Forecast 2008

After a year in which total housing starts are expected to drop to 1.363 million, things don’t look much better in this market for 2008, where the numbers

After a year in which total housing starts are expected to drop to 1.363 million, things don’t look much better in this market for 2008, where the numbers are forecast to plummet 11.9 percent to 1.2 million, according to National Association of Home Builders projections. NAHB Chief Economist David Seiders anticipates single-family unit starts to show a 50 percent decline from their peak in the first quarter of 2006 to a trough in next year’s second quarter.

Though the outlook for the current housing downswing is bleak Û with starts, sales, prices and permits off Û some economists are saying they expect the industry to bottom out and start turning around in 2008. Seiders’ short-term forecast is based on several assumptions: skillful management of monetary policy by the Federal Reserve, maintenance of solid growth in personal income and employment, a manageable wave of home mortgage foreclosures, and better performance of mortgage markets going forward. However, he observed that the long-term potential for housing activity is good. By the end of 2009, we may be at a pace of 1.5 million units of new housing production (including manufactured homes), he explains. Once we are out of the woods, we should see good growth in front of us Û maybe 2 million [units] per year.

McGraw-Hill Construction’s annual Construction Outlook report sees more positives in the 2008 market than some, forecasting an overall drop in U.S. construction spending for next year, fueled by tighter lending conditions and weaker job growth. Against this backdrop, the level of new construction is expected to decline 2 percent, to $614 billion, following an 8 percent fall in 2007.


Mirroring the NAHB forecast, Portland Cement Association (PCA) Chief Economist Ed Sullivan sees real construction spending contracting in 2007 and 2008. He does not anticipate a recovery in housing starts until mid-2009, with regions experiencing boom/bust conditions to endure a longer recovery. In addition, the prospects of slower economic growth combined with tighter credit conditions are likely to result in a contraction of nonresidential construction activity during 2008. Sullivan expects a more subdued pace of job creation to moderate growth in state revenues and materialize in more subdued growth in public construction activity in 2009 and 2010.

PCA believes the possibility of a recession materializing in the next six months is 40 percent. It expects the Federal Reserve to reduce the interest rate 75 basis points during the next three quarters. However, if the impact of the sub-prime mortgage crisis is worse than expected and energy costs hit consumers harder, a recession is possible.

If a recession occurs, construction spending will decline nearly 13 percent, c ausing a 10 percent decline in 2008 cement consumption and decreasing kiln utilization rates to 85 percent, said Sullivan. An additional 3.8 consumption decline would occur in 2009, followed by growth in 2010.

PCA now expects 2007 cement consumption to decline 6.9 percent, followed by a 2.5 percent fall for 2008. Gradually, powder usage is expected to recover in 2009, but volumes are expected to remain below the record levels (set in 2005 and 2006) until 2011. According to PCA’s baseline cement consumption scenario, the current peak to trough reflects nearly a 12 million metric ton reduction, or a 9.1 percent decline (2005-2008). It is likely that domestic capacity increases will outstrip growth in consumption during 2007-2009. Reduction in imports, lower capacity utilization rates and potentially higher-than-desired inventory levels may characterize this period.

Significant increases in clinker capacity are expected to materialize during 2008-2012. The U.S. cement industry has announced plans to increase clinker capacity by nearly 25 million metric tons between 2007 and 2012. The aggressive capacity expansion reflects a $5.9 billion investment, which will increase capacity 27 percent compared to 2006 U.S. clinker capacity. The expansion spans seven greenfield sites and expansion of 18 existing facilities.

The likelihood of weaker near-term cement consumption, coupled with the aggressive expansion in capacity, may result in lower kiln utilization rates. During the height of the past cyclical peak (2005), PCA calculated kiln utilization rates at 95 percent. These rates could slip to a range of 85 to 87 percent during 2008-2009. A one percent reduction in utilization rates translates into a 1 million-metric ton reduction in domestic supply.

Powder import volumes are expected to show a sustained decline throughout most of the forecast Û remaining at or below 20 million metric tons. Imports are expected to decline 33 percent during 2007, followed by an additional 17 percent reduction in 2008, an 11 percent drop in 2009, and a 5 percent fall in 2010. The expectation of stronger consumption leads to a small increase in imports by 2011, according to PCA’s forecast, however, the likelihood of sustained high freight rates adds downside risk to these import projections.

Increases in demand for seaborne trade have pushed freight rates to record levels. Through September, rates from Asia to the United States have increased $17 per ton, or 31 percent, since a year ago. Transatlantic freight rates have reached nearly $16 per ton, or 52 percent, since 2006. While dry-bulk freight rates are highly volatile, PCA believes that further tightening may materialize during the next two years or longer.


According to PCA, real construction spending is expected to decline 3.9 percent in 2007 and 3.7 percent during 2008, leading Ed Sullivan to expect the residential building recession to continue into 2009. Given the number of expected housing starts through 2008, plus the unsold home inventory, likely foreclosure rates and new structural lending restraints on home purchases, PCA does not believe a recovery in starts activity will materialize for at least another six quarters. Critical cement-consuming states that fully participated in the housing boom, such as Florida and California, may not see a housing recovery until 2010.

