Mickey Mouse plays the role of the Sorcerer's Apprentice in the Disney film, Fantasia. Like all good apprentices he's very anxious to become a master sorcerer and can't wait. One day while the master is away, Mickey decides to do his chores using the knowledge he had so far acquired. He was successful in getting the broom to sweep and cloths to dust so he decided to get the mop to fetch the water and mop the floor. The mop brings bucket after bucket of water and poor Mickey can't get it to stop. Before long the apprentice is over his head. Every year when it comes to forecasting I feel like Mickey did when he couldn't get the mop to stop bringing water — over my head.
Looking into 2007's future is difficult because there are so many "what-ifs" that can change the economic balance radically in a short time. Fuel prices could skyrocket or drop. Either change would have a dramatic effect on the economy. Interest rates could go up or down and we'd have another dramatic change. Conditions in the Mideast are so volatile that day-to-day predictions are impossible let alone a whole year. The new congress could move the country in a different or it could end up as the lame duck everyone expects.
A majority of the economic "Sorcerers" are saying that next year will be an OK year ending with about 3-percent to 3.5-percent growth. There are some who think 2007 will be stronger than that and, of course, there are others who look at the numbers and see a decline.
Almost universally, notice the almost, the economists are saying that housing starts will be off by a couple hundred thousand and will produce around 1.7 to 1.9 million units. One or two of the economists believe that the housing market will be as good as it was in 2006. Even if the housing market does drop it shouldn't be enough to drive the economy into recession or depression. Other segments of the industry will keep construction going at a better pace than it has in a long time.
It's understandable that we worry about the construction industry but we should probably be a little concerned about what is happening in the automotive industry. The U.S. automaker's market share continues to erode while the offshore manufacturers continue to grow and prosper. The auto industry is such an important part of our economic structure that we need to watch what happens to it.
What does the future look like for 2007? Well 100 years ago people were probably asking the same question, wondering how 1907 would turn out. Just as an aside, Michigan Contractor & Builder, one of our regional magazines, was launched. It ultimately became the sixth-oldest magazine in our family of 14.
People forecasting for the coming year probably didn't predict any of the following:
- In early '07 Dr. Lee Dee Forest patented the three-element vacuum tube.
- The passenger ship Larchmont sank taking 322 with it.
- Royal Oil and Shell merged and formed BP.
- The first musical composition was broadcast over the air.
- Taxis began running in New York City.
- Automatic washers and dryers were introduced.
- The world's first air force was established in the army.
- UPS begin service in Seattle.
- England, Russia and France formed the triple Entente.
- The Lusitania arrived in New York after crossing the Atlantic in five days. Nine years later she made history again when she was sunk by a German U-boat.
- Cubs beat the Tigers in the fourth World Series.
- Oklahoma became the 46th state.
- December 31st was the first time a ball dropped in Times Square to signal the New Year.
In the summer of 1907, the American economy was showing signs of weakness as a number of business and Wall Street brokerages went bankrupt. In October, the respected Knickerbocker Trust in New York City and the Westinghouse Electric Company both failed, resulting in the Panic of 1907.
Stock market prices plummeted and depositors made a massive run on the nation's banks following the initial business collapses. The U.S. Treasury pumped millions of dollars into weak banks in the hope of saving them, but the string of collapsed institutions continued.
J.P. Morgan acted to restore order in a reprise of his role during the second Cleveland administration when the gold standard was under assault. He summoned the leading bankers and financial experts to his home where they set up shop in his library. Over the course of the next three weeks, Morgan and his associates labored to channel money from the strong institutions to the weaker ones in an effort to keep them afloat.
The joint effort of the government and the business leaders improved conditions markedly over the course of several weeks. Reform elements of both political parties believed that the American banking system was fundamentally flawed and needed wholesale change. Business leaders, however, held that Roosevelt's progressive legislation had upset the natural order of the economy and the government should stop its meddling.
