Weak Remodeling Activity Weighs on Residential Construction Spending

May 2, 2013

Total private residential construction spending increased 0.4% on a month-to-month basis during March 2013. After data revisions, first quarter nominal spending levels came in 2.3% lower than the final three months of 2012. With that said, private construction spending has bounced back by 33% since its cyclical low from nearly two years ago and has advanced more than 18% compared to March 2012.

Spending on new single-family housing notched its 21st month-to-month gain over the last 22 months, increasing 1.6% versus February, which itself was revised higher from 4.6% to 5.4% growth. On a year-over-year basis the new single-family category has expanded 38% and has managed to rise 78% above the cyclical low observed back in mid-2009. With the current NAHB forecast projecting growth of 26% and 28% for single family housing starts in 2013 and 2014, respectively, we expect spending activity to continue rising over the next two years.

construction spending

New multifamily construction spending registered a modest gain of 0.3% in March, but the initial estimate of a 2.2% drop for February was revised to a smaller decline of 1.4%. Despite these two lackluster months, the first-quarter average was a 12% improvement from the fourth quarter of 2012 and the nominal dollar value of spending has skyrocketed 111% in less than two years. The forecast calls for a modest decline in multifamily starts during the second quarter of 2013 after what was likely an unsustainably large increase during the first quarter (primarily in March). Multifamily starts are expected to increase in every quarter thereafter, albeit at a slower and steadier pace, which in turn will yield further growth in nominal spending levels.

While the other two categories improved, home improvement spending was a source of weakness for the residential construction sector. Remodeling expenditures have declined in each of the last five months, with the March 2013 estimate coming in at a drop of 1.4% compared to February. The 3-month moving average, which tends to smooth out the month-to-month volatility in reported home improvement spending, points to a noticeable dip in remodeling activity after a healthy surge between spring and fall of last year. The most recent forecast calls for remodeling activity to rise modestly over the remainder of the outlook period. However, this downward trend in spending data plus the latest edition of NAHB’s Remodeling Market Index point to some risk to projected home improvement activity over the near term.


Residential Construction Spending Bounces Back in February

April 1, 2013

After three consecutive months of slight declines, private residential construction spending increased 2.2% on a month-to-month basis in February. Despite the sluggish readings from the prior 3 months, nominal spending on residential construction activity remained more than 20% above its year-ago level and roughly 36% higher than the cyclical low in mid-2011.

The new single-family home category continued to show strength in February, gaining 4.3% versus January. Compared to February 2012, spending on new single-family homes has risen 34%, but perhaps more importantly, the level of nominal construction spending has surged more than 73% since bottoming out in mid-2009. Spending activity will likely expand further over the next two years as the current NAHB forecast calls for single-family housing starts to increase 23% and 29%, respectively, this year and next.

construction spending

The multifamily sector took a step back in February, with spending on new multifamily projects slipping 2.2% from January. In fact, this marks the first outright month-to-month decline for this category since September 2011. Still, the overall trend remains decidedly positive for new multifamily construction activity as the level of spending is 52% ahead of the pace in February 2012 and has more than doubled the August 2010 low point. After a likely modest retrenchment in the first quarter of 2013, the baseline forecast calls for consistent gains in multifamily starts through the end of 2014.

Home improvement spending improved slightly in February, gaining 0.5% versus the previous month and is 1.1% above the level from last year. Although this construction spending category is the most volatile and likely to be revised, the 3-month moving average suggests spending on remodeling activity has cooled over the past several months. Nonetheless, with existing home sales expected to register steady growth going forward, home improvement activity should see a similar pattern as sellers spruce up their homes for sale and/or buyers decide to make changes after they move into the home.