New Construction Starts in November Slide 12 Percent

December 22, 2017

Dodge Data & Analytics reports at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $650.5 billion, new construction starts in November dropped 12 percent from October.


Nonresidential building fell 14 percent in November, retreating for the second month in a row after the sharp improvement reported in late summer.

The nonbuilding construction sector, which can be volatile on a month-to-month basis, plunged 32 percent in November after its 28 percent hike in October, which included the start of two large natural gas pipeline projects.

Meanwhile, residential building managed to edge up 1 percent in November, as an improved amount for single family housing slightly outweighed a moderate pullback for multifamily housing.

During the first eleven months of 2017, total construction starts on an unadjusted basis were $687.1 billion, up 1 percent from a year ago.

The year-to-date increase for total construction was restrained by a 39 percent downturn for the electric utility/gas plant category.

Excluding electric utilities and gas plants, total construction starts during the first eleven months of 2017 would be up 4 percent compared to last year.

November’s data lowered the Dodge Index to 138 (2000=100), down from 157 for October and this year’s high of 173 for September, which reflected the boost coming from several unusually large projects – a $6.0 billion ethane cracker plant in Pennsylvania, the $4.0 billion Delta Airlines new terminal facility at LaGuardia Airport in New York NY, and the $1.7 billion 50 Hudson Yards office tower in New York NY.

“While total construction starts fell considerably during October and November, the declines came after an exceptionally strong September,” stated Robert A. Murray, chief economist for Dodge Data & Analytics.

“If one takes the average of September, October, and November, total construction starts during that period would be down only 1 percent from the average of the previous eight months. On balance, the construction expansion has continued during 2017, although it’s true that the rate of growth has slowed from the 6 percent gain reported for 2016 as well as the 11 percent to 13 percent yearly gains reported from 2012 through 2015.”

“Several features stand out about the pattern of construction starts during 2017,” Murray continued. “For nonresidential building, the upward momentum has shifted from commercial building to institutional building, and the manufacturing building category is no longer exerting a downward pull. For residential building, growth is being reported for the single family side of the market, while multifamily housing appears to have peaked and is now retreating moderately.

For nonbuilding construction, public works has been lifted this year by an especially strong amount of pipeline starts, while highway and bridge construction has been steady and environmental public works has weakened. A further retreat by electric utilities and gas plants continues to depress the nonbuilding total.

Heading into 2018, it’s expected that total construction activity will register modest growth next year, and the passage of tax reform will play some role in shaping the pattern of activity.

Assuming that economic growth is boosted by the corporate tax cuts, the likely beneficiaries would be commercial building and multifamily housing, although there’s also concern that more limited deductions for state and local taxes could dampen some of the growth expected for single family housing.

The fact that private activity bonds retained their tax-exempt status in the final tax reform legislation is viewed as a plus for institutional building and public works.”

Nonresidential building in November was $220.1 billion (annual rate), a 14 percent drop on top of October’s 31 percent decline, which followed gains of similar magnitude in September (up 34 percent) and August (up 10 percent).

The institutional building segment in November descended 13 percent, with an especially steep 59 percent plunge for the amusement category, which in October had received support from the start of the $1.1 billion retractable roof ballpark for the Texas Rangers in Arlington TX and a $240 million convention center expansion in Lexington KY.

By contrast, the largest amusement project entered as a November start was a $66 million recreational facility replacement in Madison WI.

Weaker activity in November was also reported for public buildings (courthouses and detention facilities), down 51 percent; and transportation terminals, down 22 percent; although November did include a $175 million terminal improvement project at San Francisco International Airport.

On the plus side, educational facilities climbed 12 percent in November, aided by groundbreaking for a $421 million research laboratory at the University of California in Merced CA, a $237 million research facility at the University of California in San Francisco CA, and a $180 million corporate learning campus in Orlando FL.

Healthcare facilities improved 4 percent in November, helped by the start of a $152 million hospital addition in Newark DE and the $150 million Oklahoma University medical center patient tower in Oklahoma City OK. Religious buildings also strengthened in November, rising 5 percent.

The commercial categories as a group dropped 9 percent in November.

Warehouse construction fell 13 percent, despite the November start of two Amazon fulfillment centers, located in Salem OR ($90 million) and the Baltimore MD area ($45 million).

Hotel construction was down 10 percent in November, even with groundbreaking for the $300 million new tower at the Palace Station hotel in Las Vegas NV and the $127 million Loews Hotel at the Texas Live! development in Arlington TX.

Office construction slipped a relatively modest 3 percent in November, with support coming from such projects as a $219 million office tower in Camden NJ, the $165 million Sentinel Square office building in Washington DC, and the $153 million FBI Central Records Complex in Winchester VA.

Store construction in November was unchanged from its October amount.

The manufacturing buildings category in November fell 38 percent from October which included a $675 million polyethylene plant and a $450 million petroleum refinery, both in Texas. The largest manufacturing projects entered as November starts were a $225 million Lockheed Martin production facility in Colorado and a $190 million upgrade to a Samsung Electronics facility in South Carolina.

January to November 2017

Through the first eleven months of 2017, nonresidential building advanced 7 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

The institutional building group increased 14 percent year-to-date, led by a 127 percent jump for transportation terminals combined with a 7 percent gain for educational facilities.

Additional year-to-date gains were reported for religious buildings, up 15 percent; and public buildings, up 4 percent; while the healthcare facilities category was flat and the amusement category slipped 5 percent.

Manufacturing building year-to-date climbed 32 percent, reflecting a rebound for petrochemical plant starts in 2017.

The commercial building group retreated 5 percent year-to-date, with both office buildings and hotels down 6 percent, while store construction dropped 11 percent.

Warehouse construction, up 9 percent, was the only commercial category to register a year-to-date increase.

Residential building in November was $302.1 billion (annual rate), up 1 percent from October.

Single family housing rose 4 percent, showing upward movement once again after the pause experienced earlier in the year.

Multifamily housing decreased 5 percent in November, retreating for the second month in a row as the number of very large projects that are reaching groundbreaking continues to settle back. In November, there were 6 multifamily projects valued each at $100 million or more that reached groundbreaking, led by the $199 million phase 2 of the Wanamaker Student Housing project in Philadelphia PA, the $177 million multifamily portion of a $200 million mixed-use building in Boston MA, and a $150 million apartment complex in Los Angeles CA.

During the January-November period of 2017, residential building grew 2 percent compared to last year.

Source: Dodge