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By Anirban Basu
September 4, 2017
Data Confuses rather than Clarifies
Nonresidential construction spending totaled $719.1 billion in May 2017 on a seasonally-adjusted annualized basis according to data supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau. It has been falling ever since. In June, it declined 2.6 percent to $700.3 billion. As we learned today, in July if fell yet further, this time to $688.4 billion. The volume of nonresidential construction spending hasn’t been this low since December 2015. July’s losses were widespread, with both private (-1.9%) and public (-1.4%) spending declining. Fully thirteen of sixteen nonresidential construction sectors experienced declines.
Of course, this may be largely a statistical anomaly. Earlier today, we received data suggesting that construction job gains in August were large and that the industry’s unemployment rate continued to decline. Those data indicate that construction activity remains robust and is expanding. While data are intended to clarify, today’s data were confusing, with the jobs data indicating trends diametrically opposed to those suggested by the construction spending data.
When statistical data conflict, it makes sense to turn to anecdotal information. Anecdotally, many construction firms continue to report significant backlog and decent pricing power. The implication is that today’s spending data may eventually be revised higher. In any case, the events impacting Houston and other communities will likely lead to stepped up construction spending during the months ahead.
Nonresidential Spending Growth, Millions of Dollars, Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate
1-Month % Change
12-Month % Change
Highway and street
Sewage and waste disposal
Amusement and recreation
Conservation and development
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
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