The value of new construction starts in January climbed 12% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $690.2 billion, according to Dodge Data & Analytics. After losing momentum during last year’s fourth quarter, nonresidential building strengthened in January, with much of the lift coming from the start of the $3.4-billion Central Terminal Building at LaGuardia Airport in New York City, as well as groundbreaking for several other large airport terminal projects.
Nonbuilding construction bounced back from a subdued December, with the boost arising from a $750-million natural gas-fired power plant in Florida, plus two pipeline projects: the $900-million Plains Diamond oil pipeline in Arkansas and Oklahoma, and the $767-million Presidio Crossing natural gas pipeline in Texas.
Meanwhile, residential building edged upward in January as the result of a slight gain for single-family housing. On an unadjusted basis, total construction starts in January were reported at $48.5 billion, down 3% from the same month a year ago, which included especially strong amounts for the often-volatile manufacturing plant and electric utility and gas plant categories.
If manufacturing plants and electric utilities and gas plants are excluded, total construction starts in January would be up 10% from last year’s corresponding volume.
The January statistics raised the Dodge Index to 146 (2000=100), compared to 130 in December. The Dodge Index reached its 2016 peak in August at 156 and held close to that level in September at 153. The next three months showed the Dodge Index retreating 5% to 6% each month, culminating in December’s 130. For the full year 2016, the Dodge Index averaged 144.
“The 12% gain for total construction starts in January gets 2017 off to a healthy beginning, following the declines reported toward the end of 2016,” said Robert A. Murray, chief economist for Dodge Data & Analytics.
“What’s noteworthy about January’s rebound is that the institutional side of the nonresidential building market, led by airport terminal work, has assumed a more substantial role in keeping the expansion going,” Murray continued. “The institutional side of nonresidential building has typically lagged the pattern shown by commercial building, and its continued growth is needed for overall nonresidential building to advance further in 2017.
“While commercial building is also expected to see growth in 2017, its rate of increase will be restrained as vacancy rates level off and banks in the near term maintain a cautious stance towards commercial real estate loans pending any changes to the Dodd-Frank regulations. The public-works sector also is anticipated to strengthen in 2017, with help coming from more pipeline work, although Congress needs to finalize fiscal 2017 appropriations, which now are set at essentially status quo levels under a continuing resolution that expires at the end of April,” Murray said.
“The proposal for greater infrastructure spending by the Trump administration, assuming it gets passed in some form by Congress during this year’s first half, may not have a discernible impact on public works construction starts until the end of 2017 and into 2018,” he added.
Nonresidential building in January climbed 16% to $261.5 billion (annual rate), following lackluster activity in December. The inclusion of the $3.4-billion Central Terminal Building project at LaGuardia Airport as a January start provided much of the upward push, supporting a 37% gain for the institutional categories as a group and a 768% hike for the transportation-terminal category.
If the Central Terminal Building project is excluded, nonresidential building in January would have receded 2%, the institutional categories as a group would be down 1%, but the transportation terminal category would still have registered a 138% increase, given the support coming from other large airport terminal projects.
These included a $477-million project at San Francisco International Airport, a $420-million international arrivals facility at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and a $70-million expansion for Terminal 3 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
Also advancing in January were health care facilities, rising 6% with the help of these projects: the $239-million Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix, the $230-million Westchester Medical Center ambulatory care pavilion in Valhalla, N.Y., and a $135-million hospital modernization project in Galveston, Texas.
The public buildings category in January rose 1%, aided by the start of the $210-million Multnomah County Central Courthouse in Portland.
On the negative side for the institutional sector, January declines were reported for educational facilities, down 18%; amusement-related work, down 36%; and religious buildings, down 44%.
Even with its January decline, the educational facilities category did include the start of several notable science-related university projects, such as a $252-million building at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.; a $143-million building at the University of Washington in Seattle; and a $117-million building at Penn State University in University Park, Pa.
The commercial side of the nonresidential building market grew 12% in January. Office construction starts climbed 26% and featured the start of two large data centers—a $600-million data center in McClellan, Calif.; and a $395-million data center in Sterling, Va.
