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Nonresidential Construction Spending Dips In September

Nonresidential Construction Spending Dips In September 2010

While total construction spending edged up in September, private nonresidential construction slipped 1.6 percent, according to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau.

On a year-over-year basis, private nonresidential construction spending is down 24.6 percent. Meanwhile, total nonresidential construction spending – which includes both privately and publicly financed projects – was flat for the month and is down 12.4 percent from September 2009, and now stands at $559.6 billion on a seasonally adjusted annual rate.

Construction subsectors posting the largest monthly decreases were lodging, down 7.8 percent; manufacturing, 3.5 percent lower; and conservation and development-related construction, down 3.1 percent. Those subsectors suffering the biggest losses from the same time last year include lodging, down 53 percent; manufacturing, down 35.5 percent; and office construction, 24.5 percent lower.

In contrast, 9 of 16 nonresidential construction subsectors posted spending increases from the previous month led by transportation, up 4.1 percent; health care, 1.8 percent higher; office, up 1.6 percent; and amusement and recreation-related construction, up 1.6 percent. Five subsectors are up, compared to the same time last year, including conservation and development, up 25.5 percent; sewage and waste disposal, 13.9 percent higher; and water supply construction, up 7.7 percent.

Public nonresidential construction spending, which represents 55.3 percent of total nonresidential construction, was up 1.3 percent for the month and up 0.7 percent year-over-year. Residential construction spending was up 1.8 percent for the month, but is down 5.3 percent compared to September 2009. Total construction spending was up 0.5 percent in September compared to August, but down 10.4 percent compared to the same time last year.

“Though the media will likely focus upon the fact that total construction spending was up in September for the first time in three months, there is relatively little to celebrate in the most recent construction spending report,” said Associated Builders and Contractors Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “For example, total nonresidential construction spending last September totaled $639 billion on an annualized basis. In contrast, the total this September is $560 billion, a decline exceeding 12 percent. In addition, nonresidential construction volumes were virtually unchanged from August, and remained lower than they were during the early summer.

“Still, there was some positive movement. Construction spending on office space rose in September, perhaps because the lending environment is thawing a bit and new owners of buildings are seeking to re-tenant their purchases and to put their imprint on their properties,” said Basu.

“Construction related to education was also up, a good sign since the fear has been that education-related spending would continue to fall in the wake of still distressed state and local government budgets,” Basu said.

“However, there are also indications that publicly-financed spending related to the stimulus package passed in February 2009 is beginning to wane. For example, spending on construction related to water supply is no longer rising rapidly, and spending in the highway and street category declined in September. Looking at the bigger picture, today’s data suggests that overall nonresidential construction spending is poised to remain quite flat in the months ahead,” Basu said.

Who To Watch: John Chadwick

John Chadwick
President, Southwest Area
Pulte Homes

John Chadwick knows there have been better days in Arizona’s home-construction industry. Last year was a challenging time for homebuilders and he believes this year will test their mettle, as well. But he’s convinced that builders with sufficient resources will find opportunities as the state’s residential real estate sector begins to crawl out of a deep hole.

Chadwick is Southwest area president for Pulte Homes, the largest homebuilder in the nation and one of the largest in Phoenix and Tucson. Looking back on 2009, he references well-documented woes – deteriorating consumer confidence and job losses that sapped demand for housing and sparked an increase in foreclosures. Noting the impact of the real estate slowdown on the industry’s families, Chadwick says, “the contraction has led to painful and necessary reductions in our work force the past year.”

Looking for a toehold in a rocky economy, homebuilders are constantly assessing consumer needs and making adjustments in designs and floor plans and price, Chadwick says.

“Despite difficulties in market conditions, Pulte still performs at or near the top of the industry,” Chadwick says. “That’s because our strategy remained the same – providing high-quality products, providing buyers with affordable housing options and maintaining a strong commitment to customer satisfaction. Those are the things that make the greatest difference in the long term – a willingness to stick to strategies.”

Another key factor in Pulte’s survival and its increasing market share is its diversified lines of business.  Pulte acquired Phoenix-based Del Webb in 2001, and last summer paid more than $1 billion for Centex Homes.

“Centex targets the first-time home buyer,” Chadwick says. “Pulte is targeted to the first-time move-up and move-up buyer. Del Webb delivers lifestyle communities principally to the active-adult buyer.”

There is hope for homebuilders with strong financial backing, Chadwick says. Thus the Centex acquisition and Pulte’s purchase last year of the 480-lot Rancho del Lago in Vail, southeast of Tucson. It now is a Del Webb active-adult community.

“There will be more to come.” Chadwick notes, adding that he is optimistic about the outlook for Arizona’s residential market.

“On a competitive basis, the Southwest – and that includes Phoenix and Tucson – has returned to affordability,” Chadwick says. “Price declines in housing have positioned Phoenix and Tucson for long-term growth relative to other Western states. They have a great quality of life and strong employment prospects and that makes those markets attractive on a long-term basis. Clearly, we are still in a challenging market environment, but I am encouraged by some signs that a recovery is in sight.”

Those signs include stabilizing prices, an increase in existing-home sales, demand for appropriately priced homes in good locations, a slowdown in foreclosures and a welcome reduction in inventory, he says.

“There is far less new-home inventory in the market and that is a great indicator of an improving supply-and-demand environment,” Chadwick says. “For builders with the resources, yes, 2010 will bring new opportunities to them.”

www.pulte.com

Arizona Business Magazine

January 2010