In past forecasts, strong sustained growth in nonresidential construction was expected to cushion the adverse impact on cement consumption arising from housing sector weakness. While the potential still exists for this scenario, PCA now expects a modest decline in nonresidential construction to materialize in 2008, compared to strong 2007 levels.

Year-to-date, real nonresidential put-in-place construction spending is 17 percent above 2006 levels. In contrast, Dodge contract awards data has shown declines in nonresidential construction activity for 10 consecutive months. Nonresidential construction activity is highly sensitive to changes in broader economic conditions and can result in rather sudden and dramatic changes in volume.

McGraw-Hill’s Construction Outlook finds some positives in 2008. Transportation projects should continue to see moderate growth amid a renewed emphasis on infrastructure maintenance and upgrades, particularly in the aftermath of the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Financing from public sources will stay generally supportive, and the growth of public-private partnerships also offers the potential for greater funding. Finally, growth in green construction practices means that the demand for sustainable building design and materials will continue to rise.

The report also highlights institutional building, which it says will rise 4 percent in dollar volume, while square footage edges up 1 percent. School construction is poised to strengthen again after its 2007 pause, and transportation terminals also are expected to grow. The other institutional structure types, including healthcare facilities, will see a modest loss in momentum. In addition, manufacturing buildings will retreat 11 percent in dollar volume, after a 40 percent surge in 2007 that featured the start of several unusually costly projects plus a large number of ethanol plants. Square footage for manufacturing buildings in 2008 is expected to advance 5 percent.


The construction equipment manufacturing industry expects overall U.S. and Canadian business to remain flat through the end of 2007 but rebound in 2008, while sales to worldwide markets should continue strong through 2007 and into the next year, according to the annual forecast of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM).

The North American-based international trade group representing the off-road equipment manufacturing industry, AEM surveys its construction equipment manufacturer members annualy about expected sales of the machines that build, repair and maintain America’s and the world’s roads, bridges, dams, houses, offices, schools and other public and private infrastructure. In the latest survey, overall construction equipment demand by year-end 2007 is predicted to decline 1.9 percent in the United States and remain flat in Canada, perhaps dipping 0.1 percent, while worldwide business is anticipated to increase 9.9 percent. In 2008, growth is expected in the United States, Canada and worldwide, with the biggest gains in global markets Û an increase of 2.8 percent for the United States and 2.9 percent for Canada, and growth in worldwide markets of 8.0 percent.

The AEM outlook asked respondents to rank the influence of several factors on future construction equipment sales. As expected, the impact of the housing slump was a key factor, as well as the state of the general economy, including interest rates and credit availability. Adequate transportation funding also will have a major impact on the business of many, according to the survey, as will rental company demand. Construction machinery manufacturing is export intensive, and the strength of the dollar against other currencies will likely affect business growth. Machinery makers also cited commodity shortages and prices, including steel and energy.

Overall, we’ve seen a slowdown in the past year or so, but it comes after some very good years for the industry, notes AEM President Dennis Slater. The residential housing slump in the United States has sent ripples across the entire economy, not only construction. However, growth in non-residential construction continues to offset housing market losses. For equipment manufacturers, the continued global demand for construction machinery is also balancing the slowdown in our domestic business.

Sales of concrete and aggregate equipment are anticipated to increase 4.0 percent in the U.S. by year-end 2007, and show gains of 5.7 percent for Canada and 8.7 percent for other worldwide markets. Market predictions for 2008 are growth of 5.2 percent in the U.S., gains of 6.2 percent for Canada and increases of 10.1 percent in other worldwide markets.

(000 Metric Tons)
2005 2006 2007* 2008** 2009**
Total Cement Consumption 128,035 127,251 117,995 115,464 118,399
Portland Cement 122,546 121,850 113,463 111,017 113,848
Masonry Cement 5,489 5,401 4,532 4,447 4,551
Portland Share of Total 95.7% 95.8% 96.2% 96.1% 96.2%
Cement and Clinker Imports 33,652 35,895 24,659 20,257 18,099
Import Share of Total 27.5% 29.5% 21.6% 18.2% 15.9%
Percent Change
Total Cement Consumption 5.6% -0.7% -6.8% -2.5% 2.5%
Portland Cement 5.6% -0.6% -6.4% -2.5% 2.6%
Masonry Cement 6.1% -1.6% -15.7% -2.2% 2.3%
Cement and Clinker Imports 23.2% 6.7% -31.3% -17.8% -10.7%
Source: Portland Cement Association
2005 2006 2007* 2008** 2009**
Total Starts (000) 2,073 1,812 1,363 1,180 1,320
Single-family (000) 1,719 1,474 1,072 911 1,025
Multifamily (000) 354 339 291 269 295
New Single-Family Home Sales (000) 1,279 1,049 809 781 877
Existing Single-Family Home Sales (000) 6,182 5,708 4,977 4,525 4,950
Source: National Association of Home Builders