2016 4th Quarter Economic Indicators

A Return to Normalcy

by: Salim Furth, Ph.D.

As of the end of 2016, economic growth has been normal for at least a year. With a few exceptions, data indicate an economy
operating at or near its “natural” or “potential” level.

The unemployment rate reached a nine-year low of 4.6 percent in November and has not exceeded 5 percent since September 2015. Experience from previous periods of sustained growth indicates that little further improvement can be expected.

Gross domestic product (GDP) is growing at a steady but unimpressive rate. Adjusted for population growth and inflation, GDP grew 0.8 percent from the third quarter of 2015 to the third quarter of 2016.

Private domestic investment grew rapidly from its recession trough but peaked at 17 percent of GDP in early 2015 and has not grown since then. The lack of further growth is both an indicator and a cause of the end of the recovery: Strong growth in wages and GDP depends on investment. At just 16 percent to 17 percent of GDP, investment is treading water.

Like investment, labor force participation has not reached prerecession levels. Part of that change is due to the retirement of the baby boomers: People born in 1951 turned 65 in 2016. However, prime-age workers are also less likely to be working or
looking for work now than in 2007. Persistently low participation is one of the main challenges facing policymakers in 2017.

Monetary policy is an exception to the prevailing normalcy. Inflation has remained below the Federal Reserve Board’s 2 percent target for years. Consequently, the Fed has left its policy levers in positions that are typical of a recovery and is likely to remain accommodative until inflation reaches 2 percent.

Furth, Ph.D., S. (2017, January 13). Economic Outlook for 2017. Retrieved from heritage.org: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2017/01/economic-outlook-for-2017

2016 3rd Quarter Economic Indicators

Executive Summary

Over the last two weeks, we have received positive news about two key economic measurements: 3rd quarter Gross Domestic Product and the October Jobs Report. Positive results on these two indicators lead me to predict the long anticipated Fed rate hike will finally be announced during Federal Reserve Board’s December meeting.

Real gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 2.9 percent in the third quarter of 2016, up 1.5 percent from the second quarter, according to the “advanced” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. This increase in the third quarter is the direct result of increased personal consumption, an increase in exports, and an increase in business inventory/investment.

Then there is the October Jobs Report. Our economy added a modest 161,000 net jobs and reported an unemployment rate falling from 5% to 4.9%. Many economists now consider the U.S. to be at full employment. Revisions to the August and September numbers in the October report added a total of 44,000 more jobs. Lastly, average hourly wages rose 10 cents to $25.92 and are up 2.8% year to date.

With the combination of wage growth finally rising and a low unemployment rate that is forcing employers to bid up wages to attract from a smaller pool of available talent has giving rise earnings gained, which in turn, fuels stronger inflation. These are the reasons that lead me to my prediction above.

This isn’t necessarily bad news as the economy is expected to continue its current expansion, now the 4th longest in U.S. history, through 2017. If the economy can chug along through June 2019, it will become the longest economic expansion in U.S, history. We (all of us with kids in college) have our fingers crossed.

Most modern recessions have been proceeded by a cycle of Fed interest rate hikes that make loans (car loans, mortgages, personal and corporate credit) more costly to obtain. This is where the Fed is struggling because it is a balancing act between raising rates and throwing the economy into a recession versus keeping rates close to zero and allowing inflation to “get some legs.”

I am glad that I am just a contractor!

We’re Growing and So Are Our People

While our firm has grown – so have the people in it. Aubrey Harless, Dave McIntosh, Mike Rodriguez and Ted Tinkler all received promotions to Vice President. The Vice President title describes their dedication to our firm and clients, their leadership and mentoring of their teams, and their knowledge and experience within the A/E/C industry.

Aubrey Harless is a leader in North Carolina. His IMMPact team focuses on Industrial and Multi-Unit. They work in both the public (multi-unit) and private (industrial) sectors.

“Throughout our 10 year history in the Carolinas, Aubrey has been a rock since the beginning. His skill set, attitude and dedication are admired and appreciated. His impact on our company and clients has helped to shape our office into what it is today.” – Timothy McClellan, Executive Vice President – General Manager, North Carolina

Dave McIntosh’s IMMPact team focuses primarily on private work with an emphasis on fast renovations — 92% of the team’s work comes from repeat clients.