Following the Panic of 1907, an emerging consensus affirmed that thorough bank reform was necessary to provide badly needed currency elasticity and the general soundness of the banking system. Congress responded by passing stop-gap legislation, the Aldrich-Vreeland Act (1908), until the system could be studied and more complete actions developed.
The passing of the Owen-Glass Federal Reserve Act of 1913 resulted in the creation of the Federal Reserve System. The "Fed" was designed to be flexible and responsive to the economy and independent of politics. The Fed has evolved through the years by implementing many strict checks and balances. New departments, the General Accounting Office, GAO, and the Office of Management & Budget, OMB, were created to audit the Fed and most other government departments. As a result, the American economy, and American society, are more stable.
Back to today, or more correctly tomorrow, but rather than subjecting you to fate of an apprentice forecaster, let's see what some of the masters are saying.
James Haughey is chief economist for RCD. According to his projections, five regions defy national economic slowdown.
Economic growth is steady in California, the southeastern states and New England late in 2006 and improving in the northern plains states while growth in the overall U.S. economy continues to slow as the economic expansion that began in 2003 matures.
U.S. economic growth peaked at over a 4-percent annual pace in 2005, slowed to 3.5 percent for about a year into early 2006 and has now dipped to 2.5 percent to 3 percent where it is expected to remain through 2008. October showed a clear improvement from September. The third-quarter GDP revision bumped GDP growth up to 2.2 percent from 1.6 percent (originally 1.2 percent). The underlying economic support for construction remains solid; it appears that both the housing slowdown and period of very high energy prices have been absorbed in the overall economy with minimal damage. U.S. manufacturing growth has stalled due to excess inventory built up during the earlier period of weaker consumer buying. This will keep GDP in the 2.5-percent to 3-percent range through next year which is enough to keep construction spending growing slowly although the value of new starts is likely now near the peak for this cycle. As a result, the share of projects now in the planning stage that will not be bid is bigger than average because of the huge jump in planned projects in the last two years.
So far no slowdown is evident in California which is uniquely benefiting from the rapid expansion of U.S. trade with Asia and also being spurred by above-average growth in technology and media markets. Similarly, economic growth remains steady in New England. The surge and retreat of the housing market had little impact on the New England economy where the housing market is relatively small in this regions' low population growth economy. The current steady growth in the New England economy is also the result of a much earlier downturn in home price appreciation than in other parts of the country and the usual strength of New England's finance, health care and software industries late in the economic expansion cycle.
The southeast, dominated by Florida, has also had steady growth recently. This is partly due to the rebuilding and recovery from the 2004-05 hurricanes. Recent economic strength is also partly due to usual pickup in Florida's tourist industry late in an economic expansion and to an influx of people and money fleeing the takeover of much of South America by socialist governments.
Faster economic growth recently in the Gulf States is a combination of recovery from the 2005 hurricanes which was delayed for many months, especially in Louisiana, and unusually high energy prices which both boosted profits and tax receipts and spurred expanded energy exploration and development spending.
The recent pickup in economic growth in Minnesota and the Dakotas reflects the strong and diversified economy in the Twin Cities as well always volatile farm income trends.
The Michigan economy is the weakest in the country, with the weakness spilling into the motor vehicle centers in neighboring Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ontario. The motor vehicle manufacturing industry is reeling from a double hit. Vehicle sales weakened when gasoline prices soared to $3.00/gallon. This came on top of a declining market share for Michigan-based manufacturers which also caused an exodus of parts suppliers to the new foreign-owned auto assemble plants in the mid-South. Also, auto assemblers have sharply boosted lower-cost parts imports from Asia displacing long-established parts suppliers in the Great Lakes region.
Michigan has long had the most volatile economy in the country, so the current weakness is an overestimate of long-term economic prospects. Nonetheless, the shrinking of the Great Lakes motor vehicle industry is not yet over. (Editor's Note: See earlier comments about erosion of market share. In 2006 some 17 million vehicles were produced. U.S. manufacturers sold around 7 million units.)
The Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain regions have had the most rapid economic growth over the last year although both have experienced a marked decline in growth so far in 2006 because of the housing slowdown. Home construction is an outsized share of the local economy in both regions.
High growth compared to the rest of the United States will continue in both of these regions. Population is the key growth drivers. The inflow of foreign immigration is relatively high, as is the rate of natural population increase with a relatively high birth rates and a low death rate with a relatively young population. Domestic immigration to both regions is also very high. This people flow is partly to retirement communities but is principally to new jobs in the technology, aerospace, energy, and natural resources industries which are attracted to these regions by relatively low operating costs.
There are several high-growth markets that do not dominate a region. This includes Washington, D.C. The growth is not due to expanded federal employment. Washington is now generating its own growth with telecommunications, biotechnology and lobbying the federal government. Washington is now the largest office construction market in the United States. The low operating costs in the Appalachian foothills in Virginia and the Carolinas continue to attract new factories as well as new service facilities. And there are several isolated oil patches, especially in Wyoming with very high growth and 2007 growth prospects from high energy prices and expanded oil and gas field development.
Expect steady growth or a very modest growth slowdown in state capitals and university towns in 2007 because there dominant public and non-profit sector jobs are less immediately sensitive to weaker economic activity. The slowdown will arrive later in these cities.
Finally, there are a large number of smaller, isolated cities that will experience a relatively severe economic slowdown, even recession conditions in 2006-07. These are older manufacturing centers — the rust belt — that have not attracted the newer, high-growth manufacturing industries. Most of these are located "outstate" in New York, Pennsylvania, northern New England, and the Great Lakes states with a few in the upper South, Texas and the central valley of California.
Bill Beuchner, chief economist for ARTBA, in his preliminary outlook for transportation construction in 2007 states that 2006 is turning out to be a good year for the transportation construction industry — and the forces are lining up to produce another good year in 2007.
So far this year, the value of construction work performed on transportation projects is up more than 15 percent compared to 2005, the largest year-over-year increase since ARTBA began keeping records more than a decade ago. If the trend continues, a record $105 billion of construction work will be performed on highway, bridge, transit, airport, and water projects in 2006, up from $92 billion in 2005. Most of the increase so far this year has been on highways and bridges — benefiting from last year's long-awaited enactment of new federal highway legislation as well as improved state and local government budgets — but all modes are running ahead of the 2005 pace.
Strong growth should continue in 2007. One important factor will be a 10-percent increase in federal highway funding for FY 2007, one of the largest increases in years. Another will be the continuing recovery of state and local government budgets, which reduces pressures on state legislatures to dip into dedicated highway funds to finance other budget needs. In addition, a number of states are planning bond issues to accelerate construction on a growing backlog of transportation projects. These factors should power the transportation construction market upward by another $5 billion or more next year.
The only dark cloud in this picture is the recent run-up of prices for construction materials. In the past three years, prices of construction materials, which make up half the cost of highway and bridge projects, have risen 35 percent. About half the 15-percent growth of construction spending this year covered higher materials prices. Real growth was about 7.5 percent, still large by historical standards. These higher costs are cutting into state and local transportation budgets. The recent slowdown in housing construction and lower oil prices may bring some relief but some planned transportation projects may have to be postponed or cancelled.
Ed Sullivan, chief economist for PCA, states that PCA does not expect the relatively robust growth of the past three years will continue. Oil prices are expected to retreat slowly. Inflation is expected to remain stubbornly high. Interest rates are expected to rise at a faster pace than previously expected — both short and long term. Job growth will moderate under the dual pressures of higher oil prices and higher interest rates. Real consumer spending, accounting for more than two out of every three dollars of total U.S. economic activity, will grow at a sub-3-percent rate during 2007 and beyond. These combined factors lead PCA to expect real GDP growth of 3.2 percent in 2006 and a sub-3-percent growth pace for 2007 and beyond.
Overall construction spending is expected to record a 2-percent gain in 2006, followed by generally flat market conditions in 2007 and 2008. The construction outlook reflects sustained declines in residential construction offset by gains in nonresidential and public sector activity.
