Market Overview

What Is Driving The Construction Market Boom?


With hurricane season in full swing, it makes sense to take a look at the construction market, since it has historically been one of the beneficiaries. This year is expected to be a normal storm year, unlike 2017, which was one of the ten worst years for storms. That said, Hurricane Florence is expected to ravage the Carolinas, so the usual uptick in demand for construction supplies and labor may be expected to continue.

Overall, Commerce Department statistics indicate growth in private residential construction (following a period of multifamily overbuild) as well as certain pockets of both public and pricate non-residential construction and non-building construction like water supply, conservation & development and transportation. Manufacturing is a notable area of weakness in both private and public construction segments.

Demand Is Going Up

New residential construction starts, permits and completions have trended up over the last five years, although the growth rates are only moderate as the impact of the recession and resultant foreclosures led to an inventory glut that was hard to burn. This in turn impacted prices, making recovery difficult.

But prices have recovered significantly since the recession, driven by a growing population, millennials finally settling down, and rising employment and income levels. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was a disincentive, since it limited deductions for state and local property taxes, adding to the cost of ownership.

Rising interest rates are another disincentive since they raise borrowing cost for home buyers. But a recent analysis from J.P. Morgan indiacted that higher rates are the result of economic growth, which includes more jobs and higher wage rates, so the two will offset each other. In any case, 30-year mortgages are already adjusting.   

There is also a likelihood that construction activity will pick up across the U.S. as areas like New York become out of reach for many.   

A rising business cycle normally leads to increase in skilled immigrants, which also increases demand for housing.

The strength in the economy is driving demand for offices and commercial buildings, a trend that will likely continue in the near to mid-term at least. Public infrastructure spending also benefits from this.

Costs Are Going Up

The number one factor here is the rising cost of non-supervisory construction labor, as aging takes out a large section of the workforce even as supply of skilled labor to take its place remains limited. But with wage rates on the rise, more people are likely to go back to the profession, which will ultimately bring demand-supply into balance. But it won't happen now, and now is when demand for housing — especially affordable housing — is climbing.

Other than the normal level of low-single-digit cost inflation from year to year, there's the impact of President Trump's tariffs on aluminum and steel, of which rising domestic steel prices as an offshoot to limited supply of cheap imports is the more important factor for the sector.

Both these factors can make project completion more difficult; especially in case of building contracts that don't have escalation clauses. And of course this further limits supply, increases prices and further drives construction demand.

Automation Is The Future

While a certain amount of automation has already entered the picture with robots helping in routine things like brick laying, concrete dispensing, welding, demolition, etc., but constrained budgets aren't conducive to increased investment in technology. So the sector remains a laggard with respect to technology adoption.

But a cost benefit argument is in the making. For instance, artificial intelligence systems can survey a proposed construction site and create 3D maps, blueprints and construction plans in a single day whereas a manual endeavor would take weeks.

Other than the planning stage, AI can help in project management, building information management and decision making, making for a safer, less wasteful jobsite, minimizing operational errors and increasing on-time completions. Moreover, as is the nature of AI, the system will get better the more it's used and the more data it's fed.

However, putting together sufficient data to train a system is a challenge because only the very large contractors or the government generates/controls the necessary data volumes. So unless there is a shared database, many will not be able to use it.

Savvy investors should keep an eye on which contruction stocks are most exposed to the regions and factors discussed above, and do their due dilligence before making any investments.

Related Links:

How The Stock Market Typically Reacts To Major Hurricanes

Generators To Insurers: Trading Tropical Storms

The preceding article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.

Posted-In: construction contributor contributors homebuildersNews Markets


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