At a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $417.6 billion, new construction starts in November dropped 11% from October’s elevated pace, according to McGraw-Hill Construction, a division of The McGraw-Hill Cos. 

Nonresidential building retreated after being boosted in October by the start of a massive manufacturing plant, and nonbuilding construction showed electric utilities pulling back from the brisk pace of recent months.  Meanwhile, residential building in November registered moderate growth, helped by further strengthening for multifamily housing. During the first eleven months of 2011, total construction on an unadjusted basis was reported at $390.5 billion, down 2% from the same period a year ago.

The November statistics lowered the Dodge Index to 88 (2000=100), compared to the reading of 99 for October.  For the January-November period of 2011, the Dodge Index averaged 90, essentially the same as its full year average of 91 in 2010 and 90 in 2009. 

“The strong volume in October, with total construction starts climbing 12%, was not likely to be sustained given the fact that much of the lift came from the start of several unusually large projects,” said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. “In November, activity returned close to its average pace so far in 2011, which is essentially the same as what was being reported during the previous two years. The picture for construction starts in a broad sense continues to be stability at a low level, with renewed expansion not yet taking hold.

“By individual project types, however, there has been a varied pattern during 2011. Year-to-date gains have been reported for multifamily housing, manufacturing plants, electric power plants, and even some commercial building types, but this has been offset by further weakening for single family housing, institutional building, and public works.”

Nonresidential Building

Nonresidential building in November fell 20% to $142.4 billion (annual rate), following its 36% surge in the previous month. The largest decline was reported for the manufacturing plant category, which plunged 72% from October, which included $3 billion for work on the Adam’s Fork coal-to-gasoline facility in West Virginia.  If the Adam’s Fork project is excluded from the October statistics, then the manufacturing plant category in November would be up 140%, nonresidential building would be steady, and total construction would be down a more moderate 4%. 

The manufacturing plant category in November did feature several large projects, such as a $500-million pipe manufacturing plant in Texas, although not to the same extent as in October. For commercial building, office construction in November retreated 26% from October, which had been supported by the start of a $285-million office building in New York City.  At the same time, the office category in November did include the start of such projects as a $150-million renovation of a corporate headquarters in Plainsboro, N.J., and a $79-million FBI office building in San Diego. Stores and warehouses weakened in November, with respective declines of 9% and 16%, while hotel construction was flat.

The institutional categories showed mixed behavior in November. Health-care facilities jumped 41%, aided by the November start of a $613-million replacement hospital for the Veterans Administration in Aurora, Colo., and a $200-million hospital addition in Fullerton, Calif.  The educational building category, down just 1%, was essentially steady in November, helped by the start of two university-related science buildings – a $254-million facility in Washington, D.C., and a $185-million facility in Portland, Ore. The smaller institutional categories in November reported decreased activity, with churches down 27%; transportation terminals down 31%; recreation-related projects down 33%; and public buildings, down 38%.

For the first 11 months of 2011, nonresidential building came in 4% below a year ago. The institutional sector fell 12%, with weaker activity for educational buildings, down 12%; churches, down 15%; recreation-related projects, down 20%; public buildings, down 21%; and transportation terminals, down 26%.  Health-care facilities during the first 11 months of 2011 rose 4%, running counter to the downward trend for the other institutional project types. Commercial building during the first 11 months of 2011 increased 6%, helped by gains for hotels, up 43%; and warehouses, up 10%; while only slight declines were reported for stores, down 1%; and offices, down 2%.  The manufacturing plant category in the first 11 months of 2011 jumped 51%, helped by the start of several large projects over the course of the year.