Residential Construction: Rising mortgage rates, slow growth in household income, tightening credit conditions, and large inventories of unsold homes play critical ingredients in PCA's 2006 projections of a 9.6-percent decline in single-family starts, followed by another 10.5-percent decline in 2007. Compared to 2005 levels this represents a 4.7-million-metric-ton reduction in cement consumption through 2007 — representing a 15.7-percent decline. These declines are expected to be amplified by an additional 1.2-million-metric-ton decline in cement consumption targeted at the home improvement/additions sector.
PCA expects 30-year conventional mortgage rates will top 7 percent by year-end. Up to an additional 50 basis point increase in rates is expected to materialize by the end of 2007. Rising mortgage rates will be overlaid onto large principals due to strong appreciation rates recorded over the past two years. Mortgage payments, now estimated at an average of $1,400 per month for new homes, are expected to rise nearly 15 percent in 2007 — reaching an average of nearly $1,850 per month. New home affordability will erode, particularly in regions which have recorded the strongest home appreciation during the past three years such as the west and east coast states.
The adverse outlook facing affordability and new home sales is magnified by new home inventory conditions. The recent softening in home sales has resulted in a dramatic increase in new home inventories — which are now at record levels. Measured by average months on the market, inventories have risen from 4.1 months a year ago to 6.8 months currently — requiring a 150,000-unit inventory correction. PCA assumes a 100,000-unit correction in 2007 followed by an additional 50,000-unit correction in 2008.
Nonresidential Construction: Slower economic growth translates directly into slower growth for nonresidential construction activity in 2006 and 2007. The slower pace of economic growth implies slower improvement in nonresidential vacancy rates and slower gains in leasing rates. While the outlook remains positive, the expected return on nonresidential investments are less robust and suggests a more moderate pace of recovery for nonresidential construction. Compared to 2005 levels, nonresidential cement consumption is expected to grow slightly below 8 percent in 2006 and 2007. By 2007, these gains represent a 3.3-million-metric-ton gain compared to 2005 consumption levels. In contrast, PCA's spring forecast projected a 4-million-metric-ton gain during the same period.
Public Construction: On the public sector side, improvement in state fiscal conditions remains a cornerstone of the current forecast. Keep in mind, 93 percent of public sector construction is performed at the state level — not at the federal level. Slower job creation implies slower growth in state revenues. Severe fiscal distress is still fresh in the minds of many state budget officers. It is likely that this sensitivity to fiscal distress and the growth slowdown in revenue collections will translate into cautious approach toward new public sector construction projects. In addition, rising construction costs will reduce the ability of states to undertake the number of planned public projects. Indeed, many DOTs are already re-adjusting the magnitude of planned paving schedules. Reflecting these concerns, PCA expects public highway cement consumption will fall off its strong 2006 pace to a rate of 4.6 percent in 2007. By 2007 public sector gains reflect a 6.2-million-metric-ton increase over 2005 levels.
Portland cement consumption is expected to reach 124 million metric tons during 2006 — reflecting a 2.8-million-ton gain, or 2.3-percent growth over 2005's record year. PCA expects the market will record 1.3-percent growth in 2007. It is important to note that PCA does not expect growth in cement consumption will be shared evenly across the United States. The Great Lakes, Northeast and Middle Atlantic states, for example, face meager growth conditions and in some cases outright market contraction. In contrast, markets in the south, west and mountain regions are expected to achieve somewhat stronger growth rates. The differential in regional growth rates reflects the relative strength of the regional economies as well as each state's unique exposure to declines in residential consumption.
To date, supply has far outstripped potential demand growth during 2006. Tight market conditions that characterized the cement market during the past two years have been dramatically reduced or eliminated. According to PCA's recent market survey only two states reflect tight market conditions — compared to more than 30 states in 2004 and 2005.
