The value of new construction starts in April fell 15% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $685.2 billion, pulling back following the 16% hike that was reported in March, according to Dodge Data & Analytics.

Steep declines were registered by two of the three main construction sectors. Non-building construction, which is comprised of public works and electric utilities/gas plants, plunged 31% from its elevated March amount which was lifted by the start of the $4.3 billion Calcasieu Pass liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal in Cameron LA.

Non-residential building fell 18% in April after being boosted in March by groundbreaking for the $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda automotive manufacturing facility in Huntsville, Alabama among other large projects. Non-residential building in April did receive support from the start of the $1.3 billion new airport terminal project at Kansas City International Airport.

Residential building in April decreased 1%, as a modest rebound for multifamily housing was outweighed by further slippage for single family housing. During the first four months of 2019, total construction starts on an unadjusted basis were $224.5 billion, down 8% from the same period of 2018. On a twelve-month moving total basis, total construction starts for the twelve months ending April 2019 held steady with the corresponding amount for the twelve months ending April 2018.

April’s data lowered the Dodge Index to 145 (2000=100), down from 171 in March. Taking the average for March and April produces an Index reading of 158, which is above the 150 average for January and February, yet still below the 171 average for all of 2018.

“The construction start statistics can be volatile on a month-to-month basis, and that’s certainly been true in March and April, as a 16% jump was followed by a 15% decline,” stated Robert A. Murray, chief economist for Dodge Data & Analytics. “Much of the volatility can be attributed to the presence or absence of large projects – in March there were ten projects valued each at $500 million or more that reached groundbreaking, while April saw only two such projects. Amidst this volatility, there are several trends about 2019 construction activity that are beginning to emerge. Overall construction activity continues to show deceleration around an up-and-down monthly pattern, with a varied performance by major construction sector. The public works side of non-building construction got off to a slow start in 2019, which at least through March was partially offset by an upturn for electric utilities/gas plants. Some improvement for public works is expected as the current year proceeds, given the fiscal 2019 federal funding approved back in February as well as the continued support of state construction bond measures. Nonresidential building is staying close to its pace of last year, helped by continued strength for office buildings, hotels, educational facilities, and transportation terminals. The multifamily side of residential building is retreating, even with the occasional monthly upturn, while single family housing has not yet provided evidence that it can rebound from the slower pace that took hold towards the end of last year.”

Residential building in April slipped 1% to $289.5 billion (annual rate), receding for the third month in a row. Single family housing dropped 4%, and April’s level of activity was down 9% from the average monthly pace during 2018. By geography, single family housing in April showed this pattern relative to March – the South Atlantic, down 8%; the Northeast, down 6%; the South Central, down 5%; the West, down 1%; and the Midwest, up 8%. Multifamily housing in April advanced 5% after a 9% decline in March, but April’s level of activity was still down 18% from the average monthly pace during 2018. There were ten multifamily projects valued at $100 million or more that reached groundbreaking in April, led by the $220 million multifamily portion of a $300 million mixed-use development on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles CA and a $200 million apartment building in the Bronx NY. The top five metropolitan areas ranked by the dollar amount of multifamily starts in April were – New York NY, Los Angeles CA, Miami FL, Chicago IL, and Austin TX.

Useful perspective comes from looking at twelve-month moving totals, in this case the twelve months ending April 2019 versus the twelve months ending April 2018. On this basis, total construction starts essentially maintained the same volume as the previous period. By major sector, nonresidential building rose 4%, with commercial building up 9%, manufacturing building up 7%, and institutional building unchanged. Residential building held steady with the previous period, with single family housing unchanged and multifamily housing up 1%. Non-building construction dropped 6%, with electric utilities/gas plants down 1% and public works down 7%.