Residential building, at $245.1 billion (annual rate), slipped 3% in April.  Single-family housing retreated 4% following its slight gain in March, still holding to the sluggish performance that took hold at the end of 2013. By geography, single-family housing in April experienced diminished activity in the South Central, down 12%; and the West, down 5%; while the South Atlantic held steady, and modest gains were reported in the Midwest, up 2%; and the Northeast, up 3%.

Multifamily housing in April eased back 2%, retreating slightly for the second straight month after a 40% surge in February. In April there were nine multifamily projects valued at $100 million or more that reached groundbreaking, led by $563 million for the multifamily portion of a $600-million multifamily/retail building in New York City.

Of these nine projects, seven were located in the New York City metropolitan area, while the other two were located in Seattle and Dallas.  Through the first four months of 2015, the top five metropolitan areas in terms of the dollar amount of multifamily starts were New York City, Miami, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Seattle. During this time, the New York City metropolitan area comprised 29% of the national multifamily total, while the next four metropolitan areas together comprised 18% of the national multifamily total.

Nonbuilding Construction

Nonbuilding construction in April dropped 17% to $164.7 billion (annual rate). Following a sharp 33% gain in March, the public works categories as a group retreated 26%. Highway and bridge construction pulled back 31%, after being lifted in March by the start of the $2.3-billion I-4 upgrade in central Florida.

Compared to March, the large highway and bridge projects in April were smaller in scale, such as the $260-million upgrade to I-84 in Waterbury, Conn.

The environmental public works categories in April showed a reduced level of starts, with water supply systems down 20%, sewer construction down 27%, and river/harbor development down 34%. The miscellaneous public works category (which includes such diverse project types as mass transit, sitework, outdoor sports arenas and pipelines) decreased 8% in April following heightened activity in March. Even with its April decline, the miscellaneous public works category did include $690 million for the start of rail-related work for the segment of the California high-speed rail project located in the Fresno area.

In contrast to the downturn for public works in April, the electric utility and gas plant category strengthened 25% after a steep 73% plunge in March.  Large electric power projects that were reported as April starts included a $1-billion solar power facility in Blythe, Calif., and an $800-million natural gas-fired powerplant in Carrollton, Ohio.

There were also four large wind power projects included as April starts, with two located in Colorado (valued at $400 million and $200 million respectively), one in New Mexico ($430 million) and one in Oklahoma ($400 million).

The 24% increase for total construction starts on an unadjusted basis during the first four months of 2015 was the result of growth for all three major construction sectors.

Nonresidential building year-to-date advanced 12%, with manufacturing building up 40%, institutional building up 8%, and commercial building up 2%. Residential building year-to-date was also up 12%, with multifamily housing up 15% and single family housing up 11%.

Nonbuilding construction year-to-date jumped 62%, with electric utilities and gas plants up 375% and public works up 12%. The sharp increase for nonbuilding construction year-to-date was largely the result of four massive LNG terminal projects reported as construction starts in January and

By geography, total construction starts during the January-April period of 2015 performed as follows – the South Central, up 72%; the Northeast, up 15%; the South Atlantic, up 13%; the Midwest, up 6%; and the West, up 4%.

Useful insight comes from looking at twelve-month moving totals, in this case the 12 months ending April 2015 versus the 12 months ending April 2014. On this basis, total construction starts were up 13%, as a result of this behavior by major sector—nonresidential building, up 19%; residential building, up 11%; and nonbuilding construction, up 8%.

By geography, the 12 months ending April 2015 revealed the following for total construction starts versus the prior 12 months—the South Central, up 29%; the South Atlantic, up 16%; the West, up 8%; the Northeast, up 5%; and the Midwest, up 3%.