8% for 2018. Yet, new starts in 2018 were up 6% and new residential jobs increased 3.5%.

However, in 2018 residential spending, the monthly variances from statistical rates of spending look very similar to 2006, up thru May then down 15% to year end.

Cash flow models of construction starts data from Dodge Data for residential spending spread over time indicate residential spending should be UP 3% since May, not down!

Just a reminder, we had a huge upward revision to 2015 residential spending data in July 2016. The 2018 data gets a big revision on July 1, 2019.

The monthly spending data gets revised three times after the 1st release. In the mean time, it can be compared to the statistical averages to determine if 1st reports, or even 2nd reports of spending are in line with expectations. The current Nov and Dec residential construction spending data varies from the statistical average by 3 to 4 standard deviations. That’s highly unusual!

To understand just how unusual that is, let’s compare to how rare any monthly spending varies by 2 standard deviations (StdDev) from the statistical monthly average:

Non-Builiding Infrastructure has varied by 2 StdDev only 5 times in 18 years, only once in the last 15 years, even including recessionary years.

Excluding recessionary years, Nonresidential Buildings varied by more than 2 StdDev  only 12 times in 16 years and only 4 times in the last 8 years.

In both those data sets above, only twice ever in over 400 total months of data was the variance greater than 2.5 StdDev.

Excluding recessionary years, Residential Building monthly spending exceeded 2 StdDev from the average only 10 times in 14 years, all 10 times were in the last 8 years.

Recessionary years really skew the data. Non-building Infrastructure was the only sector not affected by the recession like all other construction. Residential spending was affected the most. In the four residential recessionary years, 2006-2009, residential monthly spending (in 48 months) exceeded 2 StdDev 28 times, 19 of those times 3 StdDev or greater.

In the residential data set, 5 of the 10 non-recessionary variances over 2 StdDev were in 2018. That simply does not occur in the historical data. That’s like having your teenage son grow an inch every year from 13 to 16 but then shrinking 2 inches in year 17. The average of those 5 unusual months in 2018 was 3.5 StdDev from the statistical average, with Nov and Dec posting the greatest variances since 2009.

The only time we’ve ever seen data like that was within the recession years of 2006-2009. So, either the 2018 residential data is foretelling the beginning of another recession, or the data, particularly the Nov and Dec data, will be subject to significant revisions, in this case upward.

Starts and cash flow expectations seem to indicate the 2018 data is currently being reported too low. I expect 2018 residential data will be revised up by $10bil to $15bil. We may not have that information until July 1, 2019.

 

 

2019 Construction Economic Forecast – Nonresidential – Dec 2018

Construction Analytics 2019 Construction Economic Forecast – Nonresidential

This Dec. 2018 Construction Economic Forecast analysis addresses New Construction Starts, Inflation, Cash Flow or distribution of construction work over time, Annual Backlog and Spending. New Starts is new work entering Backlog. Cash Flow gives the pattern of Spending. Inflation differentiates between Revenue and Volume. Backlog, which can be referenced to assess expected future Volume and Spending, provides an indication of when Volume occurs or in what year Revenues occur. Starts data is from Dodge Data & Analytics. Spending data is from the U.S. Census Bureau. Jobs data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Inflation data is from the source labeled. Cash flow, Backlog and Inflation forecast data are developed internally. All data in this report is national level data. All forecast data is by Construction Analytics.

NOTE 12-6-18: Dodge Data and Analytics new construction starts for October, released 11-20-18, reached the 2nd highest seasonally adjusted annual rate ever, 2nd only to June 2018.  Most spending from these new starts will occur in 2020. This will increase the 2020 nonresidential buildings spending forecast, with the largest increase in manufacturing. Construction Starts for October, the Dodge end-of-year report and October spending, all released between 11-21-18 and 12-3-18 significantly alter this analysis. The biggest changes reduced residential spending for the next two years.  See the 2019 Construction Economic Forecast – Summary for the residential analysis.

This analysis was edited 12-6-18 to include that most recent starts data and the U S Census October spending data.

