Coming off of one the best years for construction in recent history, 2016 is shaping up to be even better. Construction is expected to grow by 8 to 9% this year and architecture billings were strong throughout last year which means construction activity should be solid in 2016. This has also been confirmed based on the results of our 4th Quarter Construction Data Index (CDI) survey where an overwhelming number of respondents indicate their businesses will be doing better over the course of the next six months.
The 4th Quarter of 2015 was the strongest for job growth in construction all year. The construction industry added 128,000 jobs during October (35,000), November (48,000) and December (45,000) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This was much needed growth and a marked improvement over the previous quarters. There were 60,000 jobs added in the 1st Quarter, 43,000 in the 2nd Quarter and only 32,000 in 3rd Quarter 2015. Despite the uptick late in the year, the 263,000 jobs added in 2015 was well below the 338,000 added in 2014. The unemployment rate in construction started the year off at 9.8% and got as high as 10.6% in February. The unemployment rate dropped as low as 5.5% in July and again in September and finished out the year at 7.5%. As of November there were still 104,000 unfilled openings in construction and total construction employment stands at 6,538,000, the highest it’s been since January 2009.
The seasonally adjusted annual rate of construction spending for November was $1,122.5 billion in. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, total construction spending through the first 11 months of 2015 is at $1,011.9 billion. This is a 10.7% increase from the $913.9 billion spent from January through November 2014. Year to date private construction spending through November was $740.7 billion and public construction spending was $271.2 billion. Nonresidential year to date construction spending through November was $620.9 billion, a 9.3% increase over the first 11 months of 2014.
When asked how their business is doing now, relative to six months ago 52% of respondents indicated things were better. 34% of respondents stated their business was doing about the same and the remaining 14% stated things had actually gotten worse over the past six months. This was similar to the response we saw in 4th Quarter 2014 where 53% indicated things were better, 35% said things were about the same and 12% claimed business was worse. Some of this can probably be attributed to seasonality since our respondents represent all areas of the commercial construction industry.
Looking forward to the next six months, 71% of firms feel their business will be doing better. Only 5% of firms stated they thought their business would be doing worse in six months with 24% indicating that business would be about the same six months from now. This is the highest percentage of firms indicating business would be better from all of our 4th Quarter CDI surveys.
Optimism is high and confidence continues to grow as the construction industry improves and gets closer to pre-recession conditions. Looking back at our 4th Quarter 2012 responses, only 47% of respondents expected business to be better six months down the road. That percentage jumped to 60% in 2013 and increased to 66% for our 4th Quarter 2014 survey.
Here’s a look at some of the other leading economic indicators for the commercial construction industry.
FMI’s Nonresidential Construction Index Report for 4th Quarter 2015 was down just over four points from the previous quarter to score of 59.5, it was at 63.6 in the 3rd Quarter. This is also down from the same time last year where the 2014 4th Quarter score was 62.8. Despite the decrease from the previous quarter, this is still a positive sign as any score above 50 indicates expansion, while any score below 50 indicates contraction.
FMI’s 4th Quarter 2015 Construction Outlook has construction put-in-place exceeding their earlier predictions. They are now forecasting 10% growth for the year. Last quarter they were only forecasting 6% growth for the year. FMI’s prediction for 2016 is that growth will slow to 8% with construction reaching $1.14 trillion this year.
The American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Architecture Billings Index (ABI) was up and down during 4th Quarter 2015. October had a strong showing with a score of 53.1 but then saw a decrease in demand for design services in November with a score of 49.3. The ABI quickly rebounded in December with a score of 50.9. The new project inquiries index was solid during the 4th Quarter with scores of 61.0 in October, 58.6 in November and 60.2 in December. The ABI reflects the approximate nine to twelve month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending and any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings and any score below 50 indicates a decrease in billings.
The Turner Building Cost Index, which measures nonresidential building costs, was at 959 for 4th Quarter 2015, 1.05% above the 949 from the previous quarter. This is an increase of 4.58% from the 4th Quarter 2014 score of 917. The report attributes the increase to higher volumes of work which is driven up some subcontractor trade costs as well as longer lead times for material deliveries due to growing demand.
About the CDI
The Construction Data Index (CDI) is a user-based forward-looking survey of the commercial construction industry. The index is a forecast tool that predicts future outlook for general contractors, subcontractors, and building material suppliers.
The CDI is designed to help firms answer one simple question: According to industry professionals like myself, are things getting better or worse? In order to obtain the data for this index, Construction Data surveys professionals working in the commercial construction industry on a monthly basis. The survey asks two questions:
How is your business doing, relative to six months ago?
How do you see your business doing six months from now?
Results are measured on a five point Likert scale: with 5 – much better, 4 – a little better, 3 – the same, 2 – a little worse and 1 – worse.
If you would like to participate in future CDI surveys, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.