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New Construction Starts in August Fall 11 Percent

New construction starts in August dropped 11 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $554.5 billion, according to Dodge Data & Analytics. Declines were reported for each of construction’s three main sectors: nonresidential building and housing pulled back from their improved July pace, while nonbuilding construction continued to recede from the heightened performance witnessed earlier in 2015. During the first eight months of 2015, total construction starts on an unadjusted basis were $446.1 billion, up 15 percent from the same period a year ago. If the volatile electric utility and gas plant category is excluded, total construction starts during the first eight months of 2015 would be up a more moderate 7 percent relative to last year.


The August statistics lowered the Dodge Index to 117 (2000=100), down from the 133 reported for both June and July.


“While August construction starts were notably subdued compared to recent months, it’s useful to keep in mind that construction starts on a monthly basis will often show an up-and-down pattern, and the year-to-date statistics depict an expansion that’s still proceeding,” stated Robert A. Murray, chief economist for Dodge Data & Analytics. “For nonresidential building, the early months of 2015 did show some deceleration for the commercial categories, consistent with the slower pace of economic growth in the first quarter, and manufacturing plant construction is now retreating after the exceptional amount of energy-related plant investment in 2014. At the same time, market fundamentals for commercial building (namely rents and occupancies) are still positive, and commercial building projects at the planning stage have recently increased. This suggests that the pace of commercial building starts, while lackluster in August, should soon pick up. For residential building, the August decline was due to a slower pace for multifamily housing after a particularly strong July, and the upward trend for this sector remains intact.”


Nonresidential building in August dropped 16 percent to $160.7 billion (annual rate). The commercial building categories as a group were considerably weaker for the month, sliding 24 percent. Hotel construction in August plunged 35 percent, pausing from the strength of recent months, although August did include the start of a $122 million hotel in New York City. Office construction, falling 34 percent, was down a similar amount in August. The largest office project reported as an August start was a $211 million data center in McCarran, Nev., while the next largest office projects were each valued at $30 million, including an office building renovation in Brooklyn, N.Y., the initial phase of the Google office campus in Boulder, Colo., and a four-story office building in the Dallas area. Stores and warehouses managed to register slight gains in August, rising 3 percent and 2 percent respectively. Store construction was helped by the start of a $65 million outlet center in Berkshire Township, Ohio, while warehouse construction received support from a $100 million distribution center in St. Louis, Mo. The manufacturing plant category in August slipped 2 percent, although the latest month did include the $255 million expansion of the General Motors assembly plant in Roanoke, Ind.


The institutional building group in August dropped 11 percent, reflecting declines for the majority of the institutional categories. Healthcare facility construction fell 28 percent, retreating from its generally improved activity during the previous four months. The largest healthcare projects that reached groundbreaking in August were a $55 million healthcare center addition in Ithaca, N.Y., a $53 million hospital addition in Aurora, Ill., and a $53 million neuroscience center in St. Paul, Minn. Other institutional categories with substantial August declines were transportation terminals, down 39 percent; and amusement and recreational buildings, down 43 percent. While the public buildings category fell 14 percent, it did include the start of a $221 million project to restore the Wyoming state capitol building in Cheyenne. On the plus side, the educational facilities category in August advanced 17 percent, lifted by the start of the $705 million National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kan., which is a biocontainment laboratory for the Department of Homeland Security that will study diseases affecting the nation’s agricultural industry and public health. The educational facilities category also included groundbreaking for several large high schools, located in Katy, Texas ($161 million), Beaverton, Ore. ($125 million), and Pflugerville, Texas ($104 million). The small religious buildings category managed to show a sizable percentage increase in August, rising 42 percent from its depressed July amount.


Residential building, at $265.5 billion (annual rate), fell 8 percent in August.


Multifamily housing retreated 23 percent after climbing 22 percent in July to its strongest level so far in 2015. The August pace for multifamily housing was still 21 percent above the average monthly amount reported during 2014. There were eight multifamily projects valued each at $100 million or more that reached groundbreaking in August, led by the $530 million multifamily portion of the $550 million Metropolis Residential Towers (phase 2) in Los Angeles, a $300 million apartment building on W. 53rd St. in New York, N.Y., and a $290 million residential tower in Boston. At the eight-month point of 2015, the top five metropolitan markets ranked by the dollar volume of multifamily starts were the following: New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Boston.


Single-family housing in August edged up 1 percent, regaining slight upward momentum after slipping 4 percent in July. The August pace for single family housing was 12 percent higher than the average monthly amount reported during 2014. By geography, single-family housing in August showed a moderate increase for the Northeast, up 8 percent; while the other four regions were basically flat: the South Atlantic and the West, each up 1 percent; the Midwest, no change; and the South Central, down 2 percent.


The 15 percent gain for total construction starts on an unadjusted basis during the January–August period of 2015 reflected double-digit increases for residential building and nonbuilding construction, while nonresidential building was down moderately. Residential building year-to-date advanced 18 percent, due to a 30 percent jump for multifamily housing combined with 14 percent growth for single family housing. Nonbuilding construction year-to-date surged 43 percent, with electric utilities and gas plants up 245 percent and public works up 8 percent. As 2015 is progressing, the substantial year-to-date increase for nonbuilding construction is becoming smaller. Nonresidential building year-to-date slipped 5 percent, pulled down especially by a 28 percent retreat for the manufacturing building category. Meanwhile, the commercial building group came in 5 percent below the same period a year ago while the institutional building group was up 3 percent.


By major region, total construction starts during the first eight months of 2015 showed this behavior: the South Central, up 31 percent; the Northeast, up 20 percent; the South Atlantic, up 14 percent; the West, up 6 percent; and the Midwest, up 4 percent.

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