For a fully formatted PDF of this Nonresidential report 2019 Construct Econ Forecast – NONRES – Dec 2018 RVSD 12-6-18

Link to 2019 Construction Economic Forecast – Summary

Summary

Total of All construction spending is forecast to increase 6% to $1.321 trillion in 2018 and 1.5% to $1.341 trillion in 2019. Spending in 2020 is forecast to reach $1.426 trillion.

01e summary

Nonresidential Buildings construction spending is forecast to increase 6% to $444 billion in 2018, 0% to $443 billion in 2019 and 9% to $482 billion in 2020. The forecast for 2019 will be supported by Office (which includes data centers) and Amusement/Recreation but there is downward pressure from slowdowns or timing of cash flow in Manufacturing, Lodging, Healthcare and Educational. Educational, Healthcare, Recreation, Office and Manufacturing all support growth in 2020.

Residential construction spending for 2018 was recently revised down and starts for 2019 are expected flat to down slightly. The forecast is now for an increase of 5.6% to $562 billion in 2018, 0.5% to $564 billion in 2019 and 2.3% to $577 billion in 2020. Although residential spending is still increasing, growth has slowed to less than inflation. Real volume after inflation is declining.

Nonbuilding Infrastructure construction spending is forecast to increase 7.2% to $316 billion in 2018, 5.7% to $334 billion in 2019 and 10.1% to $368 billion in 2020. Transportation spending provides strong growth for the next three years from record new starts in 2017 and the 2nd best year of starts in 2018. Public Works had strong growth in 2018 starts and Highway starts hit a new high in 2018.

27 sector plot for cover

In July of the following year the spending data for the previous two years gets revised. Those revisions are always up, although some markets may increase while others decrease. So, even though the current forecast for 2018 is $1,328 trillion, a gain of 6.5%, that will most likely increase.

Dodge Data construction starts are initially anticipated to finish 2018 flat compared to 2017. However, starts are always revised upward in the following year. I expect revisions will show 2018 starts increased by 4% over 2017. Even with revisions, 2018 starts will post the slowest growth since 2011. Starts increased 84% in the period 2012-2017, residential 150% and nonresidential buildings 80%. This forecast includes only a total of 10% growth for the 3-year period 2018-2020.

Starting backlog, currently at an all-time high, increased on average 10%/year the last three years. For 2019 starting backlog is forecast up 10% over 2018. 80% of all Nonresidential spending within the year will be generated from projects in starting backlog. Due to long duration jobs, 2019 nonresidential buildings starting backlog is up 50% in the last 4 years. Current indications are that 2019 backlog will be up 6%-8% across all sectors.

 

Construction Inflation Indices

Outside of recession years, nonresidential buildings construction spending year over year growth dropped below 4% only SIX times in 50 years. The long-term average inflation is 3.75%. Every year that spending dropped below 4% growth, nonresidential buildings real volume declined.

Construction Analytics Nonresidential buildings inflation forecast for 2018 is 4.9%. Current reliable inflation forecasts range from 4.7% to 5.6%. Inflation in this sector has been at 4% or higher the last four years.

Anticipate national average construction inflation for nonresidential buildings for 2018 and 2019, including steel tariff impact, of 4.25% to 5.5%, rather than the long-term growth average of 4%. Adjust for any other yet unknown tariffs that may hit after Jan 1, 2019.

In the following plot, Construction Analytics Building Cost Index annual percent change for nonresidential buildings is plotted as a line against a bar chart background of the range of all other nonresidential building inflation indices. Usually the lows are formed by market basket input indices while the highs are formed by other selling price indices.

02 inflation bars

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

These links point to comprehensive coverage of the topic inflation and are recommended reading.

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

Click Here for Cost Inflation Commentary – text on Current Inflation

 

New Construction Starts

All construction starts data in this report references Dodge Data & Analytics Starts Data.

For nonresidential buildings, approximately 20% of the spending occurs in the year started, 50% in the next year, 25% in the third year and only 5% in the fourth year or later year. This means that nonresidential spending growth in 2019 is still being affected by starts from 2016.

The following plot show the 3-month moving average and trend line of starts for Nonresidential Buildings. Starts can be erratic from month to month. The trend line gives a better impression of how starts impact spending. It is the rate of change in starts cash flows that provides a predicting tool for spending.

