- Demand for design services ended December — and Q4 — on a positive note, marking the measure's best quarter of 2017. Billings came in at 52.9 in December, slightly below November's score of 55, which represented the highest number on the monthly index for the year. The ABI is an indicator of future construction spending with a nine- to 12-month lead time. The figures were 51.7 in October and 49.1 in September.
- Within the index, the commercial/industrial sector climbed to 54.8 last month, up from 53.3 in November. The institutional sector edged down, decreasing from 52.4 in November to 51.2 in December. The mixed-practice segment also fell, dropping from 53.6 to 50.4 month-over-month. Multifamily increased, rising from 53.9 to 55.4 for the period.
- The sub-index tracking new project inquiries jumped in December, rising from 61.1 in November to 61.9 for the month. New design contracts remained unchanged month-over-month at a reading of 53.2.
The positive end to 2017 puts industry activity on solid ground for the coming months. And growth in spending and employment figures, too, suggest construction activity will start off strong this year.
The industry added 30,000 net new jobs last month, with specialty trade contractors and the residential sector driving that increase. One month prior, November saw the month's lowest construction unemployment rate on record, likely due in part to good weather and strong rebuilding activity following a number of natural disasters during the late summer and fall.
November also saw a fourth-straight month of growth in construction spending, rising 0.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.26 trillion for the month. The measure is expected to continue its upward climb with more rebuilding efforts taking shape in California after a spate of deadly wildfires and mudslides and across the hurricane-damaged South.
This year is expected to prolong construction's current boom, with analysts at Dodge Data & Analytics predicting total starts to increase by 3% to $765 billion. Chief among those starts are expected to be in the infrastructure and utility sectors, according to ConstructConnect's Q4 2017 Forecast Quarterly Report, particularly with President Donald Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure spend still on the table.
Trump's plan, part of which may have leaked Monday, comes at a time when an increasing number of industry professionals agree that national prosperity is dependent on civil infrastructure. A new AECOM report found that funding was the No. 1 challenge to revamping U.S. infrastructure, but the skilled labor gap will also continue to be a drag on such efforts.