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Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at the CMD Group
Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at the CMD Group
Alex Carrick is Chief Economist for CanaData, Reed Construction Data’s Canadian economic forecasting and statistical service. CanaData’s products include a monthly forecast newsletter, cost indices, regional and custom starts reports and an annual conference. He is a frequent contributor to the … More »

Canada’s Construction Material Costs Tell Diverse Stories (Part 1 of 2)

 
January 26th, 2016 by Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at the CMD Group

Article source: CMDGroup

Similar to the U.S., the price advances of many materials and building products going into the construction process in Canada remain restrained.

The +0.3% figure year-over-year (y/y) for total construction − from line 4 of accompanying Table 1 − does, however, incorporate considerable variation at the type-of-structure sub-category level.

At this time, a sizable gain in non-residential building material costs (+3.6% y/y), plus a mid-range increase in residential costs (+2.2% y/y), are being offset by a significant decline in engineering/civil costs (-3.2% y/y).

The divergent performances result primarily from: 1) demand/supply factors driven by activity levels in each of the three main type-of-structure sub-categories; and 2) different weightings of material inputs to build houses versus office buildings versus roads and highways.

The material composition of residential construction has a large forestry component, although domestic lumber prices are also affected by housing starts south of the border.
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Now it’s the Turn of U.S. Construction Material Costs

 
January 25th, 2016 by Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at the CMD Group

Article source: CMDGroup

The cost of construction is largely determined by labor and material inputs.

The previous Economy at a Glance studied U.S. year-over-year average hourly wages in construction relative to all private sector jobs and other major industries.

Expanding the analysis somewhat, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in its monthly Employment Situation report, publishes four series on wage rates. Table B3 records average hourly and average weekly earnings for all employees in a range of industries. Table B8 has similar average hourly and weekly earnings information, but only for production and non-supervisory personnel.

For construction, the December 2015 year-over-year results were +2.9% (average hourly) and +4.2% (average weekly) from Table B3 and +2.7% (average hourly) and +3.3% (average weekly) from Table B8.

To summarize, the earnings results for construction ranged from +2.7% to +4.2% annually.

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U.S. Wage Gains: Construction versus other Major Industrial Sectors

 
January 22nd, 2016 by Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at the CMD Group

Article source: CMDGroup

At the end of 2010, the unemployment rate in the United States was 9.3%.

Five years later, as of December 2015, the national jobless figure has been cut nearly in half, to stand at 5.0%.

There’s a common lament being heard that the tightening in U.S. labor markets has been overstated because a large bloc of potential workers has given up hunting for a job.

Furthermore, so the argument goes, whatever employment improvement has happened isn’t yet leading to better wages and salaries and the economy won’t really build up a head of steam until workers are being paid more, so they can spend more.

This Economy at a Glance will look at the percentage changes of year-over-year average hourly earnings for both production and supervisory workers in the private sector as a whole, and for major industrial sectors. Historical data can be readily downloaded from the web site of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

In the hopes of finding trend lines, the analysis in this EAAG will be limited to the past five years.

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Non-residential Construction Starts Trend Graphs – December 2015

 
January 19th, 2016 by Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at the CMD Group

Article source: CMDGroup

Clichés are often true and it is the case that a picture can be worth a thousand words.

Below are six graphs recording 12-month moving averages of CMD ’s non-residential construction starts.

When the value of the current month is higher than for the same month a year ago, the line will turn up; when lower, it will dip.

String a couple of similar positive or negative directional changes together over several months and one has a trend.
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Top 10 largest construction project starts in the U.S. – December 2015

 
January 18th, 2016 by Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at the CMD Group

Article source: CMDGroup

The accompanying table records the 10 largest construction project starts in the U.S. in December 2015.

There are several reasons for highlighting upcoming large projects. Such jobs have often received a fair amount of media coverage. Therefore, people in the industry are on the lookout for when job-site work actually gets underway. And, as showcase projects, they highlight geographically where major construction projects are proceeding.

Also, total construction activity is comprised of many small and medium-sized projects and a limited number of large developments. But the largest projects, simply by their nature, can dramatically affect total dollar and square footage volumes. In other words, the timing and size of these projects have an exaggerated influence on market forecasts.
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A Baker’s Dozen Mid-January Economic Nuggets

 
January 15th, 2016 by Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at the CMD Group

Article source: CMDGroup

In the early going of 2016, the headline story has been the heightened level of anxiety displayed by stock market investors. Versus 2015’s year-end closings, both the Dow Jones Industrials index and the S&P 500 are -6.0%; NASDAQ is -7.8%; and the Toronto Stock Exchange, -5.2%.