06 starts nonres bldgs

Starts are sometimes misinterpreted in common industry forecasting articles. Starts dollar values represent a survey of about 50% to 60% of industry activity, therefore Starts dollar values cannot ever be used directly to indicate the volume of spending. Also, Starts do not directly indicate changes in spending per month or per year. Only by including an expected duration for all Starts and producing a forecast Cash Flow from Starts data can the expected pattern of spending be developed. Finally, it is the rate of change in Starts Cash Flows that gives an indication of the rate of change in spending.

Starts is a survey sample of a portion of all construction, on average about 50% to 60% of all construction. This can introduce potential error when using starts to predict spending. In any survey, if sample size remains constant, let’s say at 50% of population, but survey response increases 5%/year, then output of the population should increase at 5%/year. However, if survey response increases at 5%/year but sample size is increasing at 3%/year then output of the population should increase at only 2%/year.

If starts survey sample size varies from year to year, it’s possible some of the anticipated spending growth reported by new starts may not represent growth in real volume of future work but could simply represent a change in sample size. Potential significant variations in sample size are seen in the data and may cause errors in the forecast. The detail of Education spending provides an example.

 

Starting Backlog

Nonresidential Buildings starting backlog at the beginning of 2018 reached an all-time high. For nonresidential buildings this backlog will contribute spending until the end of 2021. Starting Backlog for 2019 is forecast to increase 8%. For purposes of this analysis, I’ve set only moderate or low increases in starts for 2020 and 2021, so this forecast may hold down the future backlog and spending forecast. However, backlog leading into 2019 is up 70% in 5 years.

08e nonres bklg

Starting Backlog is the Estimate-to-Complete (ETC) value of all projects under contract at the beginning of a period. Projects in starting backlog could have started last month or last year or several years ago.

  • 75%-80% of all Nonresidential Buildings spending within the year will be generated from projects in starting backlog.
  • 80%-85% of all Non-Building Infrastructure spending within the year will be generated from projects in starting backlog.

09 start bklg plot

Non-building Infrastructure starting backlog at the beginning of 2018 reached an all-time high. Some of this is very long-term work that will contribute spending until the end of 2025. In fact, more than half of all spending in 2019 comes from projects that started prior to Jan 2018. 2019 Backlog is forecast to increase 10%. Backlog is up 45% in 5 years but is up 50% in just the last 3 years.

10e infra bklg

 

Cash Flow

Simply referencing total new starts or backlog does not give the complete picture of spending within the next calendar year. Projects, from start to completion, can have significantly different duration. An office building could have a duration of 18 to 24 months and a billion-dollar infrastructure project could have a duration of 3 to 4 years. New starts within any given year could contribute spending spread out over several years. Cash flow totals of all jobs can vary considerably from month to month, are not only driven by new jobs starting but also by old jobs ending, and are heavily dependent on the type, size and duration of jobs.

Although new nonresidential buildings starts increased only 1.6% in 2018 note that cash flow increases by almost 8% due to a very large increase from starting backlog. To a lesser extent the same thing happens in 2019.

Non-building infrastructure starts and cash flow follows a similar pattern. In 2018 and 2019 new starts decline moderately, spending from new starts declines substantially but starting backlog and spending from starting backlog increases are so strong that total cash flow within the year continues to increase.

 

 Nonresidential Buildings Spending

Construction spending is strongly influenced by the pattern of continuing or ending cash flows from the previous two to three years of construction starts. Current month/month, year/year or year-to-date trends in starts often do not indicate the immediate trend in spending.

Nonresidential Buildings construction spending is forecast to increase 5.8% to $444 billion in 2018, fall -0.2% to $443 billion in 2019 and climb 8.9% to $482 billion in 2020. Office (which includes data centers) and Amusement/Rec support the 2019 forecast but there is downward pressure from slowdowns or timing of cash flow in Manufacturing, Lodging, Healthcare and Educational. Educational, Healthcare, Recreation, Office and Manufacturing all support growth in 2020.

