Summer isn’t slowing the demand for design services, according to the AIA’s latest economic figures. In fact, numbers are on the rise. The AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) for July increased more than a full point spike in non-residential construction activity from June’s ABI score of 51.6 to 52.7 (any score above 50 indicates positive growth). Most notably, the new projects inquiry index produced positive results with a substantial increase from 62.6 the previous month to 66.7 in July.
Underscoring the fragility of the economic recovery, the April AIA’s Architecture Billings Index dipped into negative territory for the first time in nine months. The slump to 48.6 was significant, down from 51.9 in March (any score above 50 indicates positive growth).
“Project approval delays are having an adverse effect on the design and construction industry, but again and again we are hearing that it is extremely difficult to obtain financing to move forward on real estate projects,” said AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker, in a statement. “There are other challenges that have prevented a broader recovery that we will examine in the coming months if this negative trajectory continues. However, given that inquiries for new projects continue to be strong, we’re hopeful that this is just a short-term dip.”
The Architectural Billings Index (ABI) for June remained in negative territory for the third month in a row. Last month AIA chief economist Kermit Baker expressed concern that the summertime doldrums might mirror a 2011 trend when the ABI lulled after an initially healthy first quarter. Now it looks as though the index is doing just that. “While not all firms are experiencing negative conditions, a large share is still coping with a sluggish and erratic marketplace,” Baker said in a statement. All of the regions of the country and all industry sectors remained in negative territory with the overall index barely budging from May’s 45.8, with June registering at 45.9 (any score below 50 reflects a decrease).
“It’s like déjà vu all over again,” AIA chief economist Kermit Baker said of the steep springtime drop reflected in May’s Architectural Billings Index (ABI). Baker was referring to the trend from 2011, when design activity took a substantial hit after an initially healthy first quarter. “But we don’t want to have a repeat of last year,” he added referring to the sluggish numbers that continued to shadow the profession through the fall. The new numbers were the worst since October and, Baker said, reflect trends in the larger economy.
For the past five months things were looking up for the Architecture Billings Index. Until now. Granted, the index was merely teetering on the positive side of the spectrum at 50.4 for March (any score above 50 reflects an increase), so it didn’t have far to drop into the negative territory of 48.4 for April. Despite the five-month positive stint, throughout the period AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker urged cautious optimism in what has clearly been a tepid recovery. In a statement released today, he said that the decline in demand for design services is not surprising considering continued volatility in the overall economy. “Favorable conditions during the winter months may have accelerated design billings, producing a pause in projects that have moved ahead faster than expected,” he said.
The Architecture Billings Index (ABI) has registered promising gains since late last fall, and, according to the AIA’s latest report on March billings, the ABI continues to find its footing in positive territory—but just barely. The overall March score was 50.4, indicating slight growth in demand for services (any score above 50 reflects increase in billings) but less growth than the previous month (the ABI was 51.0 in February).
With the moody Architectural Billings Index landing in positive territory for the fourth straight month in February, the architectural community might begin to exhale a sigh of relief. Project inquiries alone saw its highest spike since 2007, up from 61.2 to 63.4 (anything over 50 indicates an increase in billings).
They’re back! Positive numbers for the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) jumped up in August to 51.4 from a dismal 45.1 in July where it had been stewing in negative land for months. (Anything over 50 indicates positive growth.) Together with a sharp rise as well in Project Inquiries to 56.9 (up from 53.7), the good news seems cautiously solid. “This turnaround in demand for design services is a surprise,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. Regional averages, however, remained below the positive bar across the country indicating that firms generally are still struggling. These numbers predate the next injection of stimulus money—whatever shape it takes—which will be sure to give another jolt. Unless, of course, billings are tracking the roller-coaster antics of the stock market.
“The stock market is doing what the economy is doing which is not moving solidly in one direction, either way,” Baker said by phone. “The stop-start that we have seen over the past two years is going to stay with us. I would love to believe that these latest numbers are the start of a Grand Recovery. And maybe they are. The evidence is just not there yet to be sure.”