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AGC's Data DIGest: Feb 3-10, 2020

Employment jumps in January; spending climbs in 2019 but dips in December

Editor’s note: Construction Citizen is proud to partner with AGC America to bring you AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson's Data DIGest. Check back each week to get Ken's expert analysis of what's happening in our industry.

Nonfarm payroll employment in January increased by 225,000, seasonally adjusted, from December and by 2,052,000 (1.4%) year-over-year (y/y) from January 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported on Friday. The unemployment rate ticked up to 3.6% from December’s level of 3.5%. Construction employment in January totaled 7,594,000, an increase of 44,000 for the month and 142,000 (1.9%) over 12 months. The monthly increase was the largest in a year but may have been aided by unseasonably mild January weather in the much of the nation. The total was the highest since August 2007. Average hourly earnings in construction rose 2.9% y/y to $31.11, 9.7% above the average for all private-sector employees ($28.44, a 3.1% y/y increase). The unemployment rate in construction, not seasonally adjusted, declined from 6.4% in January 2019 to 5.4%, and the number of unemployed jobseekers with construction experience fell from 638,000 to 515,000—the lowest January levels in the 21-year history of both series. (Not-seasonally-adjusted levels vary with normal weather and holiday patterns and thus may not accurately show month-to-month economic trends.)

Construction spending totaled $1.328 trillion at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in December, a dip of 0.2% from the upwardly revised November rate but an increase of 5.0% y/y from December 2018, the Census Bureau reported on February 3. Private residential spending increased 1.4% for the month and 5.5% y/y. New single-family construction climbed for the sixth consecutive month, by 2.7% from November to December and gained 5.2% y/y. New multifamily construction sank 1.8% for the month and 7.1% y/y. Residential improvements rose 0.5% for the month and 11% y/y. Private nonresidential spending declined 1.8% from November and 0.1% y/y. Of the four largest components, power gained 5.6% y/y (comprising electric power, up 4.5%, and oil and gas pipelines and field structures, up 9.6%); commercial, -4.0% (comprising retail, -13%, and warehouse, 5.3%); manufacturing, 5.8%; and office, 4.1%. Public construction slipped 0.4% for the month but jumped 12% y/y, with double-digit y/y gains in most segments. The three largest public segments all had y/y increases: highway and street construction, 14%; education construction, 4.1%; and transportation (air, transit, rail and port) construction, 13%. Total spending in 2019 was 0.3% lower than in 2018. Private residential spending declined 4.7% for the year, private nonresidential spending was flat, and public construction spending increased 7.1%.

Construction employment, not seasonally adjusted, increased between December 2018 and December 2019 in 211 (59%) of the 358 metro areas (including divisions of larger metros) for which BLS provides construction employment data, fell in 73 (20%) and was unchanged in 74, according to an analysis AGC released on Wednesday. (BLS combines mining and logging with construction in most metros to avoid disclosing data about industries with few employers.) The largest gain again occurred in the Dallas-Plano-Irving division (16,700 combined jobs, 11%), followed by the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale division (12,300 construction jobs, 8%); Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise (9,400 construction jobs, 14%) and Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas (9,300 construction jobs, 4%). The largest percentage increase occurred in Kansas City, Mo. (17%, 4,800 combined jobs), followed by Omaha-Council Bluffs, Neb.-Iowa (16%, 4,500 combined jobs); Rochester, N.Y. (15% 3,000 combined jobs); Auburn-Opelika, Ala. (15%, 400 combined jobs) and Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise. The largest job loss again occurred in New York City (-4,500 combined jobs, -3%), followed by Northern Virginia (-2,900 combined jobs, -4%) and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif. (-2,600 construction jobs, -3%). The largest percentage loss occurred in Fairbanks, Alaska (-12%, -1,300 construction jobs), followed by Longview, Texas (-10%, -1,400 combined jobs) and Wichita Falls, Texas (-10%, -300 combined jobs). Construction employment reached a record high for December in 71 metros (dating back in most areas to 1990) and a record December low in four areas. 

Construction data provider Dodge Data & Analytics reported on Friday that its momentum index decreased 2.7% from December to January, “snapping a four-month streak of gains. The index…is a monthly measure of the first (or initial) report for nonresidential building projects in planning, which have been shown to lead construction spending for nonresidential buildings by a full year. The decline in the overall Momentum Index was the result of an 11.0% drop in the institutional component, more than offsetting a 2.7% gain in the commercial component….The institutional component was down 7.4% [y/y] while the commercial component was 17.4% higher than a year ago. These conflicting trends pushed the overall Momentum Index up 7.1% from January 2019.”

On February 3, analyst Noelle Dilts of investment firm Stifel posted a commentary on telecommunications companies’ investment plans, noting, “Verizon continues to move aggressively with its One Fiber deployment. On the wireless side, the big question remains: when do full-scale, 5G-related deployments begin in earnest? This remains difficult to pinpoint. We expect 2020 to be a growth year for wireless, though spending is likely to be back-half weighted. Overall, we continue to believe that the fiber upgrade of wireline infrastructure in the U.S. and the 5G upgrade cycle represent significant, multi-year opportunity for the contractors.”

All rights reserved. Sign up at http://store.agc.org. Editor: Ken Simonson, Chief Economist, AGC, simonsonk@agc.org.