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ABI – DMI – Starts – Construction Spending


The attached plot shows actual and predicted construction spending compared to several industry leading indicators. The ABI, produced by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) shows work on the boards at architectural firms. Values above 50 indicate work increasing, values below 50 = work decreasing. The DMI is a survey from Dodge that gives an indication of new construction momentum. Starts is the total cash flow growth from all nonresidential starts currently in backlog.

Both the ABI and the DMI have long lead times. For example, the ABI value posted by AIA today is an indication of what to expect 9 months from now. I’ve plotted the values for ABI and DMI out at the lead time dates (# of months) in the future so they would correspond to future cash flows from all starts and predicted spending. The Starts, DMI and Spending values on this plot are indexed so they could be plotted with the ABI while keeping growth trends in each index true.

  • ABI – Architectural Billings Index
  • DMI – Dodge Momentum Index
  • Starts – Aggregate Cashflows of Dodge Starts
  • Spending – Actual and Predicted Construction Spending


Overall Spending mostly correlates with Starts except that Starts showed a steeper growth rate in 2016 before a drop. Starts and Spending match well for all of 2014 and 2015. Both DMI and ABI are more erratic, however, the advances and declines in the ABI do correspond well with pickups and slowdowns in Spending. From mid-2015 through the end of 2016, the DMI was in a narrow range and that could possibly be said to be in synch with a slowed period of Spending.

Although they don’t match exactly by month, the ABI, DMI and Starts all show a drop sometime between 4th qtr 2016 and 2nd qtr 2017. That appears in Spending as a slight dip in 1st qtr 2017. The ABI gives an indication of a nice increase midyear. Both DMI and Starts are indicating substantial growth in spending by year end 2017.

Housing Starts vs Residential Construction Spending


Housing Starts (# of units started as reported by U.S. Census) can be erratic from month to month and short term changes in growth can sometimes be misleading. Trends should be looked at over longer term periods. New monthly starts on a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) basis for the last eight months through January 2017 have now averaged over 1,200,000. For the last four months starts have averaged 1,250,000. Permits have been following a similar pattern. Although starts versus permits varies considerably in some months, statistically they follow the same growth pattern. Growth in the number of new starts has been 5% to 25% per year due to erratic movement but in the longer term has averaged 18%/yr over six years since January 2011. We experienced an un-sustained start to recovery in 2010, but essentially we went through a protracted bottom between 500,000 and 600,000 new starts that lasted all throughout 2009-2010.


Dodge Data reports SAAR new residential construction starts by contract value in current dollars (not inflation adjusted). Unadjusted growth for the same six-year period increased from $120 billion SAAR to over $300 billion SAAR, or at an annual rate of over 25%/year. However, there was 25% residential cost inflation during that period. In constant 2016$, Dodge new residential starts growth averages 20%/year for six years since January 2011.


Now let’s look at construction spending, actual dollar value of work put-in-place. Here’s where the data has a disconnect.

At the start of 2011, total residential spending  had a monthly SAAR of $240 billion and at the end of 2016 was $470 billion, an increase of 16%/year for 6 years. To find real volume growth those values must be adjusted for inflation. After adjusting for inflation, the actual spending volume growth in 2016$ from 2011 through the end of 2016 increased from $305 billion to $465 billion, an increase of 52%, or an average increase of 9%/year for 6 years.


Furthermore, the number of residential construction jobs reported by BLS increased only 33% over that time, an average growth rate of less than 6%/year.


What could explain these differences?

The low rate of jobs growth compared to spending growth is partially explained by the fact that in the preceding few years, even though about 1.5 million jobs were lost, 40% of the workforce, staff was not reduced nearly at the same rate that residential construction volume declined (55%). There remained significantly more staff on payrolls than was needed to complete the amount of volume that was being built during the residential recession. When growth resumed, spending increased at a much faster rate than new jobs were added and the excess labor slack was reduced. I suspect also that a portion of the labor vs spending difference is explained by the fact that not all jobs are captured by BLS. It has been suggested that a large percentage of residential workforce in some southwestern states is undocumented.

The variance between starts and spending is a bit more complicated. We need to look at completions vs starts, the mix and size of housing units being built and the amount of spending related to renovations.