Mike Rodriguez runs Miles-McClellan’s subsidiary, M-M Masonry, LLC. Mike has grown M-M Masonry into one of Central Ohio’s largest masonry firms. His crew is known for exceptional craftsmanship, and they take great pride in their work.

Ted Tinkler’s IMMPact team services both the private and public sectors. While his team performs small, complex projects for their repeat clients, they are also set up to run large volume projects.

“Dave, Ted and Mike, and their respective teams have done an outstanding job of focusing on relationships over the last three years. Relationships with their subcontract teams and their field teams produce the quality projects, and the high results in the field keep the clients satisfied – strengthening the relationship with both the client and the architect. It is a cycle that continues to result in more work keeping all three teams as busy as they have ever been.

Watching the success of all four teams tells me we have set the right goals, and we have the right people. I hope we are not too busy to have some fun along the way!” – Matthew Q. McClellan, President

2016 2nd Quarter Economic Indicators

Executive Summary

Construction opportunities are leveling out in all sectors except for a decrease in retail, and backlog remains at high levels across the country and across market sectors. Workforce shortage is still plaguing our industry by increasing the cost of skilled labor. The competition for qualified employees has now begun to affect office/ management positions, as well as field positions. This is leading to an increase in construction turn-over rates which is now higher than the national average for all industries.

Over the past three months, the Architectural Billing Index remains positive due to variations in design activity in major business categories and predicts growth over the next months. Residential design led the 1st half of the year while the second quarter shows a rise in institution projects. The value of design contracts did dip below 50 in January 2016, for the 1st time in 2 years. It will be interesting to see if construction sees a corresponding dip in bidding activity late fall of this year.

Core inflations has steadily been in the 2% range throughout 2016 (cost of products excluding food and energy), while the GDP has been growing steadily in the low 1% range. Both measurements help to tell the story of this long, steady (not flashy) period of economic expansion we have experienced. This coincides with a bull market now in its 7th year and predicted to continue its run to record stock market highs.

The housing industry is remaining strong due to low mortgage rates. In April 2016, new home sales hit their highest level since 2008 (yep – 2008). Average home prices have also hit an all time high.

Unemployment rates remain low, but the number of long-term unemployed changed little and accounted for 25.8% of the total unemployed. The number of involuntary part-time workers (folks who are looking for full-time work but can not find full-time jobs or their employer reduced their hours) did decrease by 587,000 to lower the national total to 5.8 million. And, we just reported the second straight strong jobs-growth number – an increase of 255,000 in July versus an expected increase of 180,000.

Overall, we expect to see more of the same throughout 2016. Our monthly bidding and work-in-place numbers are as strong as they have been in past 5 years. We will keep our eye on the fall/winter opportunities to see if we mirror the AIA billing index, however, we see the expansion continuing into 2017.


Performance Summary


Construction Backlogs Reaches New High for Largest Contractors

Nationally, ABC said its Construction Backlog Indicator (CBI) inched down to 8.6 months during the first quarter of 2016, which represents a decline of 0.8% from 2015’s final quarter. CBI has expanded by 2.7% on a year-over-year basis, however, which translates into an increase of more than 0.2 months.

“Contractors are no longer becoming busier, rather, the level of activity has stabilized at a reasonably high level,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “Most contractors continue to express satisfaction regarding the amount of work they have under contract. This is of course truer in certain parts of the nation than others.”

“Subcontractors are much busier than they were several years ago, with general contractors reporting greater difficulty securing experienced contractors,” said Basu. “Some construction firms are turning away work for the first time in years. The recent stabilization of backlog may reflect supply constraints as much as demand stagnation.”

“That said, there are indications that certain commercial real estate segments are nearing the end of their development cycle,” warned Basu. “Developers, bankers and regulators have become generally more concerned by the possibility of overbuilding in hotel, office and retail markets. Many developers indicate that the current cycle is much closer to its end than to its beginning. The implication is that for the first time in years, backlog may be poised to decline after recovering massively since early 2010.”


