Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) today released its 2012 economic forecast for the U.S. commercial and industrial construction industry. "ABC's analysis of construction trends indicates 2012 will be a year of gradual progress as advances in private construction are partially offset by ongoing declines in publicly financed construction," said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu.
"Nonresidential construction spending is expected to grow 2.4 percent in 2012 following a 2.4 percent decrease in 2011," Basu said. "The pace of recovery in the nation's nonresidential construction industry remains soft, and 2012 is positioned to be a year of slow gain. The first half of 2012 may be particularly challenging, a reflection of the soft patch in economic activity experienced during much of the first half of 2011.
"ABC's national Construction Backlog Indicator, which stood at 8.1 months for both the second and third quarters of 2011, is not expected to advance substantially and likely will remain in the vicinity of 8 months of backlog for much of 2012," said Basu. "However, backlog is one month higher from the same time last year. A backlog of less than 8 months is associated with construction spending declines, while a backlog exceeding 8 months is statistically associated with future construction spending increases. Today's level of backlog is consistent with flat construction spending.
"Nonresidential building construction employment is expected to increase 0.4 percent in 2012 following lackluster 0.6 percent growth in 2011," Basu said. "Employers will continue to seek increased productivity among existing workers in order to boost weak industry margins.
"There may be a degree of relief for construction contractors with respect to materials prices. In 2011, prices for construction inputs rose 7.5 percent," said Basu. "ABC expects 2012 materials prices will rise 4.7 percent. Despite a sluggish construction recovery, input prices are likely to remain elevated as global investors retain significant ownership in commodities and hedge against risks emerging from Europe, the United States, China and Brazil.
"The direction of the U.S. dollar will play a major role in determining construction input prices in 2012. However, the dollar's direction is far from obvious," Basu said. "Although the nation continues to run a large trade deficit, which implies further deterioration in the value of the dollar over time, investors often race to dollar-denominated assets during times of global financial stress. We are in one of those times now, which could keep the dollar inflated in 2012. While this would create a more challenging environment for U.S. exporters, it would likely result in lower construction materials prices."
"Many prominent forecasters expect GDP to expand less than 3 percent next year. The economic recovery in the United States to date cannot sustain brisk expansion without the participation of real estate and construction activities," Basu said. "With office vacancy rates still high, job creation still slow and lending still disciplined, 2012 is not positioned to be a year of significant progress in private investment. Public construction spending continues to decline in many communities across the United States.