The most commonly reported housing statistic is housing starts. Also in that data series is housing completions. Housing completions are always lower than starts. For the last five years completions have averaged almost 15% less than starts. While the growth in starts averaged 18%/year, growth in completions from 2011 through 2016 averages less than 15%/year. 

From 2011 to 2016 the average number of new single family (SF) units started increased from about 450,000 to 800,000. During that same period multi-family (MF) starts increased from 100,000 to 440,000. The percentage of MF units in total construction grew from 18% to 36% of total.

On average MF units are about half the size of SF units. Although the average size of SF homes increased about 10% during this period, the growth in the number of smaller MF units exceeded that of larger MF units by a factor of 2x. The ratio of smaller MF units doubled.

The share of MF units as a percent of all units doubled and the ratio of smaller vs larger MF units doubled. The total square feet of housing being built increased but did not grow at the same rate as the number of units. The average size of all units is getting smaller and therefore the constant cost per unit went down.

I suspect the increased ratio of smaller MF units and the percent increase of MF within the total number of all housing units has a big influence on the overall average cost per unit of total housing. That with the lower growth rate in completions helps explain why spending is not increasing at the same rate as overall number of housing unit starts. We are building more units per dollar spending because average unit size is smaller.

There is one more hidden factor to look at. That is, residential construction spending includes renovations. From 2009 through 2012 renovations totaled 45% of all residential spending. It began to decrease in 2013. For the last three years, renovation spending accounts for only 33% of all residential construction spending.  Renovation spending has no comparable # of units or total square feet associated with it.


The impact this has, since the share of renovations spending is declining, is to increase the percent growth in residential spending attributable to housing units to greater than the 9% calculated above. Removing renovations work from total spending shows growth in real inflation adjusted spending specific to housing units averaged about 13%/year for 6 years.

Summarizing everything from above, since 2011:

On the surface it looks like this:

  • Housing Starts # of units increased at 18%/year
  • Residential new starts in unadjusted dollars increased 20%/year
  • Residential construction spending increased 16%/year

After adjusting both units and spending we get:

  • Inflation adjusted total residential spending increased 9%/year
  • Inflation adjusted spending on units (excluding renovations) increased 13%/year
  • Growth in the # of housing units completed increased 15%/year
  • Share of Multifamily units has increased
  • Average size of multifamily units has decreased
  • Average size of all housing units being completed has grown smaller
  • The growth in the number of units completed can exceed the growth in spending because the average constant value cost per unit has decreased

The growth in the number of housing unit starts is NOT an indicator to use for forecasting growth in residential construction spending or constant volume. Increases in the number of units alone will not give a realistic indication of growth in residential jobs or spending. The rate of growth in completions, combined with the ratio of the sizes of units, not just size of SF homes but average size of all SF and MF units, has a significant influence on the spending volume and can only be compared to inflation adjusted spending specific to units, that is, total spending minus renovations.

Starts Point to Robust 2017 Spending


Starts Point to Robust 2017 Spending

Construction Starts for September were released 10-18-16 from Dodge Data and Analytics. Here’s some of the major points that can be developed from the data:


The six Nonresidential Buildings markets, Office (+30% YTD), Lodging (+50%), Educational (+10%), Healthcare (+20%), Commercial Retail (+15%) and Amusement/Recreation (+15%) make up 80% of all nonresidential buildings spending and account for combined growth of 16.5% in YTD new starts. Office and Lodging in 2016 will reach the 5th consecutive annual increase. Educational Markets, Commercial Retail and Amusement/Recreation will each record the 4th consecutive annual increase in total value of new starts. Spending combined for these six markets peaked in 2008 and dropped 37% to a bottom in 2012. For the last 3 years spending growth has ranged between 9%/yr and 12%/yr. For 2017, expect spending growth of 8%.

Manufacturing makes up 18% of nonresidential building market share. New starts 2016 YTD are down 54% from 2015. However, in 2014 and 2015 this market posted the fastest growth of any market in a decade and posted the two highest years on record for this market. It is currently settling back to a normal growth range. In 2014 starts increased 90%. In 2015 spending increased 33% to the highest ever recorded for manufacturing buildings. Spending will be down 2% to 3% in 2016 and down another 13% more in 2017, but 2017 will still be the 3rd highest year of spending on record.

