2018 Dodge Construction Outlook calls for growth

By |  November 2, 2017

Dodge Data & Analytics released its 2018 Dodge Construction Outlook, predicting that total U.S. construction starts for 2018 will climb 3 percent to $765 billion.

“The U.S. construction industry has moved into a mature stage of expansion,” says Robert Murray, chief economist for Dodge Data & Analytics. “After rising 11 percent to 13 percent per year from 2012 through 2015, total construction starts advanced a more subdued 5 percent in 2016.

Murray says an important question entering 2017 was whether the construction industry had the potential for further expansion.

“Several project types, including multifamily housing and hotels, have pulled back from their 2016 levels, but the current year has seen continued growth by single-family housing, office buildings and warehouses,” Murray says. “In addition, the institutional segment of nonresidential building has been quite strong, led especially by transportation terminal projects in combination with gains for schools and healthcare facilities. As for public works, the specifics of a $1 trillion infrastructure program by the Trump administration have yet to materialize, so activity continues to hover around basically the plateau for construction starts reached a couple of years ago.”

According to Murray, total construction starts in 2017 are estimated to climb 4 percent to $746 billion.

“For 2018, there are several positive factors which suggest that the construction expansion has further room to proceed,” Murray says. “The U.S. economy next year is anticipated to see moderate job growth. Long-term interest rates may see some upward movement but not substantially. While market fundamentals for commercial real estate won’t be quite as strong as this year, funding support for construction will continue to come from state and local bond measures.”

Overall, Murray says 2018 is likely to show some construction project types register gains while other project types settle back, with the end result being a 3 percent increase from total construction starts. Major section gains are predicted for residential building, up to 4 percent. Nonresidential building will be up 2 percent while nonbuilding construction is expected to stabilize after two years of decline.

According to Dodge, single-family housing will rise 9 percent in dollars, corresponding to a 7 percent increase in units to 850,000. Continued employment growth has eased some of the caution shown by potential homebuyers, while millennials in their 30s are helping to lift demand for single-family housing. A modest boost will also come from rebuilding efforts in Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Multifamily housing will retreat 8 percent in dollars and 11 percent in units too, according to Dodge. This project type appears to have peaked in 2016, helped by widespread growth across major metropolitan markets. That strength has begun to wane in 2017, given slight deterioration in market fundamentals (i.e., rent growth, occupancies) and a more cautious bank lending stance.

Dodge predicts commercial building will increase 2 percent, following a 3 percent gain in 2017, and will continue to decelerate after the sharp 21 percent hike back in 2016. Office construction should see further growth in 2018, helped by broad development efforts in downtown markets, and warehouse construction is supported by greater demand arising from e-commerce. However, store construction will remain weak, and hotel construction will continue to pull back from its 2016 peak.

Institutional building will advance 3 percent, maintaining its upward track after this year’s 14 percent jump, according to Dodge. Educational facilities should see more substantial growth next year, lifted by the passage of recent school construction bond measures. The robust volume of transportation terminal projects in 2017 may not be repeated in 2018, but activity should stay at a high level.

Manufacturing plant construction will recede 1 percent in dollar terms, after surging 27 percent this year due to the start of several massive petrochemical projects, says Dodge. Next year should still see moderate growth for manufacturing plants in square footage terms.

Public works construction will improve 3 percent, slightly more than the 1 percent growth in 2017. Highways and bridges should be helped as federal funding rises to the levels called for by the FAST Act, while the environmental categories will partly reflect reconstruction efforts related to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Additional benefits may come from the infrastructure program proposed by the Trump administration, should it achieve passage in some form.

Finally, electric utilities and gas plants will drop 13 percent, falling for the third year in a row after the exceptional amount reported in 2015, according to Dodge. Power plant construction starts will ease back as new generating capacity comes on line.

Joe McCarthy

About the Author:

Joe McCarthy is a former Associate Editor of Pit and Quarry Magazine.

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