Tag Archive for 'economy'

ASCE Takes Report Card Grades and Solutions to Lieutenant Governors

How bad is our infrastructure? Probably worse than you ever imagined. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has prepared an Infrastructure Report Card that details the problems the country faces with updating, restoring, improving and making our infrastructure safe with a state-by-state overview. (See link below) The association has been doing an infrastructure report card for some time and has provided the country with a realistic and serious look at the things we all take for granted,  our roads and bridges topping the list. Take the time to review the condition of your state’s infrastructure so that you can support efforts made to improve it.
ASCE participated last week in the National Lt. Governors Association annual State-Federal Relations meeting in Washington, DC. The seconds-in-command of the states and territories gathered in Washington D.C. March 15, 2017, to work on schools, roads, and more. Casey Dinges was on the agenda to talk to the Lt. Governors about the solutions offered in the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. The meeting also focused on ideas on how to streamline state regulations, preserve international markets for agriculture, and assist veterans with health issues.

2017 Infrastructure Report Card

ABC Says Construction Unemployment Rates Improve in 10 States Year-Over-Year

Construction unemployment rates were down in 10 states and unchanged in three in January on a year-over-year basis, according to analysis released today by Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). For the nation and 37 states, rates were higher than in January 2016, ending 75 consecutive months of year-over-year declines. The national not seasonally adjusted (NSA) construction unemployment rate of 9.4 percent was up 0.9 percent from January 2016, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Since these industry-specific rates are NSA, it is most accurate to evaluate the national and state-level unemployment rates on a year-over-year basis.

“It was inevitable that the remarkable ongoing streak of year-over-year declines in the national unemployment rate would come to an end at some point,” said Bernard M. Markstein, Ph.D., president and chief economist of Markstein Advisors, who conducted the analysis for ABC. “The halt to this record may be largely due to the mounting shortage of skilled construction workers acting as a drag on the ability of the sector to grow. Despite this challenge, construction activity will continue to advance this year.”

In spite of the year-over-year rise, this was the second lowest national January NSA construction unemployment rate since January 2007 when the rate was 8.9 percent. Meanwhile, BLS data showed that the industry employed 162,000 more workers than in January 2016.

The usual pattern in the movement in the national NSA construction unemployment rate from December to January is an increase. Starting in 2000, when the BLS data for this series begins, the January rate has risen every year. This year’s 2 percent rate increase was no exception.

View states ranked by their construction unemployment rate, their year-over-year improvement in construction unemployment, their monthly improvement in construction unemployment, a regional breakdown of states’ construction unemployment rates and their January unemployment rates for all industries.

The Top Five States
The states with the lowest estimated NSA construction unemployment rates in order from lowest rate to highest were:

1. Hawaii
2. Utah and Virginia (tie)
4. South Carolina
5. Texas

Only one state, Hawaii, was also among the top five in December. Hawaii had the lowest rate among the states, with a 6 percent estimated construction unemployment rate unchanged from January 2016 and the state’s lowest January rate since the 5.1 percent rate in January 2006.

Utah and Virginia, with a 6.3 percent construction unemployment rate, tied for the second lowest rate in January. This was a big jump for Utah, which was also one of the 10 states that experienced a year-over-year drop in its rate, and marked the seventh year in a row that its January rate was down from the year before. For Virginia, the January 2017 rate was the state’s second lowest estimated January rate since the 6.2 percent rate in 2007, behind January 2016’s industry unemployment rate of 5.8 percent.

South Carolina, with the fourth construction unemployment rate lowest rate (6.4 percent), recorded its second lowest January rate, after last January’s 6.2 percent, going back to the beginning of the January estimates in 2000. Texas recorded the fifth lowest rate at 6.6 percent, despite having the seventh largest year-over-year increase in its rate among the states, up 1.5 percent.