Other large office projects reported as January starts were the $329-million office portion of a $355-million, mixed-use building in Brooklyn, N.Y.; a $105-million office building in Austin, Texas; and a $100-million office building renovation in Washington, D.C.
Warehouse construction in January increased 21%, helped by groundbreaking for an $87-million distribution center for the U.S. Postal Service in Portland. Hotel construction in January rose 5% and included the start of a $160-million convention center hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla. Declines in January were reported for store construction, down 1%; and commercial garages, down 7%. The manufacturing plant category in January plunged 69% relative to December, which included the start of a $1.2-billion pharmaceutical plant in Clayton, N.C. The largest manufacturing project reported as a January start was a $200-million pharmaceutical plant expansion in Waco, Texas.
Nonbuilding construction, at $121.1 billion (annual rate), rebounded 44% in January after plunging 40% in December. The electric utility and gas plant category surged 285% following extremely low activity in December, lifted by the January start of a $750-million natural gas-fired power plant in Florida.
January’s amount for this category was still weak by recent standards, coming in 65% below the average monthly pace for electric utilities and gas plants during 2016.
The public works categories as a group climbed 32% in January, led by a 222% surge for the miscellaneous public works category, which includes pipelines, mass transit and sitework. The two large pipeline projects entered as January starts were the $900-million Plains Diamond oil pipeline in Arkansas and Oklahoma and the $767-million Presidio Crossing natural gas pipeline in Texas.
Additional miscellaneous public works projects entered as January starts were a $321-million light rail project in Bellevue, Wash., and a $142-million natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania.
River and harbor development work in January bounced back 64% after December’s 75% plunge, and sewer construction improved 4% with the January start of a $137-million waste water treatment plant in Pennsylvania.
On the negative side, highway and bridge construction slipped 2% in January, maintaining the lackluster activity reported toward the end of 2016, although the latest month did include a $298-million HOV lane project on Interstate 5 in the San Diego area. Water supply construction in January dropped 13% after soaring 57% in December.
Residential building in January increased 1% to $307.6 billion (annual rate), basically maintaining the improved level achieved in December with an 8% gain. Single-family housing in January grew 1%, due to this pattern by major region: the Midwest, up 13%; the Northeast, up 7%; the South Atlantic and South Central, each up 2%; and the West, down 10%.
Multifamily housing in January held steady with its December amount. There were 13 multifamily projects valued at $100 million or more that reached groundbreaking in January, similar to the 14 such projects in December, including these January starts: the $615-million multifamily portion of the $650-million One Grant Park (phase 1) in Chicago; the $423-million City Point apartment building in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and the $282-million multifamily portion of the $345-million Jamaica Station development in Queens, N.Y.
The top five metropolitan areas in terms of the dollar amount of multifamily starts in January were: New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Jose, Calif., and Los Angeles.
The 3% decline for total construction starts on an unadjusted basis for January 2017 relative to January 2016 was the result of a varied performance by major sector. Nonresidential building advanced 27%, with institutional building up 74%, commercial building, up 14%, and manufacturing building down 72%.
Residential building rose 1%, with single-family housing up 7% and multifamily housing down 10%. Nonbuilding construction fell 37%, with public works down 14% and electric utilities and gas plants down 77%.
By geography, total construction starts for January 2017 relative to January 2016 revealed this pattern—the Northeast, up 22%; the West, up 21%; the South Atlantic, down 8%; the Midwest, down 14%; and the South Central, down 24%.
Useful perspective comes from looking at 12-month moving totals, in this case the 12 months ending January 2017 versus the 12 months ending January 2016, which lessens the volatility present in one-month comparisons.
For the 12 months ending January 2017, total construction starts were up 1%. By major sector, nonresidential building grew 5%, with commercial building up 12%, institutional building up 10% and manufacturing building down 36%. Residential building also grew 5%, with single-family housing up 8% and multifamily housing down 1%. Nonbuilding construction dropped 12%, with public works down 6% and electric utilities and gas plants down 26%.