Q1 2021 Economic Indicators

As 2021 Q1 numbers get reported, it has been commonly agreed that the post-pandemic surge is underway. The first-quarter real GDP growth is +6.4%, following the surprising Q4 2020 report of +4.3%.  While many economists believe this will be primarily consumer-driven given a combination of pent-up demand and recently distributed stimulus checks, the lead indicators we follow all also suggest a surging construction industry.

Interpreting the Trends

  • The Architect’s Billing Index strengthened to a score not seen since pre-great recession and continues the trend of rising billings and reported scores greater than 50. According to AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, “The activity that architecture firms are seeing is a positive bellwether not only for the construction outlook but also for the larger economy.” The ABI tends to be tied to the amount of market opportunities we see in the 8-12 month range, signifying industry growth in 2022.
  • The Dodge Momentum Index indicator followed its record-breaking jump from 139.1 in January to 148.8 in March (the most significant single jump in the history of the index), increasing again to 151.4. This continues to signal an increasing number of total projects entering the planning process and an increasing number of large projects in the pipeline. This index is very heavily correlated to the opportunities available in the industry during spring bidding 2022.
  • The last indicator to look at is the ABC Backlog Indicator, which is below 8 months. This is not surprising given its lagging nature, and you should expect to see this follow the rise in both the AIA Billing Index and the Dodge Momentum Index as we move through summer and fall 2021.

In summary, we are experiencing a quicker rebound in the construction industry than expected as of our Q4 2020 review. This has led to a tightening labor market and shortage of building products (for too many reasons to cover quickly). Our clients are now experiencing increases in construction costs across all types of construction. The lead indicators point toward more of the same as we move through 2021 and into 2022. Advanced planning will always help your budget – so if you have a project in your future – start the planning process a little earlier than you typically would to save money.