Nonresidential Construction Spending Falls in October

Key Takeaways

  • Nonresidential construction spending, which totaled $776.5 billion on a seasonally adjusted annual basis October, fell 0.7% from September but is up 1.4% compared to the same time last year.
  • Private nonresidential spending fell 1.2% on a monthly basis and is down 4.3% compared to the same time last year. Public nonresidential construction spending also declined, falling 0.1% from September. On an annual basis, however, public nonresidential spending is up 10.4%.
  • "Commercial construction is down more than 16% over the past year, which coincides with the fact that 2019 will set a record for store closings in the U.S. as e-commerce continues to gobble up market share. Lodging and office-related construction has also slowed of late, likely because developers have already exhausted many of the best investment opportunities.”

Press Release from Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2—National nonresidential construction spending fell 0.7% in October but is up 1.4% compared to the same time last year, according to an Associated Builders and Contractors analysis of data published today by the U.S. Census Bureau. On a seasonally adjusted annualized basis, spending totaled $776.5 billion, 2.3% lower than the cyclical peak attained in April 2019.

Private nonresidential spending fell 1.2% on a monthly basis and is down 4.3% from October 2018. Public nonresidential construction spending also declined on a monthly basis, falling 0.1%. On an annual basis, however, public nonresidential spending is up 10.4%.

“At this point, economic indicators are providing mixed signals about the U.S. construction industry’s trajectory,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “Today’s release suggests that the industry’s spending cycle is winding toward a close and has been for about six months. Yet, according to the October employment data or ABC’s Construction Backlog Indicator, the story is very different. Those data tell the tale of an industry still wrestling with enormous levels of work and ongoing labor shortages.

Moreover, though overall nonresidential construction spending is a bit lower than it was six months ago, there are still segments that are performing well,” said Basu. “A number of public construction segments experienced solid growth on monthly and annual bases, including public safety, conservation/development (e.g. flood control), educational and water supply. With state and local government budgets still generally healthy, spending on public works will conceivably remain elevated for the foreseeable future.

“The primary source of weakness has been private construction,” said Basu. “This is consistent with recent readings of ABC’s Construction Confidence Index and a number of other leading indicators. Among the segments softening the fastest are the manufacturing and commercial segments, which are both down on monthly and year-ago bases. Commercial construction is down more than 16% over the past year, which coincides with the fact that 2019 will set a record for store closings in the U.S. as e-commerce continues to gobble up market share. Lodging and office-related construction has also slowed of late, likely because developers have already exhausted many of the best investment opportunities.”


Press Release from Associated General Contractors of America

December 2, 2019

Association Urge Quick Resolution to Trade Disputes and Uncertainty that are Contributing to Slower

U.S. Economic Growth, Causing a Wide Variety of Businesses to Delay or Cancel Construction Projects

Construction spending declined 0.8 percent in October from September but topped year-ago levels by 1.1 percent, as decreases in private nonresidential, multifamily and public projects outweighed a recent revival in single-family homebuilding, according to an analysis today by the Associated General Contractors of America of new federal spending data. Association officials said that the impact of trade conflicts is harming private construction.

“A drop in mortgage interest rates has given a boost to single-family homebuilding in recent months, but these gains have been offset by weak private nonresidential spending as trade friction drags down U.S. economic growth,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Businesses that have been hurt by existing tariffs and retaliatory actions by U.S. trading partners or firms facing uncertainty over future trade policy are likely to hold off on construction projects.”

Construction spending totaled $1.291 trillion at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in October, a decrease of 0.8 percent from the September rate but 1.1 percent more than the October 2018 rate, according to estimates the U.S. Census Bureau released today. Year-to-date spending for January-October combined fell 1.7 percent from the same months in 2018.

Private residential construction spending declined 0.9 percent for the month but edged up 0.5 percent from a year ago. Single-family homebuilding rose for the fourth consecutive month, rising 1.6 percent from September, although the October rate was 3.1 percent less than in October 2018. Spending on multifamily projects was down 1.6 percent for the month and down 2.1 percent from a year earlier. Spending on residential improvements fell 4.5 percent for the month but increased 8.2 percent over 12 months.

Private nonresidential spending decreased 1.2 percent from September to October and 4.3 percent from a year ago. Major private nonresidential segments experienced mixed year-over-year results. The largest—power construction (comprising electric power generation, transmission and distribution, plus oil and gas fields and pipelines)—climbed 3.6 percent from a year ago. Commercial (retail, warehouse and farm) construction tumbled 17.7 percent. Manufacturing construction inched down 0.2 percent gain. Private office construction spending rose 1.0 percent.

Public construction spending dipped 0.2 percent for the month but jumped 10.2 percent from a year earlier. Among the three largest public categories, spending in October climbed 8.4 percent compared to the October 2018 rate for highway and street construction spending, 9.8 percent for educational construction and 13.0 percent for transportation (airports, transit, rail and port) projects.

Association officials observed that private nonresidential investment has weakened over the past year as trade disputes and uncertainty over future trade policy have had a negative impact on a variety of agricultural, manufacturing, distribution and transportation businesses. They urged the Trump administration to settle disputes promptly.

“Construction firms are at risk of being caught in the crossfire from trade wars unless the government removes tariffs that are hurting the competitiveness of U.S. businesses and gets foreign countries to re-open their markets to U.S. exports,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “Until that happens, private nonresidential construction is likely to suffer.”

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