Output Expands, but Nonresidential Fixed Investment Falters As Economic Malaise Continues

Washington, D.C., July 29—Real gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 1.2 percent (seasonally adjusted annual rate) during 2016’s second quarter according to according to an analysis of Bureau of Economic Analysis data released today by Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). This modest figure follows a 0.8 percent annualized rate of output growth registered during the year’s first quarter.

Nonresidential fixed investment, a category closely tied to construction and other forms of business investment, fell for a third consecutive quarter, slipping 2.2 percent from the first quarter, with investment in structures declining 7.9 percent. Residential investment fell for the first time since the first quarter of 2014. Nonresidential investment in equipment fell 3.5 percent for the quarter, while nonresidential fixed investment in intellectual property expanded 3.5 percent and has now expanded for 12 consecutive quarters.

“Construction industry stakeholders should not have been anticipating a solid GDP report given previous weak construction spending and employment numbers that were recently released and they did not get one,” said Anirban Basu, ABC’s chief economist. “Today’s report suggests that construction activity has stalled a bit more than thought, largely due to slowing residential investment growth and low levels of public sector investment. With apartment rents no longer rising in a number of markets, the nation’s apartment building boom has taken a bit of a pause.

“Only those who sell directly to consumers and certain technology firms are likely to glean some sense of satisfaction from today’s release,” said Basu. “The balance of the economy continues to disappoint, though the lack of inventory building during the second quarter may help position the economy for a bounce-back during the third. It will be interesting to see if ABC’s Construction Backlog Indicator begins to show that average nonresidential construction firm backlog is now in decline, though many contractors continue to indicate that they remain busy due to previously secured work.

“It should be noted that the 7.9 percent decline in spending on structures during the second quarter transpired despite some very positive economic circumstances,” said Basu. “For instance, interest rates remain shockingly low, foreign investment continues to pour into U.S. commercial real estate, and there are positive wealth effects being generated by both housing and equity markets. However, it appears that even these conditions are no longer enough to support growing demand for construction spending. One could theorize that uncertainty originating from the current presidential election cycle is partially responsible.”

The following highlights emerged from today’s second quarter GDP release. All growth figures are seasonally adjusted annual rates:
• Personal consumption expenditures expanded 4.2 percent on an annualized basis during the second quarter of 2016 after growing 1.6 percent during the first quarter of 2016.
• Spending on goods rose 6.8 percent during the first quarter after expanding by 1.2 percent during the previous quarter.
• Real final sales of domestically produced output increased 2.4 percent in the second quarter after increasing 1.2 percent in the first.
• Federal government spending inched down by 0.2 percent in the year’s second quarter after contracting 1.5 percent in the first quarter of 2016.
• Nondefense government spending increased by 3.9 percent for the quarter following an increase of 0.9 percent in the first.
• National defense spending fell by 3 percent during the second quarter after registering a 3.2 percent decline in the previous quarter.
• State and local government spending fell by 1.3 percent in the second quarter after expanding 3.5 percent in the first quarter.

About ABC
Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) is a national construction industry trade association established in 1950 that represents nearly 21,000 members. Founded on the merit shop philosophy, ABC and its 70 chapters help members develop people, win work and deliver that work safely, ethically and profitably for the betterment of the communities in which ABC and its members work. Visit us at abc.org.