17e spend nonres bldgs

18 nonres bldgs plot

Nonresidential buildings construction spending in constant $ (inflation adjusted $ to base 2017) will reach $424 billion in 2018 after hitting a post-recession peak of $431 billion in 2016 and dropping to $419 billion in 2017. In 2019 constant $ spending will total $420 billion. Constant $ spending or real volume growth shows all years from 1996 through 2009 had higher volume than any years 2016-2019. Volume reached a peak near $530 billion in 2000 & 2001 and went over $500 billion again in 2008. In constant $ volume, I don’t see returning to that peak before 2023.

19 nonres cur con 

Educational

New Starts averaged YOY growth of 11%/year for the last five years. Starts from the last five months of 2017 posted the highest 5mo total in at least seven years, 13% higher than the next best 5mo. The highest and 2nd highest quarters were both within the last 15 months, so both those periods contribute fully to 2018 spending. 2017 starts will support 25% of spending in 2019. Starts are expected to finish 2018 up 5%. 2018 starts will support 50% of spending in 2019 and 20% of spending in 2020.

Bklg 01e Educ

Backlog in five years 2014-2018 increased 11%/year. It is unusual that Starts and Backlog continue to grow for five years but that growth is not reflected in actual spending. From 2013 to 2018 new starts increased 66% but spending for the period of those starts will increase only 34%. That would seem to indicate a very large volume of work is growing in backlog and spending at some point should boom and remain high for an extended period, but the cash flow model is not in agreement. A possible explanation is the sample survey of new starts has been increasing, so not all the starts growth for five years represents growth in new work. Some of the increase in starts is simply growth in sample size. Educational starts 2012-2015 averaged 50% sample size of total spending. In 2016-2018 the average sample size vs spending was 60%.

Spending is now at a post-recession high.  Spending increased 6%/year for 2015, 2016 and 2018, while 2017 increased only 1%. 2017 and 2018 are still subject to revision. Expect to see growth level off until mid-2019. Leveling at post-recession high is not a bad thing. A build-up of backlog is indicating that spending should increase substantially, but a disconnect in the analysis was noted above. Spending growth increases again in 2020.

At peak, educational represented 30% of all nonresidential buildings spending. Now it’s only 22%. That’s expected to increase slightly for the next three years.

Educational construction spending is forecast to reach $96 billion in 2018, $93 billion in 2019 and $103 billion in 2020.

 

Healthcare

Starts are at an all-time high, up almost 40% in the last 5 years. Some longer duration projects push a substantial amount of spending out to 2020.

Bklg 02e Hlthcr

Backlog increased 11% for 2017 and 8% for 2018. Backlog has been increasing unevenly and grew 30% in 4 years. Backlog increases 3% to start 2019 but is not indicating spending growth in 2019. Cash flow from backlog is indicating spending growth in 2020.

Spending has been very slow to recover, experiencing declines as recently as 2013 and 2014, hitting an 8 year low in 2014, when all other nonresidential building markets had already returned to growth. 2017 posted a gain of 4.4% but then 2018 gained less than 1%. Backlog is increasing but real spending gains won’t materialize until 2020.

Like Educational, backlog growth has been exceeding spending growth for the last few years. That would indicate spending at some point may boom and remain high for an extended period. Cash flow models indicate this may occur in 2020. Other possible explanations are; starts are overstated; cash flow curves (average 28mo) are too short in duration; projects got canceled after starts were recorded; large spending revisions could get posted in the future.

Healthcare construction spending for 2018 is forecast to finish at $42 billion, an increase of only 0.7% over 2017. Considering 4% inflation, Healthcare real volume has declined every year since 2012 with exception of 2017 which would have been flat. It will decline again in 2019 with a forecast -2.7% decline in spending. 2020 realizes the 1st big spending increase in 8 years, +14% to $47 billion.

 

Amusement/Recreation

Starts are up 13% in 2018. Although down 1% in 2017, starts increased at an average rate of 15%/yr. from 2013 through 2017. Within the past 15 months there have been five billion-dollar project starts.

Bklg 03e Amuse.JPG

Starting backlog increased 20%/yr for the last four years while spending was increasing at a rate of 10%/year. This means backlog should continue to support increased spending at least for the next few years.

