Total construction starts slipped 6% from December to January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $759.2 billion. All three major categories moved lower in January —residential building starts fell 8%, nonresidential building lost 6% and nonbuilding starts moved 2% lower.

With only one, limited month of data available for 2020, it is difficult to ascribe a 2020 trend. Some perspective can be gleaned, however, by examining a 12-month moving total. For the 12 months ending January 2020, total construction starts were 1% higher than during the previous 12-month period. By major category, residential building starts were 1% lower and nonresidential building starts were down by less than a percentage point, but nonbuilding construction was 8% higher during the 12 months that ended in January 2020.

“Coming in slightly weaker than the previous month, January’s starts did little to change our view that construction starts will remain near their recent highs in 2020 even though they are likely to fall as the economy slows,” says Richard Branch, chief economist of Dodge Data and Analytics.

Nonresidential building starts fell 6% in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $266.6 billion. However, if not for the start of a large manufacturing project nonresidential building starts would have declined 11%. In January, manufacturing starts more than doubled, while commercial building starts slipped 16% and institutional starts fell 6%.

The largest nonresidential building project to break ground in January was the $475 million Cree Semiconductor plant in Marcy, N.Y. Also starting was the $476 million BMO Office Tower in Chicago and the $400 million Husky Superior refinery in Superior, Wis.

On a 12-month total basis, total nonresidential building starts were less than one percentage point lower than they were in the 12 months ending in January 2019. Commercial starts were 5% higher, while institutional starts fell 3% and manufacturing starts were down 10%.

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