AGC: Construction spending slips in February 2021

By |  April 1, 2021


Construction spending slumped in February as unseasonably severe weather hammered the industry and a decline in new projects squeezed nonresidential contractors experiencing rising costs and delivery times.

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) highlighted the spending slump after analyzing the latest federal construction spending data. The association also posted a construction inflation alert to inform project owners and government officials about the threat to project completion dates and contractors’ financial health.

“The downturn in February reflects both an unfavorable change from mild January weather and an ongoing decline in new nonresidential projects,” says Ken Simonson, AGC’s chief economist. “Unfortunately, it will take more than mild weather to help nonresidential contractors overcome the multiple challenges of falling demand for many project types, steeply rising costs and lengthening or uncertain delivery times for key materials.”

What the data says

Construction spending in February totaled $1.52 trillion at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, a decrease of 0.8 percent from the pace in January.

Although the overall total was 5.3 percent higher than in February 2020, the year-over-year gain was limited to residential construction, Simonson says. That segment slipped 0.2 percent for the month but jumped 21 percent year over year.

Meanwhile, combined private and public nonresidential spending declined 1.3 percent from January and 6.1 percent over 12 months, AGC says.

Private nonresidential construction spending fell 1 percent from January to February and 9.7 percent since February 2020, with year-over-year decreases in 11 subsegments. The largest private nonresidential category – power construction – retreated 9.7 percent year over year and 0.4 percent from January to February.

Among the other large private nonresidential project types, commercial construction – comprising retail, warehouse and farm structures – slumped 7.1 percent year over year and 1.2 percent for the month. Manufacturing construction tumbled 10.4 percent from a year earlier despite a pickup of 0.3 percent in February. Office construction decreased 5 percent year over year and 0.5 percent in February.

Public construction spending dipped 0.9 percent year over year and 1.7 percent for the month. Among the largest segments, highway and street construction declined 1 percent from a year earlier and 0.6 percent for the month. Educational construction decreased 2.3 percent year over year and 3.2 percent in February. Spending on transportation facilities declined 2.3 percent over 12 months and 2.5 percent in February.

AGC officials say rising materials prices and unreliable delivery schedules are making it hard for firms to remain profitable because they have difficulty passing raising prices for construction work. They say that proposed new infrastructure projects will help boost demand for many types of construction projects. But they urge Washington officials to also take steps to address supply chain challenges, including ending tariffs on materials such as lumber and steel.

“Contractors are having a hard time finding work, and when they do, they are getting squeezed by rapidly rising materials prices,” says Stephen Sandherr, AGC’s CEO. “New infrastructure investments will certainly help with demand, but the industry also needs Washington to help address supply chain problems and rising costs.”

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or

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