Part of the reason for the belief that the market has achieved stability is that there have not been any major economic disruptions over the past few months. The CICI index plunged in the third quarter of 2011 after the brutal fight in Congress over the debt ceiling, the downgrading of the U.S. credit rating by major credit agencies, concerns over the sovereign debt crisis in the European Union and a plunge in the stock market.
However, there is a perception that the U.S. economy is slowly improving. The unemployment rate has fallen, and the economy is adding around 200,000 jobs a month. There also is evidence that vacancy rates in some cities are beginning to fall.
One indicator of an optimistic market is the increasing concern over materials price escalation. ENR asked whether respondents were experiencing increases in materials prices, and 71.1% said yes. Fuel and petroleum-based products were among the most commonly cited. However, many respondents said they were seeing pricing pressure on steel, copper, concrete and drywall.
While all these factors point to a belief that construction market is poised to recover, there is still concern over the availability of bank credit to fund new projects. As part of the CICI survey, ENR asked whether financing for projects is more or less available that it was six months ago. For the first time since the question was posed two years ago, survey respondents said project financing has stabilized. While only 16.6% said project financing has become tougher, 21.1% said access to capital is now easier. However, project financing remains tight, and until it becomes more readily available, the recovery will be slow.