US: Construction Spending

Mon Apr 02 09:00:00 CDT 2018

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous
Construction Spending - M/M change 0.5% -0.1% to 1.0% 0.1% 0.0%
Construction Spending - Y/Y change 3.0% 3.2%

Construction spending has been soft, inching only 0.1 percent higher in February after posting no change in January but there are definitely signs of strength in the details. The most important gains are being posted for new single-family homes, up 0.9 percent for a second straight month for a year-on-year February increase of 9.5 percent. Multi-family homes, where spending has been weak, bounced back a monthly 1.2 percent for a yearly 0.9 percent increase. The weakness in February's overall report comes from home improvements, which fell a monthly 1.5 percent for only a 1.4 percent yearly gain.

Public spending also weakened in February with educational and highway spending both slipping into slightly negative ground on the month. But private nonresidential spending is a positive, up 1.5 percent on the month though the year-on-year increase is still subdued at 1.1 percent. Power and manufacturing construction have been showing the most weakness though both posted gains in February. Transportation, despite a February slip, has been very strong as has commercial building while office spending, after a big monthly jump, moved back into the year-on-year plus column.

But total year-on-year spending is still subdued, down 2 tenths to only 3.0 percent. Yet the gains in single-family homes are a big plus for the housing market and should help build expectations for a badly needed rise in housing supply in what would prove a major plus for housing sales. Watch on Friday for construction payrolls in the employment report, a component that has been showing solid gains over the past year.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
After an unchanged result in January, construction spending is expected to bounce 0.5 percent higher in February. Residential spending has been posting respectable gains but has been offset by subpar results for nonresidential construction.

The dollar value of new construction activity on residential, non-residential, and public projects. Data are available in nominal and real (inflation-adjusted) dollars.

Construction spending has a direct bearing on stocks, bonds and commodities because it is a part of the economy that is affected by interest rates, business cash flow and even federal fiscal policy. In a more specific sense, trends in the construction data carry valuable clues for the stocks of home builders and large-scale construction contractors. Commodity prices such as lumber are also very sensitive to housing industry trends.

Businesses only put money into the construction of new factories or offices when they are confident that demand is strong enough to justify the expansion. The same goes for individuals making the investment in a home.

A portion of construction spending is related to government projects such as education buildings as well a highways and streets. While investors are more concerned with private construction spending, the government projects put money in the hands of laborers who then have more money to spend on goods and services.

On a technical note, construction outlays for private residential, private nonresidential, and government are key inputs into three components of GDP--residential investment, nonresidential structures investment, and the structures portion of government expenditures.

That is why construction spending is a good indicator of the economy's momentum.