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Construction Growth Continues in March 2013 But Not As Good

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Construction spending was below expectations in March 2013. Econintersect sees the month-over-month comparisons a little worse. Government construction spending remains a drag on the relatively robustly expanding private sector.  This sector continues to cool.

The backward revision this month were again down moderately – so the numbers again are worse than the headlines show. However, the year-over-year growth remains at the bottom of a narrow channel showing the rate of expansion of this sector remains stable.

Econintersect analysis:

  • Down 1.1% month-over-month and Up 4.2% year-over-year
  • Inflation adjusted construction spending down 1.1% month-over-month – and up 2.0% year-over-year.

US Census Analysis:

  • Down 1.7% month-over-month and Up 4.8% year-over-year
  • Market expected Up 0.4% month-over-month (versus the -1.7% reported)

Construction spending (unadjusted data) was declining year-over-year for 48 straight months until November 2011. That was almost four years of headwinds for GDP. Construction spending is now in the seventeenth month of year-over-year spending expansion, and the rate of growth is flat (the rate of growth has been in a channel averaging just under 10% in the last 12 months – and around 5% in the last 3 months) .

Indexed and Seasonally Adjusted Total Construction Spending (blue line) and Inflation Adjusted (red line)

This month’s headline statement from US Census:

The U.S. Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce announced today that construction spending during March 2013 was estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $856.7 billion, 1.7 percent (±1.5%) below the revised February estimate of $871.2 billion. The March figure is 4.8 percent (±1.6%) above the March 2012 estimate of $817.8 billion.
During the first 3 months of this year, construction spending amounted to $181.7 billion, 4.7 percent (±1.6%) above the $173.6 billion for the same period in 2012.

PRIVATE CONSTRUCTION – Spending on private construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $598.4 billion, 0.6 percent (±1.2%)* below the revised February estimate of $602.0 billion. Residential construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $294.9 billion in March, 0.4 percent (±1.3%)* above the revised February estimate of $293.8 billion. Nonresidential construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $303.5 billion in March, 1.5 percent (±1.2%) below the revised February estimate of $308.2 billion.

PUBLIC CONSTRUCTION – In March, the estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate of public construction spending was $258.3 billion, 4.1 percent (±2.5%) below the revised February estimate of $269.2 billion. Educational construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $62.8 billion, 2.9 percent (±5.9%)* below the revised February estimate of $64.7 billion. Highway construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $73.8 billion, 5.2 percent (±6.3%)* below the revised February estimate of $77.8 billion.

Unadjusted Total Construction Spending Year-Over-Year (blue line) and Month-over-Month (red line) Change

Unadjusted Private Construction Spending Year-Over-Year (blue line) and Month-over-Month (red line) Change

Unadjusted Public Construction Spending Year-Over-Year (blue line) and Month-over-Month (red line) Change

It is obvious from the above graphics that all recent growth in construction spending has been in the private sector.

Public construction is down 7.3% year-over-year (down 5.3% year-to-date) – all numbers are unadjusted. Private construction is up 9.5% year-over-year (up 9.3% year-to-date) – all numbers are unadjusted. Construction spending would have to increase by more than 45% to equal the average for 2006, 2007 and 2008. The sector is in a deep depression.

Caveats on the Use of Construction Spending Data

Although the data in this series is revised for several months after issuing, the revision is generally minor. This series is produced by sampling – and the methodology varies by sector being sampled.

The headline data is seasonally adjusted. Econintersect uses the raw unadjusted data. Econintersect determines the month-over-month change by subtracting the current month’s year-over-year change from the previous month’s year-over-year change. This is the best of the bad options available to determine month-over-month trends – as the preferred methodology would be to use multi-year data (but the New Normal effects and the Great Recession distort historical data).

The data set for construction spending is not inflation adjusted. Econintersect adjusts using the BLS Producers Price Index – subindex New Construction (PCUBNEW–BNEW). However in the inflation adjusted graph in this post, FRED does not have this series – and Econintersect has used Producer Price Index: Finished Goods Less Energy (PPIFLE), Monthly, Seasonally Adjusted which has similar characteristics.

Construction (which historically is an major economic driver) is a literal shadow of its former self. Its contribution to GDP is down $400 billion from its peak level in 2006. The main driver of construction spending is the private sector. Here is the historical breakdown. The graph below uses US Census seasonally adjusted data.

Obvious from the above graph that public spending on construction is falling off, while private spending is slightly trending up. The overall effect is that construction spending is near the same place it was in early 2010.

Related Articles: All Construction Spending Articles

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