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The Hudson Yards development on the West Side of Midtown Manhattan. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Why it matters: Construction is a barometer of the economy, and "when it starts to falter, it's a sign that there's cooling ahead," according to a joint survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and construction firm USG, first provided to Axios.

  • Confidence in new business prospects, expectations for future revenue and reported buildups of work to be completed all dropped for commercial real estate contractors — a first since the survey launched in 2017.
  • The caveat: The survey was conducted in January — during the longest U.S. government shutdown in history.

What it means: The results reflect "increasing caution about a number of factors — the state of the economy, rising interest rates [and] concerns over material costs," according to the press release.

  • "Anecdotal responses suggest that the possibility of an economic slowdown in the next few years is dampening longer-term optimism."
  • Businesses also said tariffs and President Trump’s trade war were the most important business concerns for the next year.

The big picture: The construction and real estate industries were responsible for over 10% of overall economic growth in 2017, the latest full year for which data are available. But there are mixed signals about the strength of the sector.

Overall construction spending topped economists' expectations in January, but the Commerce Department also said that spending in the final 2 months of 2018 was weaker than initially reported.

  • That could shave up to 0.3 percentage points off of fourth quarter GDP, Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab, estimates, which was already dragged down by lackluster home construction.

The drop-off in construction jobs last month was steep — employment at construction sites saw the biggest drop since December 2013 (though many economist chalk that up to colder temperatures in February).

The other side: Michael Bellaman, the head of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade group that represents over 20,000 construction firms, tells Axios the overall construction industry remains strong.

  • "There's a high level of confidence in the business community. What that means is if I'm a CEO, I'm going to invest in a construction project. I'm going to build a new building," Bellaman said.
  • The trade group conducts its own confidence survey, the Construction Confidence Index, which recently showed waning confidence of commercial builders at the end of last year, but signaled "ongoing expansion in construction activity."

Go deeper

Updated 46 mins ago - Health

Prime minister flags vaccine mandate for 40% of New Zealand workforce

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during an October COVID-19 briefing in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo: Robert Kitchin - Pool/Getty Images

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Tuesday a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for businesses, as the government pushes to reach a nationwide 90% vaccination target.

Why it matters: Under the new COVID-19 Protection Framework, businesses must require vaccine certificates from customers if they're in close contact with them. Ardern said at a briefing Tuesday that such venues wishing to operate, including hair salons, bars, restaurants and gyms, must ensure staff are vaccinated.

State Department to set up new cyber bureau to combat hack attacks

Secretary of State Tony Blinken speaks on the challenges during an October conference in Quito, Ecuador. Photo:y Felipe Stanley/Agencia Press South/Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced Monday plans for the State Department to create a new bureau of cyberspace and digital policy.

Why it matters: The establishment of the bureau and plans for a new envoy to oversee critical and emerging technology come after a series significant hack attacks and other online crimes, notably ransomware assaults on U.S. infrastructure.

Biden rejects Trump's latest executive privilege claims

Photo: Jim Watson and Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The White House on Monday rejected two more of former President Trump's claims of executive privilege over documents that the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot requested, CNN first reported.

Why it matters: Trump's legal team is seeking to block some of the panel's requests for records by invoking executive privilege, which can allow presidents and their aides to sidestep congressional scrutiny. The Biden administration has maintained that it will evaluate on a case-by-case basis.