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AGC Data DIGest: May 18-24, 2021

Materials costs rise at record pace in April, with further increases likely; job openings jump in March

Seasonally adjusted construction employment in April trailed the February 2020 level in 36 states and the District of Columbia and exceeded it in 14 states, according to AGC’s analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data posted on Friday. (February 2020 was the month in which employment peaked nationally before plunging during widespread shutdowns in March and April 2020.) Texas lost the most construction jobs since February 2020 (-44,800 jobs or -5.7%), followed by New York (-37,000, -9.1%), California (-27,600, -3.0%), Louisiana (-19,600, -14%), and New Jersey (-15,600, -9.5%). Louisiana recorded the largest percentage loss over 14 months, followed by Wyoming (-14%, -3,100 jobs), New Jersey, and New York. Utah added the most jobs (5,100, 4.5%), followed by Idaho (4,400, 8.0%) and Washington (3,800, 1.7%). Idaho added the highest percentage, followed by South Dakota (6.3%, 1,500) and Utah. For the month, construction employment rose in 26 states, slipped in 21 states, and held steady in Alaska, Montana, Vermont, and D.C. Illinois added the most construction jobs from March to April (4,000, 1.8%), followed by Pennsylvania (3,400, 1.4%), Wisconsin (2,900, 2.4%), and Kentucky (1,900, 2.4%). New Hampshire had the largest monthly percentage increase (3.2%, 900 jobs), followed by Rhode Island (2.4%, 500), Kentucky, and Wisconsin. Texas lost the most construction jobs for the month (-13,600, -1.8%), followed by New York (-3,900, -1.0%) and Iowa (-3,100, -3.9%). Iowa had the largest percentage loss, followed by Alabama (-2.4%, -2,200 jobs) and Texas. Seasonally adjusted constructed employment reached a record high in South Dakota and Washington, in series dating back to 1990. (BLS reports combined totals for mining, logging and construction in D.C., Delaware and Hawaii. Because there are few, if any, mining and logging jobs in these locations, AGC treats the levels and changes as solely construction employment.)

Two measures of construction starts (dollars) posted divergent year-to-date results for the first four months of 2021 compared to January-April 2020. Total construction starts fell 2% in April at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, but unadjusted starts increased 5% year-to-date, Dodge Data & Analytics reported on Tuesday. Nonresidential building starts soared 16% in April, while residential starts tumbled 12% and nonbuilding starts increased 2%. Year-to-date, nonresidential building starts fell 17% compared to the first four months of 2020 (commercial. -20%; institutional, -18%; and manufacturing, up 13%). Total nonbuilding starts year-to-date rose 6% (highway and bridge, -11%; environmental public works, up 37%; utility and gas plant, up 3%; and miscellaneous nonbuilding starts, up 25%). Total residential starts were 24% higher year-to-date (single-family, 31%, and multifamily starts, 6%).

Construction starts, not seasonally adjusted, jumped 15% year-over-year (y/y) in April from April 2020, when many projects were halted due to the pandemic, data firm ConstructConnect reported on May 17. Year-to-date starts for January-April 2021 combined fell 1.8% from the same months in 2020. Year-to-date nonresidential starts slumped 17%: nonresidential building starts plunged 25% (commercial, -35%; institutional, -18%; and industrial [manufacturing], -13%), while engineering (civil) starts fell 3.5% (including road/highway, -5.8%, and water/sewage, -1.0%). Residential starts soared 22% (single-family, 33%, and apartments, -7%).

The Architecture Billings Index (ABI) reached its highest level since 2007 in April. with a reading of 57.9, up from 55.6 in March and 53.3 in February, the American Institute of Architects reported on Wednesday. AIA says, “The ABI serves as a leading economic indicator that leads nonresidential construction activity by approximately 9-12 months.” The ABI is derived from the share of responding architecture firms that report a gain in billings over the previous month less the share reporting a decline in billings, presented on a 0-to-100 scale. Any score above 50 means that firms with increased billings outnumbered firms with decreased billings. Scores by practice specialty (based on three-month moving averages) topped 50 for the third time in a row: commercial/industrial, 59.1 (a 15-year high and up from 58.3 in March); multifamily residential, 56.9 (up from 54.2); institutional, 56.7 (up from 55.4); and mixed practice, 55.0 (down from 55.4). “The largest share of firms, 37%, reported that increases in costs of basic construction materials has been a serious problem, with an additional 35% of firms saying that it has been a moderate problem. At firms that reported at least a slight problem with costs and/or availability of construction materials/products over the last six months, respondents indicated that the most serious problem as a result was higher construction bids, with 35% of firms rating that as a serious problem. When asked to rate the seriousness of current production and supply-chain issues related to construction materials and products for their firm, respondents rated the level of seriousness as an average of 3.7 on a five-point scale ranging from not at all serious (1) to very serious (5).”

Among recent cost increases, L&W Supply sent customers a letter on May 3 announcing increases from “immediate” to July 1 for a range of interior products, ranging up to 20% on “all wallboard and glass mat products.” Shaw Industries announced on May 13 that it “will increase prices on commercial carpet, all categories of hard surfaces, and other commercial products by up to 10% effective with orders placed on June 14.” Vulcan Materials notified Texas customers on May 4 that it would increase the price of ready-mix concrete $5 per yard, effective June 1. Readers are invited to send cost and supply-chain information to ken.simonson@agc.org.

Housing starts (units) declined 9.5% at a seasonally adjusted annual rate from March to April but soared 67% y/y from the pandemic-depressed April 2020 level, the Census Bureau reported on Tuesday. Year-to-date starts for January-April 2021 climbed 21% from the same months in 2020. Single-family starts fell 13% for the month but jumped 28% year-to-date. Multifamily (five or more units) starts rose 4.0% for the month and 5.4% year-to-date. Residential permits rose 0.3% from March and 32% year-to-date, as single-family permits slid 3.8% for the month but rose 36% year-to-date, while multifamily permits rose 11% and 24%, respectively.