FMI Non-Residential Construction Indicator 2nd Quarter 2016

“COMPETITION FOR QUALITY WORKERS IS STRONG, THUS LEADING TO OPPORTUNITIES FOR EMPLOYEES TO CONSIDER OTHER EMPLOYMENT OPTIONS.”
– NRCI Panelist

One of the most critical concerns for competition in the construction industry right now is the competition for qualified employees. On average, panelists are experiencing a 6.9% rate of turnover for office/management positions and an 8.3% rate of turnover for field management positions. As our analysis below shows, this is a higher turnover rate for construction than the national average for all industries. In the comments associated with our questions below, we received a number of reasons for turnover. Some panelists noted that they have very little turnover. One of the most cited reasons, the improved market for job opportunities for younger employees, has been the subject of a number of papers and reports in the past few years.

Two other current issues were included in this quarter’s survey. The questions that found most agreement concerned the best training delivery methods and the inclusion of safety in training programs. While there is some room for improvement in the amount of safety training for office/management employees, 96% of companies said all training for field employees has a safety component.

The most contentious issue we asked about this quarter was about the understanding of and potential concerns about the so-called “Blacklisting” order (E.O. 13673), which requires firms to disclose any violations of 14 different federal labor and employment laws for the previous three years to be eligible for contracts worth more than $500,000 with the federal government. Surprisingly, only 40% of contractors that do federal work were aware that this new rule was set to take effect in 2016. Not surprising was that the majority of comments we received about this new executive order were clearly unfavorable.


Architecture Billings Index Remains on Solid Footing

Highest levels of demand at residential firms in over two years.

Buoyed by increasing levels of demand across all project types, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) was positive in June for the fifth consecutive month. As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate nine to twelve month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the June ABI score was 52.6, down from the mark of 53.1 in the previous month. This score still reflects an increase in design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings). The new projects inquiry index was 58.6, down from a reading of 60.1 the previous month.

“The first quarter was somewhat disappointing in terms of the growth of design activity, but fortunately expanded a bit entering the traditionally busy spring season. The Midwest is lagging behind the other regions, but otherwise business conditions are generally healthy across the country,” said AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, PhD. “As the institutional market has cooled somewhat after a surge in design activity a year ago, the multi-family sector is reaccelerating at a healthy pace.”

The Architecture Billings Index reflects consecutive months of increasing demand for design activity at architecture firms. As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate nine to twelve month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending.

Key June ABI highlights:

  • Regional averages:
    South (55.5), West (54.1), Northeast (51.8), Midwest (48.2)
  • Sector index breakdown:
    multi-family residential (57.9), institutional (52.7), mixed practice (51.0), commercial / industrial (50.3)
  • Project inquiries index: 58.6
  • Design contracts index: 49.7

The regional and sector categories are calculated as a 3-month moving average, whereas the national index, design contracts and inquiries are monthly numbers.

2016 1st Quarter Economic Indicators

Construction backlog expands nearly 3% at the close of 2015

Nationally, backlog expanded by 2.7% to 8.7 months in the last three months of the year, with the South expanding on its previous record high reading by 8.7% to 11.19 months. In addition, infrastructure-related backlog expanded by 23.2% in the fourth quarter to 12.2 months.

“For the first time in years, some contractors are reporting that they are turning away work,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “Skill-worker shortages are a frequently cited reason. The recent uptick in backlog suggests that demand for construction workers will remain elevated going forward, which will translate into faster wage growth, but also potentially rising costs and extended timelines.

“The nonresidential construction recovery remains very much in place,” said Basu. “Despite disappointing news regarding global growth and corporate earnings, most contractors reported steady to rising backlog during 2015’s final weeks. That’s important to contractors, of course, but also to other economic stakeholders, since nonresidential construction spending growth has emerged as one of the nation’s leading economic drivers.

“Nonresidential construction spending growth in January of 2016 was fully 12.3% its year-ago level,” said Basu. “However, there were a number of months during the latter half of 2015 during which construction spending growth was soft. Accordingly, backlog expanded less rapidly during that period, including during the quarters that precede the fourth quarter’s expansion.”

Regional Readings

The South once again recorded the lengthiest backlog among four regions. The region’s backlog expanded to 11.2 months, an 8.7% increase from the previous quarter. There is evidence that the recently passed federal highway bill is already inducing state department of transportation leaders to move forward with previously sidelined projects. The South is also associated with the nation’s fastest population growth, and therefore tends to experience faster growth in both residential and commercial construction.

