Construction News: No Construction Job Growth in an April that Delivered Only a Quarter of Economists’ Forecasts

Institutional building rebound lifts Dodge Construction Index in April, panic over the global lumber shortage pushed July futures for 2x4s to $1,481, a crack shut down the Desoto Bridge carrying I-40 across the Mississippi River

The April monthly report from the U.S. Labor Department is confusing by most standards. The economy added 266,000 jobs, while economists had been predicting a million. Construction gained no jobs in the month, although the unemployment rate compared to March this year and last remained at 6.1%. The Bureau of Labor Statistics stat shows construction employment at 7.4 million – flat compared with March – and total employment in the industry was down by 196,000 from February of 2020. Some segments such as home building and infrastructure posted the best numbers. Shortages of building materials, higher prices and a lack of workers is hampering contractors trying to keep abreast of the situation.

The jobs numbers were also mirrored by the latest Dodge Data & Analytics report. Dodge posted an 8.6% gain from March, coming in at a reading of 162.4 – far higher than February. The April gain was led by a large increase in institutional buildings entering the planning stage while commercial planning eased. Institutional planning has rebounded by 77% over the last three months since hitting a nine-year low in January. Healthcare projects continue to dominate the sector, pushing institutional planning by 50% on a year-over-year basis. The Dodge Momentum Index is now 31% higher than a year ago April, the first full month of the COVID shutdown.


If you’re part of the home building industry, then you probably already know the sum of our next story. The cost of lumber is skyrocketing – as of a week ago, by 280%. The cost of 1,000 board feet of lumber settled at $1,359, according to random lengths, and the July futures contract for 2x4s jumped to $1,481. As one lumber official put it, “We’re in the middle of a global supply shortage of lumber products and panic is accelerating the pace of demand.” And you can blame it all on the pandemic.


A crack discovered by Arkansas DOT crews on the Desoto Bridge that carries Interstate 40 traffic across the Mississippi River between Tennessee and Arkansas has caused it to be shut down as well as barge traffic on the river. The inspection being conducted for the 2020 national bridge inventory report for the Federal Highway Administration found no structural deficiencies with the exception of the crack. The bridge opened in 1953, carries some 32,000 vehicles every day. Officials are recommending a deck replacement as DOT crews from both Arkansas and Tennessee address the problem.


As of the moment, 970 claims have been filed against Skanska Corporation for its involvement in the ill-fated Pensacola Bay Bridge project in north Florida. Work there was recently halted again after a construction worker was struck and killed by a dump truck on the new span in late April. Hundreds of business owners and two counties have sued Skanska for their delays in getting the rebuilt bridge operational after barges used in its project broke loose a year ago during a hurricane, striking the $430 million span, wiping out a number of deck spans and pilings. Skanska claims its liability is limited to $1.5 million, as it tries to have the work barges classified as vessels under maritime law. It’s far from being over.


The future is looking brighter for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. After losing some $250 million last year in toll revenue due to reduced pandemic travel, that agency just approved a new $660 million capital budget – some $250 million higher than anticipated. The $417 million operating budget the Penn Pike offers is only 2% lower than the current spending plan. Although officials say passenger traffic remains some 20% below that of 2019 levels, truck usage of the turnpike has resumed its previous levels. The Penn Pike has plans to widen by a lane the roadway all 550 miles across the state with 152 miles already reconstructed.


The construction industry is improving substantially according to recent earnings estimates by aggregate companies. Vulcan Industries is reporting first-quarter revenue of $1.7 billion and adjusted earnings of 69 cents per share while Martin Marietta Materials reportedly had $1.04 adjusted earnings per share. Both companies are striking upbeat tones with analysists.


Three billion tons hauled – that’s a significant milestone for Caterpillar as the company celebrates the milestone for Cat Command vehicles in material hauled autonomously using Minestar Command. Cat Minestar solutions managers say the company has equipped more mines with command trucks and achieved a gold mining level of achievement with a fleet expansion amounting to 250%. Cat Command fleets operate across three continent – North and South America and Australia – at 17 mine locations that include iron ore, oil sands, copper, coal and gold. Hauling truck Cat Command systems are now utilized on hauling trucks ranging from 210 to 400 tons and many with electric drive systems. And it’s all been done since the first Cat Command trucks were commissioned in 2013.


In closing: some people succeed because they are destined to, but most simply because they are determined to.