Non-building Infrastructure starts will be down nearly 10% in 2016 but were up 25% in 2015. Power and Highway/Bridge/Street make up 2/3rds of non-building infrastructure spending. In 2015, Power starts increased 150% to an all-time high and Highway/Bridge/Street finished just shy of a 6-year high. It is not unexpected that starts in these markets will be down for 2016. The volume of monthly spending from projects started in 2014 and 2015 in this sector will contribute to spending for several years to come. Spending in 2017 will be the highest ever in this sector, up 7% from 2016.

Residential starts are having the best year since 2005-2006. Residential starts bottomed in 2009 and are now in the 7th consecutive year of growth. Although new starts will increase only about 7%-8% for 2016, that follows 4 years of growth averaging more than 20%/year. Spending peaked in 2005-2006 and dropped 60% to a low in 2009-2010. Spending has bounced 90% off the bottom in large part due to 17%/year average growth in 2013-2014-2015. Both starts and spending slowed in 2016 but still expect 7% to 8% spending growth in both 2016 and 2017.

Starts are recorded in full in the month a project starts but the total project budget gets spent over a long duration, so the effects on spending are spread over the next 2 to 3 years. Total starts are Up 10%/yr to 12%/yr for the last 4 years. The current forecast for 2016 is growth of only 3.5%, but that now leads us to a very important factor that must be considered when using starts data to predict future spending.

There is a major factor that keeps new starts in the current year from appearing as good as they should. Dodge Data continually revises starts. In every monthly release, the previous month is revised AND the last year’s year-to-date is revised. Dodge does incorporate other (usually minor) revisions at a later date, but the “12 month” revision to the previous year-to-date values captures a large part of all revisions.

So this September report includes revisions to the total 2015 YTD values through September 2015. None of the 2016 values yet include that equivalent “12 month” revision and won’t until next year. But the current year YTD not-yet-revised values are being compared to the previous year YTD revised values which has the affect of making current year growth appear lower than it should.

In the last 10 years the YTD revisions have never been down. Usually, most of the revisions occur to nonresidential buildings, about 5% to 6% per year, with only a 2% to 3% revision each to infrastructure and residential.

For total nonresidential buildings, so far year-to-date 2015 values through September have been revised UP by 9%. So while the 2016 year-to-date nonresidential buildings value this month is noted as down 2% compared to last year, much of the reason it is down is because 2015 values have had revisions applied that increase the 2015 base by 9%. We won’t get those equivalent “12 month” revisions applied to 2016 values until next year. When all the revisions are in, new starts for nonresidential buildings (typically revised up by 5% to 6%) in 2016 are on track to equal or exceed 2015 and perhaps record the third consecutive year of over $220 billion. We are within easy striking distance of the all-time high for nonresidential buildings starts reached in 2007!

For residential starts, if 2016 values get revised up next year by only 2%-3%, then 2016 will have grown by nearly 10% over 2015. Unless we experience a severe downward trend in new residential starts, which is NOT predicted, 2016 will post an all-time high for new residential starts.

(Year-to-date by market and month/month values by market are not published.)


See also this post on Construction Spending Sept 2016

New Construction Starts Much Better Than Might Appear


Dodge Data and Analytics yesterday released August new construction starts. The August number came in right about where I expected it, just over $700 billion. August starts are 21% higher then July which was an 8 month low. However, year-to-date through August totals $439 billion, down 7% from the same period 2015.

August came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of $711 billion, the highest since May 2015. In fact, this is only the fourth month since January 2008 that registered new starts over a SAAR $700 billion. The other three were in the 1st half of 2015.


Nonresidential Buildings new starts for August came in at a seasonally adjusted $267 billion, the second highest month since early 2008. The year-to-date is down compared to last year because 2015 had some very high months that helped the first half of 2015 reach an average of $214 billion, but the first five months of 2016 had some soft months that averaged only $189 billion. New starts for the last three months average $212 billion and starts have been increasing since May.

Residential new starts reached a SAAR of $291 billion in August, the third time this year over $290 billion, averaging over $280 billion so far for 2016, the highest since 2007.