Backlog in the Middle States also expanded, though less dramatically. While energy production has softened in a number of states, there is evidence that manufacturing activity has begun to stabilize. The auto sector continues to drive industrial work and healthcare-related construction remains active.

Industry Highlights

  • Backlog in the infrastructure category has reached an all-time high of 12.2 months. During the fourth quarter, backlog in this category increased by 2.3 months, a remarkable result and indicative of the quick impact of the newly passed federal highway spending bill – the first such bill to be passed in many years.
  • Backlog in the heavy industrial category stands at 6.64 months, 6% lower than during the third quarter of 2015. This comes as little surprise as the nation’s manufacturing sector sustained a 6 percent dip in exports last year. Additionally, the strong U.S. dollar has rendered imports more price competitive, suppressing domestic profit margins and construction.
  • Backlog in the commercial/institutional category stands at more than 8 months. Backlog in this segment has stood at 8 months or better for 14 consecutive months, a reflection of the ongoing gradual economic recovery.

Basu, A. (2016, March 22). Construction Backlog Expands Nearly 3 Percent at the Close of 2015. Retrieved from abc.org:http://www.abc.org/NewsMedia/ConstructionEconomics/ConstructionBacklogIndicator/tabid/272/entryid/5071/construction-backlog-expands-nearly-3-percent-at-the-close-of-2015.aspx

AIA Architecture Billings Index ends the first quarter on an upswing

The Architecture Billings Index reflects consecutive months of increasing demand for design activity at architecture firms. As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate nine to twelve month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the March ABI score was 51.9, up from the mark of 50.3 in the previous month. This score reflects an increase in design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings). The new projects inquiry index was 58.1, down from a reading of 59.5 the previous month.

“The first quarter was somewhat disappointing in terms of the growth of design activity, but fortunately expanded a bit entering the traditionally busy spring season. The Midwest is lagging behind the other regions, but otherwise business conditions are generally healthy across the country,” said AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, PhD. “As the institutional market has cooled somewhat after a surge in design activity a year ago, the multi-family
sector is reaccelerating at a healthy pace.”

Key March ABI highlights:

  • Regional averages: South (52.4), Northeast (51.0), West (50.4), Midwest (49.8)
  • Sector index breakdown: multi-family residential (55.7), commercial / industrial (51.8), mixed practice (50.0), institutional (48.0)
  • Project inquiries index: 58.1
  • Design contracts index: 51.8

The regional and sector categories are calculated as a 3-month moving average, whereas the national index, design contracts and inquiries are monthly numbers.

Hon, K. (2016, April 20). Architecture Billings Index Ends the First Quarter on an Upswing. Retrieved from AIA.org: http://www.aia.org/press/AIAB108769

FMI Non-Residential Construction Indicator 1st Quarter 2016 – “Modest growth would be just great. We do not see things slowing down at this point.”

The NRCI index for the first quarter 2016 dropped 3.9 points to 55.6. That is the third consecutive quarter that the NRCI has dropped since reaching 64.9 in the second quarter of 2015. An index number of 55.6 by itself is still an indication of growth, albeit slower growth. The last time the NRCI was in that range was the fourth quarter of 2012, and the index began to climb in the ensuing quarters. What we are concerned about is not the single-quarter results but the recent trend. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that 55.6 is the median score for the NRCI since its inception in the fourth quarter of 2007 and slightly above the historical average.

In the results of our NRCI survey this quarter, we find both hot and cold responses. “Just right” is impossible to achieve in a dynamic global economy. It is at first a puzzlement to understand why so many NRCI panelists have downgraded their views of the economy and nonresidential construction markets when most who wrote comments also said they are busier than ever and hiring plans are nearly the same or higher than last year. The immediate problem is that they cannot find the people they need to hire in order to increase productivity, work off backlogs and take advantage of market opportunities while the market is hot. Then there is the uncertainty hanging over the economy that causes concerns that the economy is likely to cool too fast.

Overall Economy: Down
NRCI panelists’ outlook for the overall economy continued to slip in the first quarter, moving from 58.3 to 56.5. This is a drop of over 20 points from Q2 2015.

Overall Economy Where Panelists Do Business: Down
The component for the economy where panelists do business dropped 7.5 points from 64.8 to 57.3 in the first quarter.

Panelists’ Construction Business: Down
Panelists’ construction business is still strong at 64.1, but that represents a drop of 5.8 points since the fourth quarter 2015.

