US: ABC's Construction Backlog Indicator up in April, contractors remain confident

May 21, 2024
By Guy Woodford
Town homes going up in suburbs of Heber city in Heber Valley, Utah. Pic: Snehitdesign

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) reports that its Construction Backlog Indicator increased to 8.4 months in April, according to an ABC member survey conducted April 22 to May 6. The reading is down 0.5 months from April 2023 but expanded 0.2 months from the prior month.

View ABC's Construction Backlog Indicator and Construction Confidence Index tables for April. View the full Construction Backlog Indicator and Construction Confidence Index data series.

Backlog declined on a monthly basis for the largest and smallest contractors by revenue and grew for those with $30-$50 million and $50-$100 million in annual revenues. On an annual basis, only contractors with $30-$50 million in annual revenues have experienced an increase in backlog.

ABC's Construction Confidence Index readings for sales and profit margins fell slightly in April, while the reading for staffing levels improved. All three readings remain above the threshold of 50, indicating expectations for growth over the next six months.

The ABC Backlog Indicator & Construction Confidence Index, April 2012-2024. Pic: ABC

"The Federal Reserve began ratcheting up interest rates more than two years ago, but one would not know it based on construction confidence and backlog," said ABC chief economist Anirban Basu.  "ABC measurements reflect ongoing momentum in the nation's nonresidential construction sector. While there are occasional hints of softness in certain segments and over certain periods, the average contractor continues to report solid backlog and a belief that sales, employment and profit margins will expand over the next six months.

"Time will tell whether this optimism is justified," said Basu. "Coming into the year, many expected that interest rates would fall markedly in 2024. Given stubbornly elevated inflation, that will not occur. Project financing costs are poised to remain higher for longer. Project cancellations and postponements have been on the rise. Moreover, a new set of supply chain issues has emerged, driving up materials costs and prospectively weakening industry margins. Workers also are becoming more expensive, in part because the construction wage premium has shrunk over the past several years due to rapidly rising compensation levels in competing segments like logistics and retail. The implication is that construction compensation levels will need to rise for the industry to be able to staff up more fully." 

Note: The reference months for the Construction Backlog Indicator and Construction Confidence Index data series were revised on May 12, 2020, to better reflect the survey period. CBI quantifies the previous month's work under contract based on the latest financials available, while CCI measures contractors' outlook for the next six months. View the methodology for both indicators.


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