Spending hit an 8 year low in 2013 but we’ve had 3 years of excellent growth of 10%/yr or more since then. 2017 spending increased only 7% and 2018 11%, but cash flow is indicating a 12% increase for 2019. This market is only 5% of nonresidential buildings spending.

Amusement/Recreation construction spending for 2018 is forecast to reach $28 billion, an increase of 12% over 2017. 2019 is forecast to increase 12% to $31 billion.

Pic Educ Hlth Amuse.jpg 

Commercial/Retail

Commercial/Retail starts have been increasing every year since 2010 but starts in 2018 are flat vs 2017 Starts are at a peak but after 5 years of 15%-20% growth/year are up only 4% in the last two years.

Commercial starts are seeing strong gains from distribution centers (warehouses which are in commercial spending). The decline in retail stores is being hidden by the increase in warehouses, which are at an all-time high. Stores are down 10% from the peak in 2016. Warehouses are still up only 4% in 2018 but increased 500% from 2010 to 2017.

In 2010, Warehouse starts were only 1/3 of Store new starts. In 2018, Warehouse starts are 25% greater than Store starts. Warehouse starts have increased between 20%-40%/year for seven years and are now five times greater than in 2010. See this Bloomberg article Warehouses Are Now Worth More Than Offices, Thanks to Amazon

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Some big projects from a period of strong new starts growth are ending. This will slow spending after 7 years of strong growth. 2018 backlog still produces a spending increase which may finish close to +5%, but forecast shows spending slows even more to only 2% in 2019 and less than 1% in 2020.

The biggest change in Commercial/Retail in the last few years is that backlog is now more heavily weighted with warehouse projects than store projects. The mix has shifted from 60/40 stores in 2014-2015 to 55/45 warehouses in 2018-2019.

Spending dropped from the high of $90 billion in 2007 to $40 billion in 2010. It has been growing steadily since reaching bottom in early 2011 and has recovered to an annual total rate of $92 billion in 2018. Spending increased an average of 13%/year for six years from 2012 through 2017. Spending growth will be flat in 2019 and 2020 but we are currently near the all-time high. It is worth noting that the $92 billion in 2018 dollars after accounting for inflation is still 30% lower than the $90 billion of spending in 2007.

Commercial/Retail construction spending is forecast to reach $92 billion in 2018, $91 billion in 2019 and $90 billion in 2020, flat to no growth after seven strong years.

 

Office

Starts finished 2018 up 8%. In 2016 starts were up 30% and had reached similar too highs in 1998 and 2006-2007. Starts have been increasing since 2010 with the strongest growth period 2013-2016, up 25%/year. Although the rate of growth slowed in 2017 and 2018, the total amount of starts is at an all-time high. In the last 12 months there are no less than a dozen project starts valued each at over $500 million, a few of those over $1 billion. That high-volume period of starts will elevate spending through 2019 and well into 2020. Data centers are included in Office.

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Backlog for 2017 was the highest in at least 8 years, more than double at the start of 2014 when the current growth cycle of office construction spending began. For 2018, backlog reached a new high, up 25% over 2017. Starting backlog for 2019, up 19%, is three times what it was just five years ago. Office starting backlog 2017-2019 increased an average of 20%/year. Backlog growth should support strong spending into 2020.

Growth of only 1% in starts for 2019 and 3% increase for 2020 keeps office starts near the all-time high. Even with low growth in new starts for the next two years, the amount of work in backlog from starts on record provides growth in spending for the next three years.

Spending increased by 20%/year from 2013 to 2016, but in 2017 it turned to a 1% decline. That was unusual and unexpected since 2016 starts and 2017 backlog had both reached 10-year highs. Possible explanations might be: a very large number of projects were canceled or delayed; potential revisions to 2017 Office spending may still be pending (In July every year, the previous two years of spending gets revised); but highly probable is the sample size of starts increased dramatically in 2016 and the 30% increase in starts was not all growth in real volume but was partially just a change in sample size, therefore the spending forecast may have been significantly overstated.