Nonresidential Building Construction Market Where Panelists Do Business: Down
At 60.6, the nonresidential construction markets where panelists do business are still in solid growth mode; however, this component signals expected slower growth, dropping 4.7 points since last quarter.

Expected Change in Backlog: Down
The median backlog for all responses fell from a high of 12 months to 11 months, still higher than the historical average for the NRCI survey.

Cost of Construction Materials (Lower) and Labor (No Change):
While still considered high, the cost of materials component improved 7.5 points to 38.1. Little changed since last quarter, the cost of labor continues to rise. Note that the NRCI composite score is affected negatively when cost of major inputs of materials and labor increase.

Productivity: Higher
While productivity gained slightly in the first quarter, it is still the most difficult area to make significant improvement in the construction industry.

Warner, P. (2016). NRCI Quarter 1 Report 2016. FMI Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.fminet.com/resources

These projections are based on assumptions of fact which may not occur, and are speculative in nature. These projections have not been reviewed or approved by independent accountants or legal counsel or other advisors. Such assumptions are subject to variations that may arise in the future and which may be beyond the control of the corporation. Any change or variation in any of the assumptions would change the projected financial statements and analysis. No representation or warranty, express or implied, is intended as to the reasonableness or accuracy of these projections.

2015 1st Quarter Economic Indicators

South Receives Highest Level of Construction Backlog in History

The backlog of commercial and industrial construction projects reached 10.3.

The backlog of commercial and industrial construction projects reached 10.3 months in the South, the highest reading in the history of the Construction Backlog Indicator (CBI), according to third-quarter results announced by Associated Builders and Contractors. Nationally CBI remained virtually unchanged at 8.5 for the quarter, although it has declined by 3.5% year-overyear, indicating that the nonresidential construction backlog has stabilized at a high level.

“Nonresidential construction remains one of the nation’s leading engines of economic growth,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “Industry spending is up 11% on a year-over-year basis, and the most recent backlog indicator strongly suggests that construction volumes will continue to recover. Unlike prior years, both the private and public sectors are now contributing to spending growth.

“While rapid economic growth continues to elude America, the economy has been strong enough to produce more than 2.6 million net new jobs over the past year,” said Basu. “Wage growth is poised to accelerate and residential markets continue to improve, with single family activity picking up recently and home prices continuing to edge higher in many communities. This implies ongoing support for commercial construction and stable tax collections or better, which ultimately translates into more public works projects.”

Regional Readings

Despite significant investment in components of the auto sector, including in industrial facilities, declines in commodity prices have dramatically reduced investment levels in states ranging from North Dakota to Ohio. Backlog in the Middle States now stands at 6.5 months, the lowest regional reading and a level not much different from the beginning of 2011.

Industry Highlights

  • For a second consecutive quarter, backlog in the heavy industrial category stood at more than 7 months. Prior to the last two quarters, backlog had never been above 7 months in the history of the CBI series.
  • For a 13th consecutive quarter, backlog in the commercial/institutional category stood at more than 8 months. Backlog in this category has not exceeded 9 months during the history of the series.
  • For a fifth consecutive quarter, infrastructure backlog stood above 9 months. It is likely that backlog will soon exceed the 10 month threshold.


Architectural Billings Index Ends Year on Positive Note

There were a few occasions where demand for design services decreased from a month-to-month basis in 2015, but the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) concluded the year in positive terrain and was so in eight of the twelve months of the year. As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate nine to twelve month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the December ABI score was 50.9, up from the mark of 49.3 in the previous month. This score reflects a slight increase in design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings). The new projects inquiry index was 60.2, up from a reading of 58.6 the previous month.

“As has been the case for the past several years, there continues to be a mix of business conditions that architecture firms are experiencing,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, PhD. “Overall, however, ABI scores for 2015 averaged just below the strong showing in 2014, which points to another healthy year for construction this year.”

Key December ABI highlights:

  • Regional averages: West (53.7), South (53.3), Northeast (46.7), Midwest (46.1),
  • Sector index breakdown: multi-family residential (52.9), institutional (52.2), commercial / industrial (47.3), mixed practice (46.5)
  • Project inquiries index: 60.2
  • Design contracts index: 51.0

The regional and sector categories are calculated as a 3-month moving average, whereas the national index, design contracts and inquiries are monthly numbers.

