Contractors more confident as backlog increases

By Jenny LescohierMarch 09, 2021

construction contractors Recent survey suggest contractors' confidence is increasing and more work is coming down the pipeline

Contractor confidence is building and work is in the pipeline, but we’re still below where we were a year ago, according to reports released by Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).

ABC’s Construction Backlog Indicator rose to 8.2 months in February, according to an ABC member survey conducted from Feb. 22 to March 3. This is up 0.7 months from January’s reading, but is still 0.7 months lower than in February 2020.

ABC’s Construction Confidence Index readings for sales, profit margins and staffing levels also increased in February. All three indices are now above the threshold of 50, indicating expectations of growth during the next six months, but below February 2020 levels.

ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu explains the latest survey results in this video

“The expectation that rapid economic recovery could begin later this year has now swept through the nonresidential

construction sector, which is surprising, as I anticipated this segment would be less upbeat,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu.

“After all, commercial real estate fundamentals have been compromised by behavioral and policy shifts motivated by the Covid-19 pandemic,” he explained. “Public finances have also been affected negatively, which could diminish demand for construction services going forward. Rapidly rising materials prices are also creating concern, as they would have a tendency to further squeeze industry profit margins.

“Despite these factors, contractors now expect sales, staffing levels and profit margins to expand over the next six months,” said Basu.

ABC’s economist explained downbeat macroeconomic considerations can be reconciled with growing contractor confidence by analyzing backlog.

“Backlog has been edging higher for several months and rose sharply last month as projects that had been mothballed are coming back to life,” he said. “Based on survey responses completed in February, projects are reinitiating more rapidly than previously anticipated, driving up both backlog and contractor sentiment. Respondents also appear to view additional

federal stimulus as another reason to be optimistic about the near-term.”

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