Non-building Infrastructure starts for August total SAAR of $153 billion. Infrastructure starts fluctuate much more than any other and this year have ranged from $121 billion to $200 billion. Last year they ranged from $127 billion to $261 billion. Since 2006 Infrastructure starts annual totals have been between $140-$160 billion, except for last year when they shot up to $180 billion. So even though 2016 is coming in near the high end of the average from 2006-2014, it’s still well below last year because last year was so unusually high.

But there is another major factor that keeps new starts from appearing as good as they should look. Dodge Data continually revises starts. In each monthly release we can see not only the previous month revision but also the previous year-to-date revision. They do incorporate other revisions at a later date, but the “12 month” revision to the previous year-to-date values captures a large part of all revisions. So this August report includes revisions to 2015 values through August 2015. None of the 2016 values yet include that “12 month” revision. In the last 10 years the revisions have never been down. Usually, most of the revisions occur to nonresidential buildings, about 5% to 6% per year, with only a 2% to 3% revision to infrastructure and residential.

For nonresidential buildings, so far year-to-date 2015 values have been revised UP by almost 8%. So while the 2016 year-to-date nonresidential buildings value this month is down 10% compared to some very strong starts in early 2015, part of the reason it is down is because 2015 values have had revisions applied that increase the 2015 base by 8%, but we won’t see those equivalent “12 month” revisions applied to 2016 values until next year. When all the revisions are in, new starts for nonresidential buildings in 2016 are on track to equal or exceed 2015 and perhaps record the third consecutive year over $220 billion. We are within easy striking distance of the all-time high for nonresidential buildings starts reached in 2007!

For residential starts, if 2016 values get revised up next year by only 2%-3%, then 2016 will have grown by nearly 10% over 2015. Unless we experience a severe downward trend in new residential starts, which is NOT predicted, 2016 will post an all-time high for new residential starts.

Construction Spending vs Dodge Starts vs New Housing Unit Starts

Read my last few blogs and all of this is detailed, but this is worth a look.

Dodge Data Construction Starts cash flowed shows a predicted spending pattern.

Actual spending is shown to compare to the prediction.

For another residential input we have new housing starts. Here I’ve spread activity out from start to completion like a cash flow to get monthly activity. History compares to actual spending and future compares to Dodge New Starts cash flow.

The time flow of activity generated by housing starts is much more important than the monthly starts themselves. It prompts us to look at a much longer term trend of housing starts than just whether they have moved up of down in the last month or quarter.

Modeling for nonresidential buildings and non-building infrastructure appears more accurate than residential. It looks like my prediction of cash flow from Dodge residential starts needs to move 2-4 months to the left.

5-4-16 The cash flow plot for residential has been revised to use a different duration for SF vs MF vs Reno.

Starts Cashflows to 6-17 vs Spend 3-16

Housing Starts Workflow 4-16 SAAR


Residential Work Flow From Housing Starts

Housing starts can be erratic. It’s not unusual to see monthly housing starts fluctuate up or down by 10%, sometimes 20%. But what affect does this have on the flow of housing work? Not as much as you might think.

Although housing starts is in units, not dollars, we can create a “cash flow” to see how the new starts generate activity over future months. To see the flow of work I’ve created a simple time flow of starts to show the activity generated for new housing starts.

About 2/3rds of housing starts are single family units. These might have a construction duration ranging from 6 to 9 months. The remaining 1/3rd of starts are multifamily units. Those could have construction duration of anywhere from 8 months to 16 months and in some cases longer. For this simple analysis I’ve used a work flow duration of 2/3rds at 7 months and 1/3rd at 17 months. Varying the duration longer or shorter by a few months will not have a big effect on the outcome. It changes the slope of the growth rate but does not change the consistency of the growth pattern.

A time flow of housing starts shows growth rates of; 2013 +13%; 2014 +10%; 2015+12%. Actual construction spending shows growth of 2013 +19%; 2014 +14%; 2015+13%.

Housing Starts Actuals for Workflow 4-16

The chart above, “Housing Starts Monthly and Trend” shows the actual monthly starts values and a three month moving average. Monthly starts periodically peak and dip erratically.  Look at February 2015, the biggest dip in 5 years. The 1st quarter 2015 was down 7% qtr/qtr. But then notice it took less than 4 months for starts to come right back to the trend line and the trend remained intact.  2015 finished up 11%. This is how the monthly housing starts (# of units) data goes.

