The residential sector continues to make strong gains, although at a more restrained pace. After a 26% jump in starts in 2013, the single-family housing sector is expected to see only a 4% increase, to $165.4 billion, this year. Murray says he expects lending for housing to improve next year, driving starts up 15% to $189.7 billion.
Multi-family housing has been consistently one of the strongest sectors coming out of the recession, and it is expected to tally $61.9 billion in starts this year—a 22% increase over 2013. However, Dodge forecasts that starts could rise at a more gradual rate of 9%, reaching $67.2 billion, in 2015. Murray says that although the multi-family housing market might be maturing, the fundamentals remain strong for continued growth. The millennial generation, for example, is gradually moving to home ownership, driving continued demand for apartments in the near term, he added.
Commercial building continues at a steady pace of increased activity. Office buildings have seen a rebound, with starts expected to rise 23%, to $27.1 billion, in 2014. That trend could continue through 2015, increasing 19%, to $32.3 billion.
"Office building has become the most important upward force for keeping the commercial construction market moving forward," Murray says.
By comparison, the retail sector mirrored the flat single-family home market with only a 2% increase, to $17.1 billion, in starts this year. However, Murray expects that the improved housing market and a strengthening economy should boost retail construction starts by 11%, to $18.9 billion, in 2015.
After five years of a flat-to-down market, the institutional sector is expected to bounce back by 4%, to $95.4 billion, this year, followed by a 9% increase, to $103.6 billion, in 2015. Murray notes that K-12 construction is contributing to the rebound, thanks to the recent passage of school construction bond measures around the U.S. By comparison, construction starts in health care have been relatively weak, as many health-care systems have deferred capital plans due to uncertainty around the Affordable Care Act.
Public-works construction starts should finish the year down 9%, to $113.4 billion, but will bounce back by 5%, to $118.8 billion, in 2015, according to Dodge. Murray expects to see an improved highway and bridge market, thanks in part to increased use of public-private partnerships and new financing mechanisms. Environmental public works could see modest gains, he says.
Demand for new starts in electric utilities remains well below the recent peak of $52.2 billion in 2012, tallying $22.5 billion in 2014. Murray notes that a spike in large nuclear projects helped fuel that surge in activity. He says that, in recent years, capacity utilization rates in the electrical power and generation market have dropped, which will further soften demand, he expects. In light of that trend, Dodge forecasts the sector will drop another 9%, to $20.5 billion, in 2015.
Public works continues to be a drag on overall construction growth, primarily due to political gridlock, which continues. A stopgap appropriations bill, which President Obama signed into law on Sept. 19, funds federal agencies, including construction programs, until Dec. 11. The measure keeps programs running at their fiscal 2014 funding levels, minus 0.554%.
Congress is expected to take up a follow-on spending package during the lame-duck session, scheduled to begin on Nov. 12. It's unclear whether that new, yet-to-be-introduced spending bill will continue for a few weeks or all the way to Sept. 30, when fiscal 2015 ends.
Another important federal issue is the fate of legislation to reauthorize the highway and transit programs. Congress passed a short-term reauthorization in July to continue the programs through May 31. The legislation, which was enacted on Aug. 8, further solidifies the financially shaky Highway Trust Fund through that date with a $10.8-billion infusion, primarily from the general fund.