Again, it is worth noting that spending in 2018, which for the first time returned to the previous highs posted in 2008, once adjusted for inflation is still about 25% lower in real volume than 2008.

Office construction spending is forecast to reach $74 billion in 2018, $79 billion in 2019 and $84 billion in 2020.

 

Lodging

Lodging posted a new high for starts in 2018, up 8% over 2017. For the period 2011-2016 starts averaged over 30%/year growth for six years. In 2017, starts declined 4% but that remained near the 2016 high. Now with a gain in 2018, those three years average very evenly. Peak starts were in 2016.

Bklg 06 Lodg

Starting backlog averaged increases of 30%/yr. from 2015 to 2017. Lodging starting backlog jumped from $7 billion/yr. in 2014 to $15 billion/yr. in 2018. It has supported similar spending growth. Lodging projects have relatively short duration and timing of starts within the year is important to spending and next-year starting backlog. Compared to most other types of nonresidential buildings, a greater than average percentage of lodging spending occurs within the year started. So, movement in starts has a greater impact on spending within the year.

Lodging spending recorded the largest drop of any market, falling 75% from $36 billion in 2008 to $9 billion in 2011. However, it also recorded the strongest rebound of any market, climbing 20% to 30% per year for the 5-years 2012-2016. In 2011, Lodging dropped to only 3% of total sector spending. It rebounded to 7% in 2017. Lodging actual spending increased 12% in 2018. It’s still not back to the previous high of $36 billion in 2008. Beyond 2018, spending will decline, but this is after 6 years of growth totaling 300%.

Lodging construction spending for 2018 is forecast to reach $32 billion, an increase of 12% over 2017. Spending is forecast at $31 billion for 2019 and $32 billion for 2020.

Pic Comm Offc Lodg

 

Religious and Public Safety

Spending of $11-$12 billion/year represents only 2.5% of total nonresidential building spending. In 2008-2009 it was 5% of the total. The religious building market has been declining since 2002 and is down 55% since then. Public Safety peaked in 2009 and has declined every year through 2017, down 40% from the peak. In 2018, public safety spending is increasing.

I don’t track starts or backlog for these markets. I do track monthly spending and carry a forecast in the Table of Construction Spending classified as Other Nonres Buildings.

Religious and Public Safety currently amounts to $12 billion/year. A 10% change in spending of $1.2 billion in a year would amount to only 0.2% change in all nonresidential buildings spending. This category doesn’t often change by 10% yr/yr, so it’s affect is very small.

 

Manufacturing

Manufacturing reached record high starts in 2014 and record spending in 2015, posting a 100% increase in new starts in 2014 that drove starting backlog and spending to new highs in 2015 and 2016. New starts declined 20%-30%/year for the next two years after the high in 2014 but then 2017 starts increased 27%. Now 2018 starts have increased by 18%, yet that is still 15% lower than 2014.

Starts in June came in at four times the average of all monthly starts in the last three years. October came in at three times the average. Those two months would add up to more than half of annual starts for any of the last three years. Some of these projects will still be contributing to spending in 2023.

Bklg 07e Mnfg

Starting Backlog remained equally high in 2015 and 2016, but then dropped 17% in 2017. Backlog dropped 17% in 2017 and actual spending dropped 13%. That was expected. What was unexpected is that 2017 posted another very strong year of new starts, up 27%. This will support a spending rebound in the future but not before a temporary drop in mid-year 2019.

Spending was forecast to fall in 2017 after peaking in 2015 from massive growth in new starts in 2014. Based on cash flows from starts, from April 2016 through the end of 2017 spending was expected to decline in 17 of 21 months. It did decline in 14 of those months. Over the next 30 months there are only six months have a forecast to decline, all of those between March and September 2019, all caused by uneven cash flows from very large projects either ending or pushing spending out to future years. This will hold down total spending in 2019. Although backlog for 2019 is up 40%, much of the cash flow from that will occur in 2020.

Manufacturing construction spending is forecast to reach $67 billion in 2018, $65 billion in 2019 and then jump 25% to $82 billion in 2020. Given the growth in backlog and some very long duration projects started recently, spending growth may increase again in 2021.