Housing Starts Workflow 4-16 SAAR


The “Work Flow” chart plots the actual work load out over time from the month the work started to completion. The total work flow in any given month is the sum of the work contributed from starts in previous months that have yet to be completed. Residential work flow has averaged +12% for the last 3 years. In 2015, growth was 14%. The very steep climb in early 2013 activity reflects work generated from the 28% rise in new starts in 2012, the largest % increase in new starts in 30 years.

Starts in any given month have only a small % impact on the slope of change in every succeeding month until completion. This is the same concept as cash flow. Construction spending in any given month is the sum of all the ongoing projects from all previous months.

This next plot shows the same workflow, only Not Seasonally Adjusted, so it shows the winter dips in activity and the steeper rate of growth during the more productive months. Although the average slope of growth is similar to the SAAR plot, this shows the real total work activity in any given month varies from that shown by the SAAR plot. However, it is not erratic like the starts plot, it is smooth and repetitive year after year.

Housing Starts Workflow 4-16 NSA

It would take a dramatic change in housing starts to significantly alter the progress of work flow and it would need to be a sustained change in starts. If a 20% decline is offset by an corresponding increase in the following month or months, then the future months of work flow will show little affect from the decline.

Construction Expectations 2016


What should we expect in 2016 for construction spending, jobs and cost?

Nonresidential buildings starts (as reported by Dodge Data & Analytics) were well above average from March 2014 through May 2015 but since then have been below average. It takes about 24 to 30 months for nonresidential building starts to reach completion. The effect of below average starts will kick in at the end of this year after strong spending growth.

Non-building infrastructure starts jumped 50% above average from November 2014 to peak in February 2015, then settled back to average in July of 2015. Those very strong starts in early 2015 will be spread out over 4 to 6 years so will not cause spending to spike. They will help support a slow steady increase in spending over the next two years.

Residential starts averaged near 20%/yr growth for 3 years but dropped below average for the entire 2nd half of 2015. That late 2015 dip in starts may not slow residential spending too much until the end of 2016. Overall, the data shows another repeat year of growth similar to the last three years.

Construction Spending by Sector 2013-2016 Feb2016

2015 Construction spending finished the year up 10.6% over 2014. After 3 years of growth averaging 9%/year, 2016 total construction spending could climb 11% above 2015, the largest percent gain in over 10 years. Any construction spending slowdown is temporary, baked in from old uneven starts causing uneven cashflow, soon to be ending. By the 2nd quarter 2017 all sectors return to positive growth for strong spending in 2017.

Nonresidential buildings construction spending went from zero growth in 2013 to 9% in 2014 and took off to hit 17% growth in 2015. Nonres bldgs spending could reach 12% growth in 2016 and 7% in 2017.

Infrastructure spending will increase a little in 2016 but we won’t see a sizable increase of 8% until 2017.

Residential spending averaged over 15%/year for the last 3 years and could go over 15% growth in 2016, combining for the best four years of spending growth since 2002-2005.

Don’t be mislead by news that construction spending is close to reaching the previous highs. That may be true of spending, but spending is not the measure of expansion in the construction industry. The measure of expansion is volume, spending minus inflation.

Construction spending is up nearly 40% off the 2011 lows and within 5% of the 2006 highs. But after adjusting for inflation, volume is up only 22% from the 2011 lows and is still 17% below 2005 peak volume.  We still have a long way to go. While spending is predicted to reach over 11% growth in 2016 and may do the same in 2017, volume will increase only 5% to 6% each year. The rest is due to inflation.

Spend current vs constant2015 22pct volume growth

March 2016 construction jobs increase 37,000 from February and although up and down, have averaged 37,000 jobs per month for the last 6 months.  That is the highest 6 month average growth rate in 10 years. That certainly doesn’t make it seem like there is a labor shortage. However, it is important to note, the jobs opening rate (JOLTS) is the highest it’s been in many years and that is a signal of difficulty in filling open positions.

To support the expected 2016 volume growth we need an average 25,000 new jobs per month in 2016, 300,000 new jobs, reaching a three-year gain of nearly 1 million jobs for the period 2014-2016, the highest three-year total jobs growth since 1997-1999. The labor force hasn’t expanded this fast in over 16 years. That can have some undesirable consequences.  Rapid jobs growth may result in accelerating wages and lost productivity, compounding the cost to labor.


