The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 06, 2012

U.S. construction still spinning its wheels

By The Building Tradesman

Traction in the U.S. construction industry continues to be elusive.

After U.S. construction rose 23 percent in March and 11 percent in April compared to the previous month, the industry retreated 16 percent in May, according to a June 21 report by McGraw-Hill Construction.

During the first five months of 2012, total construction starts came in at $180.3 billion, up 6 percent from the same period a year ago.

“The picture of a construction market that’s struggling to achieve upward momentum, with gains for some project types but losses for other project types, continues to hold true,” said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. “Excluding the lift coming from this year’s nuclear power projects, the pattern for construction starts shows a loss of momentum through March, followed by strengthening activity in April and May. The overall level of activity so

far this year, without the nuclear power projects, is actually running slightly behind 2011, but at least the recent trend has been upward after a particularly weak start to 2012.”

Murray said housing construction is edging upward, as earlier advances for multi-family housing are now being joined by gradual growth for single family housing. The commercial building sector has registered slight improvement from the extremely depressed work levels back in 2010, but he said its upturn “remains tenuous.”

Public works construction continues to be under-funded on all levels of government and a major drag on the economy.

Geographically, construction activity in the Midwest gained 8 percent in the first five months of the year – one of only two regions with positive numbers.