Construction spending continues growth into the new year

March 9, 2016

Construction spending soared in January from a month earlier and all major segments posted hefty year-over-year gains, pushing the total to the highest level since October 2008, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said the new spending figures indicate that demand for construction remains robust amid broader economic concerns.

"There were solid gains for both the month and year in apartment, nonresidential and highway construction," said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. "Although favorable weather may have boosted these results, demand for many types of projects remains strong despite worries that the overall economy has slowed."

Construction spending in January totaled $1.141 trillion at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, 1.5% higher than the upwardly revised December total and 10.4% higher than in January 2015, Simonson said. Private residential spending was flat for the month but increased 7.7% compared to January 2015. Spending on multifamily residential construction jumped 2.6% for the month and 30% year-over-year, while single-family spending dipped 0.2% from December but rose 6.6% compared to January 2015.

Private nonresidential construction spending increased 1.0% for the month and 11.5% from a year earlier. Simonson observed that nearly every segment increased from 12 months before. The largest private nonresidential segment in January was manufacturing construction, which rose 4.2% for the month and 11.0% year-over-year. The next-largest segment, power (including oil and gas pipelines), gained 2.7% and 10.3%, respectively.

Public construction spending increased 4.5% from a month before and 13.0% from 12 months earlier. The biggest public segment—highway and street construction—leaped 15% for the month and 34%  year-over-year, as record warmth in January 2016 allowed projects to proceed that would normally have been deferred until spring in some regions, Simonson noted.

Association officials said the new construction spending figures underscore the need to address growing construction workforce shortages that are making it difficult for many firms to add new staff. They called on elected and appointed officials to act on the measures outlined in the association's workforce development plan, including making it easier for high schools to set up construction-specific education programs.