In its first-quarter index of Construction Confidence, the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) found that 55% of contractors expected their sales to increase over the following six months, and only 19% thought their sales would decline in that period.
They might need to recalibrate their exuberance, in light of the trade group’s latest analysis of data published by the U.S. Census Bureau, which ABC released today. It estimates that national nonresidential construction spending in May, at $784.5 billion, was down 7.1% from the same month a year ago, and off 0.7% from spending levels in April 2021.
On a year-over-year basis, spending for every nonresidential category that ABC tracks, except sewage and waste disposal, was negative. Spending on public safety projects—which surged during the early months of the pandemic—showed the greatest decline in May, 39.6%, and lodging also took a big hit (off 23.3% to $22.6 billion). On the other hand, spending in May on healthcare construction, nearly $47 billion, was down only marginally, by 1.5%, compared to the same month a year ago.
WORKER SHORTAGES AND MATERIAL PRICING REMAIN PROJECT ROADBLOCKS
Construction spending for public safety and lodging projects showed the steepest declines in May compared to the same month a year ago.
A red-hot data center market hasn’t spelled more office construction, notes Anirban Basu, ABC’s Chief Economist. Basu also points out that while some private construction segments are struggling under the dislocating impacts of the pandemic, public nonresidential construction actually has declined more rapidly than the private sector over the past year.
Basu sees some hope for the future. Public construction spending should benefit from improvements in state and local governments’ financial conditions. But he tempers his predictions because of still-high construction materials prices and “deeply problematic” worker shortages. Basu expressed some concern, too, about the disproportionate amount of spending moving toward residential construction, which accounted for 41% of the pre-pandemic total and 49% in May.