By Greg Sitek
Prospects for the coming year are positive. Inertia alone should keep the economy going and growing. So much has been put in motion that most of the influencing factors have not yet had a chance to take effect.
According to the Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation A strong labor market and healthy consumer spending are positive factors, “Indeed, preliminary estimates of consumer spending on Black Friday and Cyber Monday reveal that online spending was up nearly 20% from last year, setting a record that underscores the current sentiment of U.S. consumers. Overall, recent data suggest that consumer spending should continue to drive economic growth in 2019.” The Foundation also points out that there are factors that have the potential of causing problems, most notably increased trade pressures and tightening of global credit. You can find more of what the Foundation and other leading industry organizations predict for 2019 in the national section of this issue.
There are numerous organizations that have published forecast and other that will be published after the New Year has started. We will keep you informed on these as they become available. Meanwhile here are glimpses into what a couple leading industry associations are forecasting.
Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Chief Economist Anirban Basu forecasts another strong year for construction sector performance, yet warns about inflationary pressures.
Job growth, high backlog, and healthy infrastructure investment all spell good news for the industry. However, historically low unemployment has created a construction workforce shortage of an estimated 500,000 positions, which is leading to increased compensation costs.
“U.S. economic performance has been brilliant of late. Sure, there has been a considerable volume of negativity regarding the propriety of tariffs, shifting immigration policy, etc., but the headline statistics make it clear that domestic economic performance is solid,” said Basu. “Nowhere is this more evident than the U.S. labor market. As of July, there were a record-setting 6.94 million job openings in the United States, and construction unemployment reached a low of 3.6 percent in October.”
While the U.S. economy is thriving, Basu cited the potential long-term impact of rising interest rates and materials prices—up 7.9 percent on a year-over-year basis in October—on the U.S. construction market. In addition, the workforce shortage will continue to influence the market in the coming year.
That said, Basu stressed that a recession is unlikely in 2019, even with recent financial market volatility. Indicators such as the Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index, which often signals an economic downturn, have continued to tick higher, implying current momentum will continue for at least two to three more quarters.
While optimistic for next year, Basu warned that “Contractors should be aware that recessions often follow within two years of peak confidence. The average contractor is likely to be quite busy in 2019, but beyond that, the outlook is quite murky.”
PCA Forecasts Less Growth in 2019 and 2020
The Portland Cement Association (PCA) Market Intelligence Group forecast for cement consumption over the next two years, shows less growth compared with 2018. This year’s rate of change is 2.9 percent. Growth ebbs to 2.6 percent in 2019 and to 1.6 percent in 2020.
“We are expecting relatively modest but sustained interest rate increases after 10 years of low and stable rates,” said PCA Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Ed Sullivan. “The Federal Reserve’s actions will gradually slow the construction sector’s growth due to, among other things, the higher mortgage rates for residential buildings and higher borrowing cost for nonresidential buildings.”
Sullivan added, “While the tax cuts passed at the end of 2017 have helped to boost the overall economy, the rising debt will frame the discussion of future federal public infrastructure spending.”
PCA’s overall projection for the U.S. economy suggests considerable strength that will take time to unravel. The seeds of a gradual softening will arise from rising interest rates, the emergence of fiscal difficulties at the state level at a time of relative prosperity, and the aging of the recovery. PCA forecasts the GDP growth rate to be 3.1 percent this year, 2.7 percent in 2019 and 2.2 percent in 2020. The unemployment rate now below 4 percent, is expected to trend down – intensifying labor shortages and leading to stronger wage gains.
“America’s economy is unquestionably strong and resilient,” said Sullivan. “The real GDP growth is healthy, wage growth is up, and both the unemployment rate and consumer household debt are at near record lows. While interest rates are rising, they have not reached a threshold that would cause a significant adjustment to the positive overall growth projections.” https://www.cement.org/newsroom/2018/11/15/pca-forecasts-less-growth-in-2019-and-2020
Have a happy and prosperous New Year.