The Environment is Too Chaotic to Predict. Remain Claim, All is Well.

Panelists have dropped their outlook for the economy in general this quarter, but they are still within a range expecting growth in the coming year. Some of the reasons for these drops can be seen in our “current issues” questions concerning uncertainty, optimism levels and shortages of skilled workers. Compared to the same questions last year for uncertainty and optimism, panelists haven’t changed their ratings much. They continue to be moderately uncertain about what will happen in the economy in the coming year or so, and, at the same time, they continue to be quite optimistic, but cautiously so. Again, looking at the detail behind the overall NRCI score, confidence levels for almost all market sectors have dropped, but remain within positive growth areas (with the exception of the long-range lodging expectation). The median backlog for all respondents is higher than it has been since the beginning of the recession when we started the NRCI, but expectations for backlog growth have gone down.

Overall Economy: Down

NRCI panelists’ outlook for the overall economy dropped sharply for Q4, down 12.3 points from last quarter to 58.3.

Overall Economy Where Panelists Do Business: Down

The NRCI component for panelists’ own business dropped less sharply than for the overall economy, from 73.3 to 64.8 this quarter, but still a sign that expectations have been lowered as we head into the new year.

Panelists’ Construction Business: Down

Panelists’ business, for the most part, is carrying good momentum as business has been improving, but the momentum is beginning to slow to drop this component by 5.8 points to 69.9, still in strong growth territory.

Nonresidential Building Construction Market Where Panelists Do Business: Down

While most panelists report their own business as holding strong, their opinion of the general nonresidential construction market is less exuberant this quarter, moving from 75.7 to 65.3.rs.

Expected Change in Backlog: Down

Backlogs for those participating in the NRCI survey have reached the highest level since we started this report. Now at a median of 12 months, panelists expect that rate to cool in 2016 as the component score dropped from 68.2 to 62.2 this quarter.

Cost of Construction Materials and Labor: Lower

The component for cost of construction materials was little changed from last quarter, improving 1.2 points to 30.6, indicating costs are still increasing. The cost of labor increased less sharply than last quarter, but it too is showing more increases. Generally, it is expected that costs will rise as business improves, thus holding down the overall NRCI index number.

Productivity: No Change

Once again this quarter, there is little improvement in productivity, now at 47.9, or remaining under the midrange of 50. Productivity appears to be the most difficult area to improve, especially when backlogs are growing and it is difficult to find experienced workers to help grow the business.


Basu, A. (2015, December 16). Construction Backlog Indicator. Retrieved February 3, 2016, from Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc.: http://www.abc.org/NewsMedia/ConstructionEconomic /ConstructionBacklogIndicator/tabid/272/entryid/4792/south-recordshighest- level-of-construction-backlog-in-history.aspx

Hon, K. (2016, January 20. Architectural Billings Index Ends Year on Positive Note. Retrieved February 3, 2016, from The American Institute of Architects: http://www.aia.org/press/releases/AIAB107965

Warner, P. (2015). 2015 NRCI 4th Quarter. FMI Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.fminet.com/resources

2015 3rd Quarter Ecomonic Indicators

Construction Activity Increases as Backlog Edges Higher


“The nation’s nonresidential construction industry is now one of America’s leading engines of growth,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “The broader U.S. economic recovery is now in its 74th month, but remains under-diversified, led primarily by a combination of consumer spending growth as well as residential and nonresidential construction recovery. Were the overall economy in better shape, the performance of nonresidential construction would not be as closely watched. The economic recovery remains fragile despite a solid GDP growth figure for the second quarter, and must at some point negotiate an interest-rate tightening cycle. Recent stock market volatility has served to remind all stakeholders how delicate the economic recovery continues to be.

“The national outlook continues to be positive,” said Basu. “The most consistently upbeat information regarding U.S. economic performance continues to emerge from the labor market. The nation added more than 2.9 million jobs between July 2014 and July 2015, enough to help drive down office and other commercial vacancy rates in many major markets despite ongoing construction.

“Also consider the tendency for commercial construction to follow residential construction. To the extent that remains true, the recent uptick in residential starts should translate into more commercial starts going forward. All of this should set the stage for further rebounds in CBI during the quarters to come, even in the absence of a long-term policy regarding infrastructure investment in the U.S.”

