COVID-19 Weakens Engineering and Construction Equipment Demand and Prices

Engineering and Construction costs fell in May, with survey respondents seeing lower prices continuing into the fourth quarter of 2020

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Engineering and Construction costs fell in May on lower demand due to the coronavirus, according to IHS Markit and the Procurement Executives Group (PEG). The current headline IHS Markit PEG Engineering and Construction Cost Index registered 38.2 in May, a slight increase over last month’s figure of 34.9, but still well below the neutral mark of 50, indicating falling prices. The materials and equipment portion of the index came in at 35.0 with the sub-contractor portion at 45.7.

The materials and equipment sub-index recorded the third consecutive month of falling prices. Survey respondents reported falling prices for nine out of the 12 components with only ready-mix prices increasing. Ocean freight (from Asia to the United States and Europe to the United States) prices stayed flat. Index prices for fabricated steel, alloy steel pipe and carbon steel, copper wire and cable were higher relative to April, though still in contraction territory in May, illustrating that although the majority of respondents noted falling prices, there were few responders who registered price increases. On the other hand, index figures for equipment fell relative to April, with falling prices more widely observed in these categories.

Ihs Markit Chart

“The widespread declines in equipment prices reflect broad energy industry trends as low oil prices have forced companies to reduce spending, especially on new projects,” said Thomas McCartin, senior economist at IHS Markit. “This had led to lower equipment demand from engineering, procurement and construction firms that build infrastructure and refining facilities in the energy industry.”

The sub-index for current subcontractor labor costs came in at 45.7 in May, a slight uptick from April’s low of 34.3. Labor costs rose in the U.S. Northeast and South; they fell in the U.S. Midwest and West. Labor costs fell in both Eastern and Western Canada.

The six-month headline expectations for future construction costs fell in May to 42.0, yet another all-time low for the IHS Markit PEG Engineering and Construction Cost Index. Both the materials/equipment and labor subcomponents recorded expectations of future price decreases. The six-month materials and equipment expectations index came in at 39.9 this month, down from 40.7 last month, with responders expecting falling prices for nine out of 12 categories.

Expectations for subcontractor labor registered 46.9 in May, a slight uptick from 45.2 in April. While the U.S. Northeast is expected to see higher labor costs in six months, labor costs are expected to stay flat in the U.S. South. Labor costs in Canada, the U.S. Midwest and U.S. West are expected to keep falling.

In the survey comments, respondents noted lower demand conditions due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

To learn more about the IHS Markit PEG Engineering and Construction Cost Index or to obtain the latest published insight, please click here.