The reduction in market tightness is accrued to dramatic growth in import volume recorded thus far in 2006 — now running at a 42-million-metric-ton annual rate. Compared to 2005's record import level of 33.6 million metric tons — import volumes are running more than 8 million metric tons ahead of 2005. The current import rate implies a supply overhang of more than 5 million metric tons.
PCA does not believe the gains in import volume can be sustained. The impressive import gains recorded throughout 2005 and into the first five months of 2006 correlate with favorable global shipping conditions. From the first quarter of 2005 through the first quarter of 2006 Asian freight rates recorded an average decline of 18 percent compared to year earlier levels.
On the heels of resurging economic growth in China (11.5-percent real GDP growth) tight shipping conditions have recently resurfaced. Reflecting this tightness, freight rates have increased significantly. Handymax dry bulk carrier rates from Asia to the Gulf have increased 89 percent since the beginning of 2006 and now stand at more than $50 per ton — most of these gains have materialized during the past two months. These increases suggest a more moderate pace of imports through the remainder of 2006 — particularly in the fourth quarter. PCA expects import volume will reach 37.4 million metric tons in 2006 and 38.5 million metric tons in 2007. As new domestic capacity comes online in 2008 and beyond, import volumes are expected to retreat to 30 million metric tons.
We could go on with more forecast data but feel that these data give you some information that will help guide you into 2007 with a little less than a blindfold. The editor of this magazine has done extensive research in developing an economic forecast that is specific to the geographic area covered by the publication. You will want to spend time studying that information as it is more market specific. If you still hunger for more, visit our website, www.constructionequipment.com. You will find more forecast data than you will want to read. Have an incredibly good 2007.
|Economic Growth (annual % change) 8/05 to 8/06 last 12 months||Relative Growth Level||Economic Growth (annual % change) 5/06 to 8/06 last 3 months||Late 2006 Trend|
|Source: Economic Activity Indexes, Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank|
|Monthly Figures (1)||Annual Figures|
|(latest actual values)||Actual||Forecast|
|Northeast (% change is period versus same period, previous year)||156||134||162||174||189||168||165||161|
|New Home Sales (2)||1,021||1,075||1,087||1,201||1,279||1,072||1,036||1,061|
|Manufactured Home Shipments||111||109||130||130||148||123||122||134|
|Actuals: U.S. Department of Commerce, National Association of Realtors, Freddie Mac.
Forecasts and table: Reed Construction Data • Manufactured home shipments are for July and August
|Monthly Figures*||Annual Figures|
|(latest actual values)||Actual||Forecast|
|Lodging (% change is period versus same period, previous year)||21.582||22.432||11.015||12.496||13.069||19.833||24.250||23.100|
|Commercial (mainly retail)||84.109||86.112||62.266||68.536||73.760||81.697||89.650||95.000|
|* Monthly figures are seasonally adjusted at annual rates (SAAR figures).
The total includes some miscellaneous state and local government buildings.
Actuals: U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Commerce (put-in-place investment figures). • Forecasts and table: Reed Construction Data
|Monthly Figures*||Annual Figures|
|(latest actual values)||Actual||Forecast|
|Transportation (% change is period versus same period, previous year)||30.395||30.297||25.648||26.200||26.752||30.116||35.013||40.725|
|Water And Sewer||32.475||33.463||25.663||26.054||27.796||32.318||36.138||39.500|
|Conservation And Development||5.335||5.723||4.276||4.577||5.037||5.575||6.011||6.633|
|* Monthly figures are seasonally adjusted at annual rates (SAAR figures).
The total includes some miscellaneous buildings.
Actuals: U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Commerce (put-in-place investment figures). • Forecasts and table: Reed Research Group.
|New Residential (% change is year vs previous year)||351.8||423.5||488.2||484.5||465.3||478.2|
|Non-Building (heavy engineering)||167.7||167.0||175.5||199.8||223.6||248.9|
|*Residential Improvements include remodeling, renovation and replacement work.
Actuals: U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Commerce.
Forecasts and table: Reed Research Group.