ABC’s Construction Backlog Indicator Rebounds in October; Contractor Optimism Rises

Associated Builders and Contractors reported that its Construction Backlog Indicator rebounded to 7.7 months in October, an increase of 0.2 months from September’s reading, according to an ABC member survey conducted from Oct. 20 to Nov. 5. Backlog is 1.2 months lower than in October 2019.

ABC’s Construction Confidence Index readings for sales, profit margins and staffing levels increased in October. Sales and staffing index readings remained above the threshold of 50, indicating expectations of expansion over the next six months. For profit margins, this is the eighth consecutive month of decreasing readings.

“Given political uncertainty, surging COVID-19 infections, a lack of additional stimulus, diminished state and local government tax revenues, tighter lending conditions and poor commercial real estate fundamentals, nonresidential contractors remain surprisingly upbeat,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “Both sales and staffing levels are expected to climb over the next six months. While profit margins are expected to slip, only 6% of contractors expect a large decline in margins. Backlog was down in October from the same time one year ago but up for the month, further indicating a level of industry stability that was not fully anticipated.

“While these remain treacherous times, nonresidential contractors can anticipate a better future, at least eventually,” said Basu. “Further stimulus seems likely, including additional monies for infrastructure. Large tax hikes now seem unlikely, helping to explain a surge in stock values despite incomplete information on election outcomes. Interest rates remain low, and the Federal Reserve remains accommodative. Moreover, most economists expect a significant rebound in economic activity in 2021, especially after winter’s end. That will set the stage for an eventual recovery in commercial construction spending.”

  Note: The reference months for the Construction Backlog Indicator and Construction Confidence Index data series were revised on May 12, 2020, to better reflect the survey period. CBI quantifies the previous month’s work under contract based on the latest financials available, while CCI measures contractors’ outlook for the next six months. 

Click here for historical CCI and CBI data and here for methodology. Visit abc.org/economics for the CBI and CCI reports, plus analysis of spending, employment, GDP and the Producer Price Index.

Associated Builders and Contractors is a national construction industry trade association established in 1950 that represents more than 21,000 members. Founded on the merit shop philosophy, ABC and its 69 chapters help members develop people, win work and deliver that work safely, ethically and profitably for the betterment of the communities in which ABC and its members work. Visit us at abc.org.