The Bottom Five States

The states with the highest NSA construction unemployment rates in order from lowest to highest rates were:

46. Montana
47. Illinois
48. Rhode Island
49. West Virginia
50. Alaska

Four of these states—Alaska, Illinois, Montana and West Virginia—were also among the five states with the highest construction unemployment rates in December. Alaska recorded the highest estimated NSA construction unemployment rate for the fourth month in a row at 22.5 percent. This is to be expected since these are NSA construction unemployment rates; however, the state also had the largest year-over-year increase in its rate at 4.7 percent.

West Virginia had the second highest construction unemployment rate in January (16.4 percent) and its 5.5 percent increase from December was the second largest among the states behind Rhode Island’s 6.5 percent increase.

Rhode Island had the third highest estimated NSA construction unemployment rate in January (16.3 percent); however, it was among the 10 states with a drop in its year-over-year rate (down 0.3 percent) and the state’s lowest estimated January rate since the 11.3 percent rate in January 2007.

Illinois had the fourth highest rate in January, 15.8 percent after recording the third highest rate in December, and Montana had the fifth highest construction unemployment rate in January (15.3 percent), but was among the 10 states with a drop in its year-over-year rate (down 0.3 percent).

Note on Data Revision
On March 13, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its benchmark revision of state employment data covering the period from April 2015 through December 2016 (some data prior to April 2015 were also revised). The models used to estimate state construction unemployment rates were updated incorporating the new data. The revised data and the updated models resulted in some changes to the previously estimated state unemployment rates. Read more on the impact of the revisions on previous construction industry unemployment rate estimates on ABC’s website.

To better understand the basis for calculating unemployment rates and what they measure, see the article Background on State Construction Unemployment Rates.

ARTBA Reports: Major Economic & Job Creation Boost Expected from Kansas Highway & Bridge Infrastructure Increase, New Analysis Finds

A new report finds that an annual $264 million increase in state highway and bridge infrastructure investment would support nearly $600 million in economic activity throughout all sectors of the Kansas economy. The additional demand, in turn, would also support or create 5,000 jobs—with over half being in sectors outside of the construction industry.

The analysis, conducted by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association’s (ARTBA) Chief Economist Dr. Alison Premo Black shows how the impacts of transportation capital investments trigger immediate economic activity, including cost savings for drivers, and new and sustained jobs, while yielding long-lived capital assets that facilitate economic activity for decades to come.

Black testified March 23 before a Kansas state legislature hearing about the report’s findings. The study was commissioned by the Kansas Contractors Association.

An annual investment level of $264 million is consistent with an increase in the state motor fuel tax of about 15 cents per gallon, which would cost the average driver about $5 to $10 a month, or less than 20 to 40 cents per day, but would help businesses increase output, grow the tax base and support jobs across all major sectors of the state economy, Black said.

The improvement in the state’s transportation network would include enhanced safety, lower operating costs, reduced congestion and an increase in both mobility and efficiency, ARTBA said.

In addition, Black’s analysis reveals that increased investment would:
Generate $594.3 million in additional economic output;
Increase gross state product (GSP) by nearly $304 million;
Grow state and local tax revenues by $29.4 million; and
Support or create an additional 5,308 jobs, with 52 percent of the employment outside of the construction industry, including an estimated 549 jobs in retail trade, 330 jobs in manufacturing and 321 jobs in health care and social assistance

Research shows that the economic return for every $1 invested in transportation infrastructure improvements can range up to $5.20. For drivers in Kansas, this could add up to as much as $1.3 billion in savings, not including the additional benefits of improving access to critical facilities like schools and hospitals or increases in business productivity, Black says.

More than 660,000 Kansas jobs in tourism, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, agriculture and forestry, mining, retailing and wholesaling alone are fully dependent on the work done by the state’s transportation construction industry. These dependent industries provide a total payroll of $25.2 billion and their employees contribute $4.6 billion annually in state and federal payroll taxes, the ARTBA report found.