Compared with their most recent highs, the DJI is -10.7%; the S&P 500, -10.0%; NASDAQ, -11.8%; and the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX), -20.5%. The TSX has given its passengers a particularly bumpy ride. It has fallen into ‘bear’ territory (i.e., a decline of 20% or more.)

The main widely-cited reason for the sell-offs has been an expectation of weaker growth in China. There are two highly-charged ways in which such a pull-back has unfortunate repercussions for the U.S. and Canadian economies. First, the value of the yuan is being lowered, to make the price of Chinese exports more competitive in world markets.

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CMD’s December Starts Fell Slightly More than Usual Seasonal Decline

 
January 15th, 2016 by Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at the CMD Group

Article source: CMDGroup

CMD announced today that December’s level of U.S. construction starts, excluding residential work, was $22.2 billion, a drop of 6.9% versus November.

CMD announced today that December’s level of U.S. construction starts, excluding residential work, was $22.2 billion, a drop of 6.9% versus November. The pull-back was only slightly more than the usual or long-term December-versus-November percentage change, due to seasonality, of -5.0%. (To note for January, weather usually has an even greater effect in that month, -8.5%.)

Compared with December of 2014, the latest month’s starts level was -7.0%; but versus the five-year average for December over the past five years (i.e., 2010 to 2014 inclusive), it was +9.2%.

Full year 2015 starts were +1.9% relative to the same January-to-December period of 2014.

The starts figures throughout this report are not seasonally adjusted (NSA). Nor are they altered for inflation. They are expressed in what are termed ‘current’ as opposed to ‘constant’ dollars.

industry-snapshot-jan_2016 30percent
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U.S. and Canada December Jobs Reports Should Quell Some Jitters

 
January 8th, 2016 by Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at the CMD Group

Article source: CMDGroup

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the U.S. economy recorded its second-best month for jobs-growth last year in December, +292,000. Only October’s +307,000 was better.

2015 ended with a gain (+292,000) that was considerably above the monthly average for the year as a whole (+221,000). There is speculation by some analysts that December’s strong result may have been aided by weather that was unseasonably warm.

The final tally of the total number of jobs in America at year-end 2015 was ahead by 2.65 million compared with 2014. One big story has been the shift in the composition of those jobs. According the ‘household survey’ of employment, all of the grand-total increase came in full-time work. The total number of part-time jobs contracted slightly.

Earlier, after the Great Recession, concern was often expressed that while the jobs picture was improving, too often the work being offered was of the poorer quality, lower-paying and less-stable part-time variety. This dilemma appears to have self-corrected in the latest 12 months.

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Eight Demography Charts that Explain U.S. Construction Activity

 
January 7th, 2016 by Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at the CMD Group

Article source: CMDGroup

Talk to a demographer and he or she is likely to tell you that everything important that is happening in society and business can be explained by their practice or science.

As an economist, I don’t fully subscribe to such an assertion. Besides, what would I do if I didn’t have interest rates, inflation and government policy to mentally juggle as well as the study of demography?

But I don’t dismiss the claim out of hand either.

It does warrant admitting that population level, change and age-structure over time are key determinants of construction activity in several major type-of-structure categories.

That will be the focus of this Economy at a Glance, in two parts. The story will be told through the use of eight graphs.

Read the rest of Eight Demography Charts that Explain U.S. Construction Activity

U.S. Put-in-place Construction Growth to be near 9% in 2016 and 2017 (Part 2 Comprised mainly of a Table and Graphs)

 
December 31st, 2015 by Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at the CMD Group

Article source: CMDGroup

CMD is projecting that by 2017, total annual U.S. put-in-place (PIP) construction spending will rise to $1.25 trillion. That’s versus an estimated $1.06 trillion in 2015 and a forecast $1.15 trillion in 2016.

PIP numbers, both current and historical, are provided by the Census Bureau. (For an explanation of the differences between CMD’s starts statistics and PIP figures, please see Part 1 of this Economy at a Glance.)

The total will reach that $1.25 trillion level through current (i.e., not adjusted for inflation) dollar gains of +8.6% in 2016 and +8.8% in 2017, on the heels of a +10.0% year in 2015.

Residential work, which suffered a more severe pull-back in activity than the non-residential building category, during the Great Recession, will mount a slightly faster comeback (+10.5% in each of 2016 and 2017, after +11.5% in 2015).
Read the rest of U.S. Put-in-place Construction Growth to be near 9% in 2016 and 2017 (Part 2 Comprised mainly of a Table and Graphs)

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