Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Architecture Billings Index Steady in April

by Calculated Risk on 5/20/2009 09:00:00 AM

From the AIA: Architecture Billings Index Points to Possible Economic Improvement

After an eight-point jump in March, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) fell less than a full point in April. As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate nine to twelve month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the April ABI rating was 42.8, down from the 43.7 mark in March. This was the first time since August and September 2008 that the index was above 40 for consecutive months, but the score still indicates an overall decline in demand for design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings). The new projects inquiry score was 56.8.

“The most encouraging part of this news is that this is the second month with very strong inquiries for new projects. A growing number of architecture firms report potential projects arising from federal stimulus funds,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “Still, too many architects are continuing to report difficult conditions to feel confident that the economic landscape for the construction industry will improve very quickly. What these figures mean is that we could be seeing things turn around over a period of several months.”
AIA Architecture Billing Index Click on graph for larger image in new window.

This graph shows the Architecture Billings Index since 1996. The index is still below 50 indicating falling demand.

Historically there is an "approximate nine to twelve month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending" on commercial real estate (CRE). So there will probably be further dramatic declines in CRE investment later this year.

Back in 2005, Kermit Baker and Diego Saltes of the American Institute of
Architects wrote a white paper: Architecture Billings as a Leading Indicator of Construction

The following graph is an update from their paper.

ABI and Non-Residential Construction Spending This graph compares the Architecture Billings Index and year-over-year change in non-residential construction spending from the Census Bureau.

This graph suggests the non-residential construction collapse will be very sharp, and although there isn't enough data to know if this is predictive of the percentage decline in spending, it does suggest a possible year-over-year decline of perhaps 20% to 30% in non-residential construction spending.