New construction starts in December advanced 4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $591.6 billion, according to Dodge Data & Analytics. The December gain follows a 5-percent decline in November.
December showed modest increases for each of the three main construction sectors, including nonresidential building, which grew 3 percent for the month and but dipped 8 percent for the year.
For 2015 as a whole, total construction starts climbed 8 percent to $645.5 billion. The December statistics produced a reading of 125 for the Dodge Index, compared to a revised 120 for November. For all of 2015, the Dodge Index averaged 137.
“The construction start statistics reveal continued expansion for construction activity during 2015, although the path over the course of the year was not smooth,” says Robert A. Murray, chief economist for Dodge Data & Analytics. “A strong first half of 2015 was followed by a 20-percent loss of momentum in the third quarter and then a slight 1-percent rebound in the fourth quarter, as the expansion began to show that it was getting back on track. Several factors contributed to the early 2015 strength – more growth for the commercial and institutional segments of nonresidential building, gradual improvement for single family housing alongside the continued rise by multifamily housing, and a surge of electric utility and gas plants.”
Nonresidential building in December grew 3 percent to $178.5 billion (annual rate). The commercial building group provided most of the December lift to nonresidential building, rising 9 percent from the previous month. Office construction increased 6 percent, while store construction advanced 17 percent.
The institutional side of the nonresidential building market held steady in December. Amusement-related work soared 87 percent, and transportation terminal work climbed 48 percent in December. Gains were also reported for religious buildings, up 13 percent; and healthcare facilities, up 11 percent. However, educational facilities (the largest nonresidential building category by dollar volume) retreated 19 percent in December following its improved pace during the previous two months.
For 2015 as a whole, nonresidential building fell 8 percent to $204.2 billion. The decline followed a 24-percent increase in 2014, and the 2015 annual amount was still 14-percent above the level reported for 2013. Much of the decline for nonresidential building in 2015 reflected a 39-percent reduction for the manufacturing plant category following its 87-percent surge in 2014. If the manufacturing plant category is excluded, nonresidential building in 2015 would be down a modest 2 percent after a 17-percent hike in 2014. The institutional building group in 2015 settled back 4 percent after advancing 13 percent in 2014. Decreased activity was reported for healthcare facilities, down 10 percent, though the educational facilities category rose 1 percent in 2015 on top of its 15-percent gain in 2014.
Hotel construction showed the largest annual gain of the commercial categories in 2015, rising 15 percent. Store construction grew 3 percent in 2015. The office category pulled back 5 percent, though the decline followed a 37-percent increase in 2014 that was led by such projects as the $2.3 billion office portion of the $2.5 billion Apple corporate headquarters in Cupertino, Calif.
Residential building in December increased 6 percent to $278.1 billion (annual rate). Multifamily housing finished the year on a strong note, rebounding 22 percent after slipping 5 percent in November. The 2015 amount for residential building was $265.4 billion, up 14 percent and stronger than the 10-percent gain that was reported for 2014. Multifamily housing in 2015 increased 18 percent, not quite as fast as the 32-percent hike reported in 2014, but marking the sixth straight year of double-digit growth.