Construction has been one of the few pockets of strength in the U.S. economy – until recently. Construction payrolls have declined since March and spending in May rose less than 3% from a year earlier, the lowest rate since 2011.
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Coming after strong growth of 10% last year, the question now is whether the sputtering is just a blip or something more lasting that portends a significant drag on the economy.
The Associated Builders & Contractors, American Institute of Architects and National Association of Home Builders‘ chief economists recently gathered in Washington, D.C., for a mid-year market forecast, outlining stable to strong residential and commercial project activity through 2017.
Each economist discussed present and future indicators for sector performance, including ABC’s Construction Backlog Indicator (8.6, 1Q2016); AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (52.6 in June) and the Construction Consensus Forecast (5.6% growth in 2017); and, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (60, August 2016).
While all of the economists predicted growth in 2017, they had varying degrees of optimism.
Anirban Basu, ABC Chief Economist: “Nonresidential construction spending growth will continue into the next year with an estimated increase in the range of 3 to 4%. Growth will continue to be led by privately financed projects, with commercial construction continuing to lead the way. Energy-related construction will become less of a drag in 2017, while public spending will continue to be lackluster.”
Robert Dietz, NAHB Chief Economist: “Our forecast shows single-family production expanding by more than 10% in 2016, and the robust multifamily sector leveling off. Historically low mortgage interest rates and favorable demographics should keep the housing market moving forward at a gradual pace, but residential construction growth will be constrained by shortages of labor and lots and rising regulatory costs.”
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Kermit Baker, AIA Chief Economist: “Revenue at architecture firms continues to grow, so prospects for the construction industry remain solid over the next 12 to 18 months. Given current demographic trends, the single-family residential and the institutional building sectors have the greatest potential for further expansion at present.”