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Construction starts lose ground in July 2020

By |  August 17, 2020

Logo: Dodge Data

Total construction starts fell 7 percent in July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $631.6 billion.

According to Dodge Data & Analytics, the decline was due to a significant pullback in the nonbuilding segment, which fell 31 percent from June to July. Nonresidential building starts rose 3 percent while residential building starts increased 2 percent.

Year to date through seven months, construction starts were 15 percent down from the same period in 2019. Nonresidential starts plummeted 25 percent; nonbuilding starts dropped 20 percent; and residential starts slipped 4 percent.

For the 12 months ending July 2020, total construction starts fell a more modest 5 percent from the same period a year earlier, Dodge says. Nonresidential building starts were 11 percent lower, while residential building starts rose 1 percent. Nonbuilding starts fell in between, with a 7 percent drop over the 12 months ending July 2020.

In July, the Dodge Index fell 7 percent to 134 from the 144 reading in June. The Dodge Index was down 32 percent compared to a year ago.

Headshot: Richard Branch

Branch

“The July decline in construction starts should not be interpreted as a setback on the sector’s road to recovery,” says Richard Branch, chief economist at Dodge. “The gains in the nonresidential and residential sectors mirror the general overall improvements in the economy. The drop in public works could represent a settling back in activity following a solid spring in which some projects broke ground earlier than expected to take advantage of the fewer cars on the road during the COVID-19 shutdown in March and April.

While the nation’s recovery progresses, Branch says the congressional impasse preventing the extension of enhanced unemployment insurance benefits and small business loans included in earlier fiscal support packages casts a pallor over the future trajectory for growth.

“Furthermore, the gain in nonresidential building starts was entirely due to strength in the Northeast and West regions, with starts in the South Atlantic and South Central regions down sharply during the month,” Branch says. “While one month doesn’t constitute a trend, the potential risk to construction from the rising number of COVID cases in these regions is significant.”

Nonbuilding construction

While construction starts in nonresidential building and residential building gained slightly in July, nonbuilding construction really pulled construction starts down for the month. Click to enlarge | Chart: Dodge Data & Analytics

While starts in nonresidential building and residential building gained slightly in July, nonbuilding construction really pulled construction starts as a whole down for the month. Click to enlarge | Chart: Dodge Data & Analytics

Nonbuilding construction fell 31 percent in July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $132.4 billion.

All categories within nonbuilding dropped in July. Utilities and gas plants fell 58 percent following a very large gain in June. Starts in environmental public works and the miscellaneous nonbuilding sector each lost 27 percent, while highways and bridges dropped 25 percent.

The largest nonbuilding project to break ground in July was the $1 billion Whistler Natural Gas Pipeline, which stretches 450 miles from Waha, Texas, to Agua Dulce, Texas. Also starting in July were the $421 million widening of Interstate 26 from Little Mountain, South Carolina, to Irmo, Texas, and the $301 million interchange improvements along State Highway 12 near Dallas.

Through the first seven months of the year, total nonbuilding starts were down 20 percent compared to the same time period in 2019. Starts in the highway and bridge category gained 4 percent, while the environmental public works category dipped 24 percent and the miscellaneous nonbuilding sector was 30 percent lower.

On a year-to-date basis, starts in the electric power/gas plant category were down 46 percent. On a 12-month rolling sum basis, total nonbuilding starts were down 7 percent compared to the 12 months ending July 2020. Starts in the street and bridge category were down 2 percent, while in the electric power/gas plant category starts fell 3 percent. Environmental public works starts declined 13 percent, and starts in miscellaneous public works dropped 16 percent.

Nonresidential building

Nonresidential building starts increased 3 percent in July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $202.6 billion.

Commercial starts gained 13 percent, led by gains in hotels, warehouses and office buildings. Institutional starts rose 2 percent due to an increase in education activity, while manufacturing starts lost 52 percent during the month.

The largest nonresidential building project to break ground in July was the $400 million Mickey Leland International Terminal at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. Also starting were the $377 million Hyatt Regency Hotel at the Salt Lake Convention Center in Salt Lake City and a $337 million renovation of a terminal building at Los Angeles International Airport.

Year to date, total nonresidential building starts were 25 percent lower in the first seven months of 2020. Institutional building starts were down 16 percent, while commercial starts were 32 percent lower and manufacturing starts were down 52 percent on a year-to-date basis.

For the 12 months ending July 2020, total nonresidential building starts dropped 11 percent from the 12 months ending in July 2019. Commercial starts were 12 percent lower, while institutional starts were down 10 percent. Manufacturing starts dropped 4 percent on a 12-month rolling basis.

Residential building

Residential building starts rose 2 percent in July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $296.6 billion.

Multifamily starts increased 11 percent, while single-family starts declined by less than 1 percent.

The largest multifamily structure to break ground in July was the $500 million 101 Lincoln Ave mixed-use project in the Bronx, New York. Also starting was the $275 million Figueroa Centre mixed-use complex in Los Angeles and the $200 million first phase of the Society Orlando Apartments in Orlando, Florida.

Through the first seven months of 2020, residential construction starts were down 4 percent versus the same time period in 2019. Single-family starts were 2 percent higher, while multifamily starts were down 17 percent year to date.

For the 12 months ending in July, total residential starts were 1 percent higher than a year earlier. Single-family starts were up 4 percent, while multifamily starts were down 7 percent.

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry magazine. Yanik can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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