The annual $264 million investment would help restore some of the recent cuts to the Kansas highway program. The Kansas state legislature will have diverted about $3.5 billion from the state Highway Fund to the General Fund and other state agencies between FY 2011 and FY 2019 for non-transportation purposes. These diversions have had a significant market impact, Black said, delaying over $600 million in road projects because of a lack of funds and resulting in the loss of 3,000 construction jobs.

If the diverted funds were instead invested in highway and bridge projects, the construction work would generate $7.8 billion in economic activity throughout all sectors of the economy and provide an additional $4 billion in state GSP, the association said.

Read the full report: www.artba.org/economics/research/.

Wells Fargo Reports: Existing Home Sales Decline Modestly in February

Existing homes sales fell 3.7 percent in February to a 5.48-million unit pace. Home sales are now more in line with pending sales, which had fallen in recent months. Inventories rose slightly but remain unusually lean.

Home Sales Are Still Off to a Strong Start

Existing home sales slipped 3.7 percent in February but are still off to a strong start to the year. The decline was somewhat expected following January’s surprisingly strong 3.3 percent increase but February’s report did come in slightly below the consensus estimate and our own lower call. Sales have averaged a 5.56-million unit pace over the past three months and remain above their year ago levels nationally and at all four regional levels.

We were expecting sales to come in below consensus, largely due to recent declines in pending home sales, which are contracts for the purchase of an existing home. Pending sales do a reasonably good job of anticipating the future direction of existing home sales but tend to overstate the magnitude of swings, particularly when you get a big down month like we did in January, when pending home sales tumbled 2.8 percent. Most of the drop in pending sales was in the West, which tumbled 9.8 percent, and the Midwest, which fell 5.0 percent. Both areas saw the return of more typical winter weather following milder weather in January. We do not expect existing home sales to precisely follow pending sales lower, just as they did not precisely follow them higher when pending sales spiked early last year.

Lean Inventories Make This a Sellers’ Market

February’s dip in home sales allowed inventories to rebound somewhat. For-sale inventories rose 4.2 percent to 1.75 million homes. But even with the gain, the number of homes available for sale remains 6.4 percent lower than it was one year ago, continuing a string of year-to-year drops that stretches back 21 months. Relative to sales, there is now a 3.8-month supply of homes available for sale. A balanced market would have around a 5.5-month supply.

With overall inventories as low as they are, sellers are selling their homes very quickly. The typical home sold in February was on the market for just 45 days, which compares to 59 days one year ago. Moreover, 42 percent of the homes sold in February were on the market for one month or less. The hottest markets remain mostly in the West, including San Francisco, Seattle and Denver, where strong job growth in the tech sector and has kept inventories incredibly lean.

By region, sales tumbled 13.8 percent in Northeast, fell 7.0 percent in the Midwest and declined 3.1 percent in the West. The South, which is by far the largest region for existing home sales, saw sales rise 1.3 percent, likely reflecting strong demand in Florida, Texas, Georgia and the Carolinas.

The median price of an existing home rose 7.7 percent over the past year. Prices are up the most in the West and South, where they are 9.6 percent higher than one year ago. By contrast, the median price of a home is up 6.1 percent over the past year in the Midwest and 4.1 percent in the Northeast.

Source: National Association of Realtors and Wells Fargo Securities

ABC’s Construction Backlog Indicator Fell to End 2016

Construction backlog fell by 4 percent during the last quarter of 2016, according to the latest Construction Backlog Indicator (CBI) released today by Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). Contractors in each segment surveyed—commercial/institutional, infrastructure and heavy industrial—all saw lower backlog during the fourth quarter, with firms in the heavy industrial segment experiencing the largest drop, down 16.8 percent to an average backlog of 5.5 months.

Overall, backlog—the amount of work under contract but yet to be performed—fell to 8.3 months duringthe fourth quarter. CBI rose a modest 0.4 months or 4.5 percent on a year-over-year basis.