Industry Highlights

  • Backlog in the heavy industrial segment has never been higher during the length of the series, penetrating the seven-month mark for the first time. This represents an increase of more than two months in average backlog over the past two years. Average backlog was below five months during 2013’s second half.
  • Industrial backlog has continued to rise despite the strength of the U.S. dollar, which has contributed to limited export growth.
  • Commercial/institutional backlog has remained above eight months on average for twelve consecutive quarters, a reflection of America’s steady rate of employment expansion.
  • Backlog for all industry segments is higher on a year-over-year basis with exception of the commercial/institutional segment. Commercial/institution construction segments have been among the most active from a construction.
  • Spending perspective in recent years. Therefore, the small adjustment in average backlog is not particularly worrisome.


Basu, A. (2015, September 9). Construction Backlog Indicator. Retrieved October 22, 2015, from Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc.:http://www.abc.org/NewsMedia/ConstructionEconomic/ConstructionBacklogIndicator/tabid/272/entryid/4373/construction-activityincreases-as-backlog-edges-higher.aspx.

Strong Rebound for Architecture Billings Index

“Aside from uneven demand for design services in the Northeast, all regions are project sectors are in good shape,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, PhD. “Areas of concern are shifting to supply issues for the industry, including volatility in building materials costs, a lack of a deep enough talent pool to keep up with demand, as well as a lack of contractors to execute design work.”

Key September ABI highlights:

  • Regional averages: South (54.5), Midwest (54.2), West (51.7) Northeast (43.7)
  • Sector index breakdown: mixed practice (52.6), institutional (51.5), commercial / industrial (50.9) multi-family residential (49.5)
  • Project inquiries index: 61.0
  • Design contracts index: 53.2

Hon, K. (2015, October 21). Strong Rebound for Architecture Billing Index. Retrieved October 26, 2015, from The American Institute of Architects:http://www.aia.org/press/releases/AIAB107451

The Index Dropped only 1.3 Points to a Still Positive 63.6 this Quarter, 1.1 Points Ahead of Q3 2014

Construction companies are busy, and they are busier than they were last year at this time. However, there is some slippage in optimism about the economy and specifically the individual markets looking a year out and past the election year. The message is subtle and open to interpretation or other theories, but it appears that a number of forces are at work here. One is that many companies are struggling to take on more work with fewer well-trained employees. The recovery for construction post-recession has been gradual, but that gradual change has opened up a rift between the need for work and the need for more workers. Backlogs have increased for most companies and, for some, to the point of making it more difficult to sell more work. That is a better problem than finding no work, but still a problem.

Overall Economy:

At 70.6, NRCI panelists’ view of the overall economy is optimistic; however, it is 6.3 points less optimistic than last quarter and at the lowest point in the past year.

Overall Economy Where Panelists Do Business:

Looking at the economy for the markets in which panelists’ companies operate, a score of 73.3 this quarter indicates a strong outlook, although this component slipped 3.4 points from last quarter.

Panelists’ Construction Business:

Panelists’ view of their own business in the current economy is solidly positive at 75.7, with little change for the last three quarters.

Nonresidential Building Construction Market Where Panelists Do Business:

Although we see some slippage in most index components, a score of 75.0 for this component still registers in the optimistic range, as it has been over 70.0 for the last seven quarters.

Expected Change in Backlog:

The backlog component of the NRCI dropped 3.1 points from last quarter to 68.6. For the third quarter in a row, the mean backlog of all responses is 10 months with a high of 30 months and a low of just three months.

Cost of Construction Materials and Labor:

The cost of labor continues to be higher, but little change from last quarter at 12.5. Materials costs continue to be high, but slightly lower than last quarter. These two major components of construction costs act to hold down the overall NRCI as costs increase.

Productivity:

Improvements in productivity can help to overcome increases in labor and materials costs. However, this component dropped 3.4 points to just 47.6 this quarter. This is the lowest score for productivity we have seen since the NRCI began in 2008. As backlog climbs and skilled labor is in high demand, contractors find themselves in a position of trying to do more work with greener crews.

Warner, P. (2015). 2015 NRCI 3rd Quarter. FMI Corporation. Retrieved from http://www.fminet.com/nrci3q15.html