Saying today’s construction numbers from the Commerce Department reflect big factory and refinery projects started before the economy went south, Ken Simonson, the chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, doubts the industry will come out of it’s slump anytime soon. In fact, he says, the construction industry as a whole may be down 9 percent at the end of this year, even with stimulus construction added in. The full text of the press release is below the “More” line.
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SURPRISING CONSTRUCTION DATA MASKS DECLINING CONDITIONS IN THE CONSTRUCTION SECTOR, NONRESIDENTIAL SPENDING COULD FALL BY UP TO 9 PERCENT OVER THE COMING MONTHS, TOP CONSTRUCTION ECONOMIST SAYS
Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America issued the following analysis of today’s Census Bureau data on nonresidential construction spending:
“The increase in nonresidential construction spending for March reported today by the Census Bureau is a reminder that construction is often a lagging indicator of economic activity. Increases in manufacturing construction are being propelled by huge refinery and steel-mill projects that were begun well-before the economic downturn. These large projects are eclipsing broader negative trends. However, as they are completed or scaled back in the coming months, we will get a fuller picture of how much nonresidential construction is being adversely affected.
“Given declining office and hotel vacancy rates, continued difficult retail conditions and ongoing challenges with the credit markets, it is hard to imagine many new office, hotel or retail projects starting anytime soon. And, unfortunately, even where there may be demand, financing these projects right now is, at best, difficult. In short, despite today’s data, nonresidential construction activity is likely to decline significantly over the coming months.
“Meanwhile, stimulus money has not yet turned into construction put in place—the concept measured by the Census Bureau. Although thousands of projects have been announced, they are not likely to show up as construction spending until May data is released in early July.
“Indeed, the March numbers show that federal construction spending slipped 1.7 percent from February. While state and local spending rose 1.3 percent, the highway and street component—where the earliest stimulus money is likely to appear—dipped 0.7 percent.
“In coming months, stimulus money will flow in increasing amounts. But it is not likely to overcome the downturn in private, state and locally funded projects. Given the broader economic trends at play, it is likely that nonresidential spending could fall by as much as 9 percent in 2009, even with stimulus funds.”