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Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at ConstructConnect
Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at ConstructConnect
Alex Carrick is Chief Economist for ConstructConnect. He is a frequent contributor to the Daily Commercial News and the Journal of Commerce. He has delivered presentations throughout North America on the Canadian, United States and world construction outlooks. A trusted and often-quoted source for … More »

A Dozen Mid-February Economic Nuggets

 
February 12th, 2016 by Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at ConstructConnect

Article source: CMDGroup

Spending time in U.S. stock markets lately has not been a walk in the park. Drooping equity prices are a symptom of assorted maladies. The three that stand out most prominently are as follows. First, a great many people are worried about China’s economy and especially the state of its banking sector. There are thought to be way too many shaky loans in danger of crumbling if growth continues to decelerate. The subsequent drop in value of the yuan won’t be pretty.

Second, on account of a shockingly low international price for oil, investment in the U.S. energy sector has gone into a tailspin, affecting certain regions of the country more severely than others.

And third, the uplift in value of the U.S. dollar is limiting the ability of American manufacturers to win export sales. Some of the nation’s biggest firms are being negatively affected the most.

Read the rest of A Dozen Mid-February Economic Nuggets

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

 
January 29th, 2016 by Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at ConstructConnect

Article source: CMDGroup

Following up on the subject of Canadian construction material costs, this Economy at a Glance concentrates on seven graphs.

Graph 1: Softwood lumber prices in Canada rose rapidly throughout 2012, but over the past three years, they have stayed mainly flat. The U.S.-Canada softwood lumber agreement (SLA), after being in effect for nine years, was allowed to expire in October of last year.

Participants in Canada wanted to see continuation of the SLA under the same terms as originally negotiated. The U.S. industry has been wishing for a re-calibration of provisions.

Under the SLA, quotas and/or export taxes were to be imposed on Canadian producers when prices fell below a benchmark range.  Individual provinces were allowed to choose their own form of regulation. Additional disputes were argued on several occasions before the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA).

Without the SLA, as shown by the long history of contentious wrangling prior to its 2006 implementation, there is considerable potential for legal action that will disrupt North American lumber markets. Read the rest of Canada’s Construction Material Costs Tell Diverse Stories (Part 2 of 2)

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

 
January 26th, 2016 by Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at ConstructConnect

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 ConstructConnect

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 ConstructConnect

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 ConstructConnect

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 ConstructConnect

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 ConstructConnect

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 ConstructConnect

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 ConstructConnect

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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