If we get a construction jobs slowdown in the next few months, it’s not all due to labor shortages and not being able to find people. Construction volume has been growing faster than jobs for more than a year. It means productivity in 2015 is up after several down years. But, while we’ve recorded consecutive years of productivity declines many times, we have not had two consecutive years of productivity gains in the last 22 years. So historically we should expect a decline,  not gains this year.

Material input costs to construction are down over the last year, but that accounts for only a portion of the final cost of constructed buildings. The cost of new residential construction is up 5% to 6% in the last year. Several nonresidential building cost indexes are indicating construction inflation between 4% and 5%. The Turner non-residential bldg cost index for 2015 is 4.6%. The 1st qtr 2016 is up 1.15% from the 4th quarter 2015. The Rider Levitt Bucknall nonresidential building 2015 cost index is 4.8% and the Beck Cost Report has 5.0% for 2015. I recommend an average 5.5% cost inflation in 2016 for residential and nonresidential buildings. Non-building infrastructure costs are unique to each individual infrastructure market, so average building cost indices should not be used for infrastructure.

Building Cost Inflation Index

What Drives Construction Spending?


New construction starts drive construction spending.  For all the discussion regarding the monthly rise and fall of spending, most of the spending in any given month is already predetermined since two thirds of all construction spending in the next 12 months comes from projects that were started prior to today. This is commonly referred to as backlog.

The pattern of spending does not follow the pattern of new starts which can fluctuate dramatically.  It follows the pattern developed by the cashflow from all previous starts. Data for new construction starts is sourced from Dodge Data & Analytics. Cash flow is developed independently.  Here’s a much simplified example of cashflow: a new $20 million project start is to be completed in 20 months, therefore we expect this project to generate $1 million of spending every month for the next 20 months.

This plot is an Index, so the ratios of starts and actual spending show the relative volume of each of these three major sectors as compared to each other.

Index Spend vs Starts 2012-Feb2016


Nonresidential buildings new construction starts were elevated for 16 out of the last 24 months. Starts were strong from February through July of 2015. A slowdown occurred in the second half of 2015 but the last four months have been gaining slowly. It looks like the backlog of elevated starts will keep spending rising at least until the end of 2016 before we see a slight dip in spending.

75% of all nonresidential building spending in 2016 comes from projects that were started between early 2014 and the end of 2015. Each month, new starts generate only 4%-5% of monthly spending. As we start the new year, backlog accounts for 95% of January spending. We know a lot about spending within the next few months, but what we have in backlog for December at the beginning of the year from previous starts accounts for only 50% of December activity. We will add about 4-5% more to December backlog from new starts each month this year.

Five out of six times in the last 18 months that nonbuilding infrastructure new construction starts jumped 25% to 50% above the running average it was due to massive new starts in the power sector. Some of these projects are worth several billions of dollars.  While this causes new starts to fluctuate wildly, these projects sometimes take four to five years from beginning to completion, so the cash flow is spread out over a very long period, therefore spending does not experience the same magnitude of monthly change as starts.

80% of all nonbuilding spending in 2016 comes from projects that started from mid-2013 through the end of 2015. New starts each month generate only about 3% of monthly spending.

The average of residential starts for the last three months is higher than any time since 2007 when residential starts were already on the decline by 24% from the previous year. The volume of residential starts predicts that spending should be higher than it is currently. This could mean that some starts have been delayed. Or, it could be because residential starts have the shortest duration, they may be the most difficult to predict spending from starts.

55% of all residential building spending in 2016 comes from projects that started between late 2014 and the end of 2015. New starts each month generate almost 10% of monthly spending.

(6-5-16) RE: a discussion related to a decline in nonresidential permits suggests nonresidential spending will decline. Yes, but at what rate? Permits are directly related to new construction starts. Since every month of new starts has an impact of only 4-5% on nonres spending in every following month for the next 20-25 months, then a 10% drop in permits in a single month would cause only a 0.4% to 0.5% reduction in spending in each of the following 20-25 months. It would take a prolonged trend of declining permits and therefore declining new starts to really see a dramatic decline in spending, and then the greatest effect would be well out into the future.