 

Non-building Infrastructure Spending

Non-building Infrastructure construction spending is forecast to increase 7.2% to $316 billion in 2018, 5.5% to $334 billion in 2019 and 9.9% to $367 billion in 2020. The forecast growth for 2019 will be supported by Transportation and Public Works but will be held down somewhat by Highway. Transportation terminals and rail project starts both increased more than 100% in 2017 and both are long duration projects types that will contribute spending for several years. Environmental Public Works project starts increased 20% in 2018 and boost spending in 2019 and 2020.

20e spend nonbldg

Non-building Infrastructure constant $ volume reached a high of $309 billion in 2015 and peaked at the all-time high of $311 billion in 2016, but then dropped to $295 billion in 2017. 2018 saw a return to $303 billion and 2019 is projected to reach $309 billion. Only twice before, 2008 and 2009, did Infrastructure exceed $300 billion. Constant $ spending or real volume growth has been within +/- 3% for the last 5 years.

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Non-building Infrastructure spending, always the most volatile sector, in mid-2017 dropped to 2013 lows. However, this short dip was predicted. Cash flow models of Infrastructure starts from the last several years predicted that dips in monthly spending would be caused by uneven project closeouts from projects that started several years ago, particularly in Power and Highway markets.

22 infra plot

Current backlog is at an all-time high, up 10%+ each of the last 3 years, and spending is expected to follow the increased cash flows from the elevated backlog. Transportation terminals new starts in 2017 jumped 120%. Rail project starts increased more than 100%. Starting backlog for all transportation work is the highest ever, up 100% in the last two years. Transportation spending is projected to increase 15-20%/year for the next two years.

No future growth is included from infrastructure stimulus and yet 2018 spending is projected to increase by 7%. 2019 and 2020 are forecast to increase 6% to 10%.

 

Power

Power spending as reported by U.S. Census includes infrastructure for all electric power generation plants and distribution, gas and LNG facilities and all pipelines. In the last year there were more than twenty $billion+ project starts and a dozen more projects valued over $500 million each. In 2015 pipeline starts represented less than 10% of all power starts. In 2018 year-to-date, pipelines are half of all power work started. In three years, pipeline work increased by more than $20 billion or 500%.

Starts, completions and pauses in work cause erratic movement in actual spending. Cash flow may be adversely impacted by very large projects ending or by the delay of large projects that started previously. A multi-billion-dollar nuclear power plant stopped work and large pipeline project delays after the start was recorded have adversely impacted the cash flow forecast. This impacted the spending forecast in 2017, which finished down 5%, 15% below initial projections, and again 2018 will finish 10% below initial projections for 2018 posted back in Nov. 2017.

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Although total power starts for 2018 are down 13%, electric / power generation is down 35% but gas/LNG and pipelines starts are up. Starts peaked in 2015-2016, but total in backlog reached a peak in 2018. However, much of this work is very long duration projects, so 2018 backlog will be providing spending at least through 2021. Spending could see 5% gains in 2019 but unless 2019 starts increase 2020 will experience a modest decline. Dodge is predicting 2019 starts will decline 3%.

Power construction spending is forecast to reach $102 billion in 2018, $109 billion in 2019 but then only $107 billion in 2020.

Power spending highlights one of the biggest shortfalls of judging expected performance based on year-to-date change. Notice in the 1st quarter of 2018, spending year-to-date (YTD) was down 8% to 10% from 2017. It is clear now that did not give a good indication of how 2018 would proceed. A better indication is provided by the trend line expected in the current year versus the trend line in the previous year. If they diverge, then early YTD changes will not give a clear indication of expected performance in the current year. An example follows. Note, SAAR data shows performance trend but cumulative NSA$ is needed to get YTD$.

YOY trend Power example 11-28-18.JPG

YOY Power trend data 11-28-18

Power posted the highest spending for 2017 early in the year, then declined in the 2nd half. In 2018, the beginning of the year posted the lowest rate of spending for the year, increased through June, then stayed higher in the 2nd half. The YTD percent growth compared to 2017 has been increasing throughout the year. Higher spending in the 2nd half 2018 compared to the lowest values of the year in late 2017 will boost year-to-date spending every month through year end. Although YTD spending through August is up only 2%, I expect the total for the year will finish up 6%. Even if power spending declines 1% per month for the remainder of the year it will still finish up 5% over 2017.