Source: Associated Builders and Contractors

“Many factors contributed to the dip in contractors’ backlog, but none is more important than the lack of public construction spending momentum,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “Indeed, backlog among firms specializing in infrastructure has declined from 12.2 months during the final three months of 2015 to 10.6 months one year later.

“CBI is intended to be a predictive tool and has accurately predicted declining public spending for several quarters,” said Basu. “Recent construction spending data supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau confirm these declines. For instance, between January 2016 and January 2017, construction spending in the nation’s highway and street segment declined by more than 10 percent. In the water supply, public safety and transportation components, the level of construction spending declined by closer to 11 percent. In the sewage and waste disposal category, construction spending declined by a whopping 28 percent.

“A still fragile global economy, strong U.S. dollar, and stubbornly low energy prices have helped to translate into declining heavy industrial backlog,” said Basu. “The only category experiencing construction spending stability is the commercial segment. Over the past year, construction spending in office, lodging and relative categories has surged. During that same period, the CBI reading in the commercial/institutional category has remained stable.”

See charts and graphs

Regional Highlights

Backlog declined in all major regions of the nation during 2016’s final quarter with the exception of the Northeast. A surge in financial activity and foreign investment in commercial real estate helped buoy construction in the New York metropolitan area, according to available CBI survey data. Boston continues to be propelled by its large and expanding technology sector. Stable economies in both Washington and Baltimore have also helped to drive Northeast CBI higher.
Middle States backlog sits at roughly 7.8 months. Though this represents a decline on a quarterly basis, backlog is still more than a month higher than it was a year ago. Stable-to-rising industrial production in a number of Middle States communities has helped.
Backlog in the West declined during the fourth quarter and is now at its lowest level since the first quarter of 2015. The region’s backlog has now fallen in four of the previous five quarters, largely due to dynamics among large construction firms. The technology boom in many communities, including in Silicon Valley and Seattle, has led to massive construction projects in recent years. It was expected that this level of technology-generated construction would slow a bit, and this appears to be what has transpired.
Backlog in the South fell during 2016’s final quarter, ending a prolonged period of growth that began during the third quarter of 2015. Despite this setback, backlog in the southern region remains elevated due to the volume of construction in several of the region’s most economically dynamic major metropolitan areas, including Dallas, Atlanta, Orlando and Miami.

Highlights by Industry

Foreign and domestic equity capital, searching for a satisfactory combination of safety and yield, has continued to flow into U.S. commercial real estate.
Average backlog in the heavy industrial category fell to 5.5 months during the fourth quarter, a decrease of more than 1 month. Backlog in the segment has reverted to early-2014 levels, almost 2 months later than its peak in the second quarter of 2016.
Backlog in the infrastructure category contracted in the fourth quarter but remains well above its post-recession trough. Despite falling 13.2 percent from the same time last year, backlog in the sector is up 49.8 percent from the fourth quarter of 2013.
Commercial/institutional backlog fell to end 2016, but the sector remains remarkably stable. The category’s backlog reading has hovered between 8 months and 8.3 months for the past two years.

Company Size Trends

Backlog for firms with annual revenues above $100 million fell dramatically to end 2016 with contractors shedding nearly three months of backlog on average, dropping from 13.7 months to 10.8 months. The CBI reading for this group is now at its lowest level since the second quarter of 2015.
Backlog for the smallest firms surveyed—those with annual revenues less than $30 million—remains stable. Many of these companies are subcontractors that continue to toil on privately-financed, commercial construction projects.
Firms with annual revenues between $30 million and $50 million per annum were in the only category that collectively reported rising backlog. These firms are often advantageously positioned to take on large components of commercial or institutional work, and backlog for this group now stands at a still-healthy 8.3 months.
Backlog among firms with between $50 million and $100 million in annual revenue fell fractionally during the final quarter, not enough for statistical significance. Though backlog has declined relative to the peak achieved in mid-2013, in part due to the loss of public infrastructure spending momentum, average backlog remains above 9 months.

See Charts and Graphs