IF Another Recession, What Would Happen to Construction?


The wheels of construction turn slowly.

There is plenty of talk these days of whether or not we may slip into another recession. On any given day you can read several articles pointing to why or why not we are headed into another recession. I’m not trying to take a position here. I would like to get a rough idea what would happen to this current construction recovery if we do slip into recession.

A starting baseline for this discussion is my forecast for 2016; total spending up 10%. nonresidential buildings up 14% after a 17% increase in 2016, residential up 12% following 13% in 2015 and non-building infrastructure up 1% for a total less than 2% in 2015-2016. So, you can see I’m not predicting a recession.

If you think of a recession as having an immediate affect on total construction, like a quick drop in materials prices or cost of buildings, think again. Construction is sort of like an aircraft carrier, it takes a long time to turn around.

The best indicator of future construction activity is the projected cash flow generated by all the construction starts that have been recorded. Construction starts represent the beginning of spending on new projects.  Projects can take many months to reach completion.  Some portion of the total project spending occurs in every month over the full duration of the project from start to completion.

We start 2016 with a backlog of projects that will generate about 70% of all the cash flow in 2016. It’s likely that most if not all of the projects already started would move on to completion.  But new starts will be cut back.

To get an idea how another recession might affect construction spending, I kept all backlog as is but I reduced future new construction starts for the next two years (2016 and 2017) by 30% for residential and nonresidential buildings, and 15% for infrastructure projects.  This mimics the declines we experienced from 2006 to 2009.  I then allowed for a 5% increase across all sectors in 2018.

The result is a 5% drop in construction spending in 2016, still higher than 2014, but then a 10-15% drop in 2017 setting us back to near the same level as 2013.

These spending declines would cause a temporary loss of about 400,000 to 500,000 jobs.

Nonresidential buildings could still eke out a slight gain in 2016 but would drop 20% in 2017.  Residential construction would drop about 5% in 2016 and then drop another 10-15% in 2017. Nonresidential infrastructure work would decline 10% in 2016, but then rebound to no change in 2017.

After two years of declines, in 2018 nonresidential buildings would climb back to near even with 2017, residential would grow 5% and infrastructure would remain flat.  Total 2018 spending would climb only 2% over 2017 and would still only reach spending in 2013.

So, a 30% decline in activity for two consecutive years starting today would set us back four to five years, but the major affect would not be felt until 2017. If that were to happen, obviously spending would be revised, but also I would have much different predictions for inflation and jobs.

There’s a reason we see the dips and rises on the chart in both 2016 and 2017. It reflects the decline in the rate of new starts plus the remainder of old backlog finishing at varying end-dates. Also, given a constant amount of seasonally adjusted new starts, there is a difference in the actual amount of starts in winter months vs summer months.  This plays out over time as dips and rises in spending. Spending activity will not be smooth in a recession.

Nonres tot 2015 and 2016

Updated 1-23-16 Forecasts of 2016 Nonres Buildings Construction Spending % Growth

Updated 1-23-16 – CMD, FMI and I have updated 2016 construction spending forecast in the last month and the latest is included in this table.

Spend Nonres Bldgs pct 1-13-16

Original post 12-21-15

Below are early Q3-Q4 2015 forecasts for growth in 2016 nonresidential buildings construction spending markets.

Seven firms posted forecasts for spending growth. My 12-21-15 forecasts include new starts through November in my projection.

Most of the starts that will generate spending next year are already in place. For the 2016 forecast, new starts booked through December 2015 will contribute 75% to nonresidential buildings spending. We expect new starts growth in nearly every market. However, the pattern of spending will not be a constant upward slope.

Don’t expect 2016 forecast to change much with the last month of data. Commercial/Retail, Office and Manufacturing have been declining in recent months and are expected to continue to drop. Institutional work is on the increase.

As in the 2015 spending growth forecast, I’m well outside the range of predictions for several building types, particularly Educational, Healthcare, Amusement and Office. However I’m OK with my contrary positions since I had the same regarding 2015 spending and now as we near year end I may potentially have had the closest forecast for 5 or 6 of the 7 markets.

Look back at this chart  a year from now to see how we did.

MARKETS 2016 Q415 estm 12-21-15

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