The value of new construction starts in April dropped 13 percent from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $647.8 billion, according to Dodge Data & Analytics. The decline followed three straight months of gains, which saw total construction activity rising 20 percent from the lackluster amount reported back in December.
Much of April’s slide for total construction reflected a steep 39 percent plunge by its nonbuilding construction sector, which had been lifted in March by the start of two large pipeline projects – the $4.2 billion Rover natural gas pipeline in Ohio and Michigan, and the $2.5 billion Mariner East 2 propane and natural gas liquids pipeline in Pennsylvania.
Residential building slipped a more moderate 5 percent in April.
Nonresidential building receded only a slight 1 percent as it basically held steady with its pace in February and March.
During the first four months of 2017 total construction starts on an unadjusted basis were $213.9 billion, down 4 percent from last year’s January-April period. If the volatile manufacturing plant and electric utility/gas plant categories are excluded, total construction starts during the first four months of 2017 would be up 4 percent compared to last year.
April’s data lowered the Dodge Index to 137 (2000=100), compared to 157 for March and the 152 average for the first quarter of 2017, yet still above December’s 131. “The construction start pattern so far in 2017 can be characterized as three steps forward and one step back, as the often hesitant pattern of the construction expansion continues,” stated Robert A. Murray, chief economist for Dodge Data & Analytics.
Nonbuilding construction was $119.0 billion (annual rate) in April, down 39 percent from its heightened March amount. Nonbuilding construction had registered steady growth during the first three months of 2017, with March activity up 16 percent from nonbuilding’s average pace during 2016. The public works categories as a group plunged 48 percent in April, with much of the decline coming from an 83 percent slide for the miscellaneous public works category, which includes such diverse project types as pipelines, mass transit, outdoor sports stadiums, and site work.
Residential building, at $295.4 billion (annual rate), settled back 5 percent in April. Single family housing slipped 6 percent in April, retreating for the second month in a row after showing modest improvement during the fourth quarter of 2016 and the first two months of 2017. April’s pace for single family housing was still 5 percent above the average monthly pace during 2016.
Nonresidential building in April was $233.4 billion (annual rate), down 1 percent from March. The commercial building categories as a group were up 6 percent in April, led by a 24 percent increase for office buildings. The institutional categories as a group fell 16 percent in April.