 

Highway/Street/Bridge

Highway starts hit an all-time high in 2017 and are forecast to climb another 8% in 2018. This model is predicting starts growth will slow or level off after 2018.

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Starting backlog increased 30% in the last 3 years and will increase another 14% leading into 2019. This long duration backlog is going to provide for a large increase in spending but not until late 2020 and even more-so into 2021.

Spending in 2018 did not increase in tandem with backlog, because the share of spending within the year from projects that started 1 or 2 years before began to decline. In 2020 and 2021, the share of spending within the year from projects that started 2, 3 and 4 years before is increasing.

Highway construction spending is forecast to reach $92 billion in 2018, $93 billion and then jump to $105 billion in 2020. 2021 may see an increase of 10% in spending.

 

Transportation

Transportation starts have two main parts, Terminals and Rail. Some analysts include transportation in nonresidential buildings. That does not account that airports include not only land-side terminals but also air-side runway work and rail includes platforms and all railway right of way work, which includes massive civil engineering structures. About half of all transportation spending is rail work.

Terminals and rail starts reached record high in 2017, both up 120% after a 35% increase in 2016. Spending in 2018 is forecast to finish up more than 20%. Starting Backlog increased 22% in 2017 then jumped 95% in 2018. However, Transportation sample size of new starts potentially increased 30%, far more than any other market. A large portion of the 2017 increase in starts is expected to be change in sample size. This model adjusts 2017 starts down by 20%. Still, most of that backlog spending will occur in future years. Some of the project starts in 2016 and 2017 have an eight-year duration. In the last 24 months there have been sixteen $billion+ new project starts and seven $500million+ new starts.

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2018 total starts are 100% higher than any other year prior to 2017. Starting Backlog skyrocketed from $15 billion in 2016 to $55 billion for 2019. Backlog will support spending for several years to come. Keep in mind, when a $4 billion project first gets recorded in starts, that is the general contract. Many subcontracts will be awarded by the general contractor over the next few years.

Based on predicted cash flows from starts, spending is expected to increase at least into mid-2021.  2018-2019-2020 should see increases of 15% to 20%/year. Dodge is forecasting 2019 starts will stay close to the elevated levels of 2017 and 2018. I’m predicting starts in 2019 will decline from 2018 simply due to the huge volume of new work that started in the last two years. Even with that, backlog could set a record high in 2020.

Transportation construction spending is forecast to reach $55 billion in 2018, $62 billion in 2019 and $75 billion in 2020. Given the growth in backlog and some very long duration projects started recently, spending growth may increase again in 2021.

 

Environmental Public Works

Environmental Public Works includes sewerage projects, Water supply and Conservation, or Dams, water resource and river/harbor projects. New starts for all these type projects declined from 2014 through 2017. Then all showed gains in 2018 and the forecast is more gains in 2019. All of these projects are public spending and saw no real gains in spending from 2010 through 2017. With the projected increases in starts in 2018 and 2019, spending is now forecast to increase the next three years to a new high by 2020.

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Public Works construction spending is forecast to grow 9% to reach $43 billion in 2018, $46 billion in 2019 and $56 billion in 2020.

 

Communications

Starts data for communications is not regularly reported. Total starts for the year is always recorded well after year end. A moderate forecast is included for future starts growth the next two years.

Actual spending is erratic, up 10% one year down 3% the next then up 25% followed by 2% growth. 2018 should finish down 1% after a 12% gain in 2017. The forecast shows a 5% decline in 2019 and flat spending into 2020.

Bklg 12e Commun

Communication construction spending was up 12% in 2017 and finished at $24.8 billion The forecast for 2018 is down 1% to $24.5 billion. Expect $23 billion in 2019 and $23 billion in 2020.

 

For a PDF of this Nonresidential report 2019 Construct Econ Forecast – NONRES – Dec 2018 RVSD 12-6-18

 

Link to 2019 Construction Economic Forecast – Summary

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