Mar 14, 2019

Every key indicator of confidence fell among builders for the first time in 2 years

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

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5 p.m. ET: 716,101 — Total deaths: 33,854 — Total recoveries: 148,900.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 5 p.m. ET: 136,880 — Total deaths: 2,409 — Total recoveries: 2,612.
  3. Federal government latest: The first federal prisoner to die from coronavirus was reported from a correctional facility in Louisiana on Sunday.
  4. Public health updates: Fauci says 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from virus.
  5. State updates: Louisiana governor says state is on track to exceed ventilator capacity by end of this week — Cuomo says Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "panicked" some people into fleeing New York
  6. World updates: Italy on Sunday reports 756 new deaths, bringing its total 10,779. Spain reports almost 840 dead, another new daily record that bring its total to over 6,500.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Trump touts press briefing "ratings" as U.S. coronavirus case surge

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump sent about a half-dozen tweets on Sunday touting the high television ratings that his coronavirus press briefings have received, selectively citing a New York Times article that compared them to "The Bachelor" and "Monday Night Football."

Why it matters: The president has been holding daily press briefings in the weeks since the coronavirus pandemic was declared, but news outlets have struggled with how to cover them live — as Trump has repeatedly been found to spread misinformation and contradict public health officials.

World coronavirus updates: Total cases surge to over 700,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

There are now than more than 700,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins. The virus has now killed more than 32,000 people — with Italy alone reporting over 10,000 deaths.

The big picture: Governments around the world have stepped up public health and economic measures to stop the spread of the virus and soften the financial impact. In the U.S., now the site of the largest outbreak in the world, President Trump said Saturday he would issue a "strong" travel advisory for New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health