The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 30, 2010

No ups or downs for sluggish construction

By The Building Tradesman

March construction activity in the U.S. was “essentially unchanged” from February’s numbers, according to a report issued April 21 by McGraw-Hill Construction.

There was improved activity in March shown by two of construction’s three main sectors – nonresidential building and housing.  But the third sector, nonbuilding construction (public works and electric utilities), retreated in March after its elevated amount in February.

Through the first three months of 2010, total construction on an unadjusted basis was reported at $91.9 billion, up 2% compared to the same period a year ago.

“The pattern of total construction starts over the past year has made the transition from steady decline to at least low-level stability, with the occasional hint of slight upward movement,” stated Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction.  “After the steep correction witnessed over the past three years, including the 25% plunge for 2009 as a whole, the move towards stability marks a noteworthy change.

“With single family housing now edging up from a very low amount, combined with the recent strength shown by public works, the stage is set for total construction starts in 2010 to register moderate growth.”

Nonresidential building, Murray said, “is also now seeing the occasional pickup,” such as what occurred in March, but he said on balance nonresidential building “is still expected to be a drag this year on the emerging recovery for total construction starts.”

By region, the twelve months ending March 2010 showed this behavior for total construction compared to the previous twelve months – the Northeast, down 7%; the South Central, down 14%; the West, down 19%; the South Atlantic, down 19%; and the Midwest, down 25%.