Construction planning inches higher despite commercial weakness

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Dive Brief:

  • The Dodge Momentum Index, a benchmark that measures nonresidential construction planning, inched 0.1% higher in January amid weakness in commercial construction, according to the Dodge Construction Network. While commercial planning dropped 1% over the course of the month, institutional planning, which includes education, life sciences and healthcare projects, improved 2.1%. 
  • Momentum will likely pick back up this year as long as the Federal Reserve follows through on rate cuts in the second half, said Sarah Martin, associate director of forecasting for Dodge Construction Network.
  • “Divergent trends between commercial and institutional planning continued in January, nullifying any growth on the overall momentum index,” said Martin. “Nevertheless, lending standards begun to loosen in January and the Fed is expected to begin cutting rates in the back half of the year.”

Dive Insight:

As expectations mount for the Fed to cut rates later this year, owners and developers will continue to gain confidence in market conditions in 2024 and into 2025, said Martin in the report.

That should drive momentum in commercial activity in the second half of the year.

For now, however, commercial planning remains challenged by a stringent financing landscape.

Slower growth in warehouse planning hampered the commercial portion of the index in December, while consistent growth in education and healthcare planning buoyed the institutional side, according to the report.

Year-over-year, the DMI dropped 3% lower than in January 2023. Meanwhile, the commercial segment tumbled 12% from a year ago, while institutional projects ticked up 15% over the same period, according to the report.

Architectural billings remain soft

Along with the DMI, the Architectural Billings Index, a leading indicator for construction work nine to 12 months out, remained below the score of 50,  indicating worsening business conditions, according to the most recent data from the American Institute of Architects.

Design firm billings declined in all regions of the country except the Midwest in December, where they remained essentially unchanged, according to the report. 

Business conditions also remained weak for most of the year at firms of all specializations, particularly for firms in the multifamily residential space. Firms with an institutional focus posted increases in the second quarter, but billings weakened there too by the close of the year, according to the report.

A total of 15 projects valued at $100 million or more entered planning in January, according to Dodge. The largest commercial projects included:

  • The $200 million renovation of the historic Magnolia Hotel in Dallas.
  • The $169 million Microsoft data center in Leesburg, Virginia.

The largest institutional projects to enter planning included:

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