The construction recovery in 2014 had two major players: A non-residential building market that outperformed expectations and a homebuilding market that fell below expectations. The combined effect will be an estimated 5% increase in the dollar value of construction starts this year, according to McGraw Hill Construction's Dodge Data & Analytics. A year ago, Dodge expected the total construction market to grow 9% in 2014.
Dodge predicts that the recovery will regain momentum in 2015, when construction starts are expected to increase 9%. Dodge announced its 2015 forecast during the Outlook Executive Conference in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 6.
"You're beginning to get more of a contribution from a number of sectors," says Robert Murray, vice president of economic affairs at Dodge Data & Analytics. "That makes this expansion more diversified and less vulnerable."
The Dodge report is optimistic about the institutional building market: The report predicts it will reverse a five-year decline and no longer sap the overall numbers for non-residential building. Dodge estimates that the institutional building market will rise 4% this year, followed by another 9% gain in 2015. "In particular, the public-school building market is starting to benefit from large bond measures passed in recent year," Murray notes, adding that the educational building market will rise 9% next year.
Murray also expects that many public-works markets that pulled back in 2014 will stabilize next year and no longer be a drag on overall growth. In addition, he looks for growth in both the commercial-building markets and the energy market. "We see growth in the energy sector, particularly in pipeline work," he says. "The whole take on 2015 is that it will become a broader-based expansion, as opposed to one driven by a few markets—such as multi-family housing or office buildings."
The consensus of other forecasts gathered by ENR is that the construction recovery will gain momentum in 2015. A disappointing housing market will regain its luster, the multi-family housing market will retain its strength, the robust nonresidential building market will continue to grow, and industrial and energy work will remain strong.
What's not to like? Well, Dodge does forecast another 9% drop in electric-utility work next year, following a 3% decline in 2014 and a big drop of 56% in 2013. It also says the two-year boom in manufacturing work will cool off. Other than that, the plus signs are abundant.
The Portland Cement Association, Skokie, Ill, forecasts that total construction put-in-place will increase 9.2% next year, after rising just 4.1% this year. "There are a whole lot of good [economic] things that are falling into place, and those will get even better next year," says Ed Sullivan, PCA's chief economist. He says PCA is putting together its year-end forecast and probably will tone down its projection for single-family housing but upgrade its forecast for non-residential building. "Our forecast is based on three things: jobs, jobs, jobs." The employment outlook is improving—and that drives everything, Sullivan says.
FMI Corp., Raleigh, N.C., forecasts that total construction put-in-place will increase 7% next year, after adjusting for inflation. It sees the biggest growth markets as housing, apartment, lodging and office buildings. "I have some real concerns about the single-family housing market," says Randy Giggard, FMI's chief economist. "People no longer look at housing as a good investment, and that could be a game changer," he says.
The National Association of Home Builders, Washington, D.C., is a bit more optimistic. It forecasts that single-family housing starts will spring back 28% next year, after a disappointing 3% gain in 2014. "However, even after that gain, we are still going to be below what we would consider a normal level," says Robert Denk, NAHB's chief economist.
The American Road & Transportation Builders Association, Washington, D.C., has perhaps the most pessimistic forecast: It is looking for paving and bridge work to increase only about 2% next year. "State and local funding is improving, but, unless there is a major change in federal funding, we expect highway work to remain relatively flat," says Alison Black, ARTBA's chief economist.