The Architecture Billings Index for July, released today by the American Institute of Architects, shows that the market for design and construction services continues its steady and sustained recovery. With a national billings score of 52.7, more than a full point higher than June’s 51.6, demand for architectural services picked up even more steam last month. (Being an index, any score over 50 means that demand increased, and any score under 50 means that the industry contracted.) Except for one small bump in the road—a 48.6 score in April that showed fleeting contraction—the billings index has seen nearly nothing but expansion for the past year. The July ABI indicates continued recovery from the financial crisis.
Even more impressive is the jump in project inquiries in July. The past half year has seen this score rise not only over 50, but over 60. And July’s score of 66.4 marks the highest score in nearly eight years (the score rose to 66.7 in November 2005).
In addition to the good national scores, all regions across the country and all of the industry’s sectors are now back to seeing economic growth, with the Midwest’s score coming in over 50 at 50.8, after a three-month slump. Most of the regions and sectors have now seen growth for nearly a full consecutive year. The AIA sees its index as a nine- to 12-month leading indicator for the rest of the construction industry. If that is the case, then we may be entering a period of sustained growth for the construction industry.
The AIA does note, in a press release, that growth has been uneven at best. Some firms have seen rapid growth, some very slow growth, and others have seen barely any or, at times, none at all. In addition, when matching up July’s billing index numbers with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ July employment report, there is a discrepancy. Growth in billings may have improved in July, but the BLS reported that the architectural and engineering services sector of the economy lost 2,700 jobs over the same period.
But overall the numbers continue to be promising. And in the aggregate, the BLS numbers for architects and engineers have been good. Whether they stay that way still remains to be seen.
Billings: At 52.7, up from June’s national billings score of 51.6, this was the third straight month over 50. Eleven of the past 12 months have now been over 50.
Project Inquiries: At 66.4, up from June’s 62.6, this is the highest score for project inquiries since November 2005’s 66.7. Since January of this year, there have only been two months when the score dropped under 60, a very high level of interest over a sustained period of time.
Northeast: At 54.3, down from 56.3, July marked the 11th straight month over 50.
Midwest: At 50.8, up from 49.9, this score is the region’s return to growth. Four of the seven months of 2013 have now been over 50 for the Midwest, showing that even the weaker regions are rebounding.
South: At 54.2, up from 53.2, this is the 13th straight month over 50.
West: At 51.1, down from 52.0, the West has had a full year over 50.
Multifamily Residential: At 53.3, down from 53.5, this is the 15th straight month over 50, and the 29th of the last 34 months over 50.
Commercial/Industrial: At 54.2, up from 53.4, this is the 10th straight month over 50, and the 31st of the last 39 months over 50.
Institutional: At 50.6, down from 51.6, this marks a full year over 50.
Mixed Practice: At 56.9, up from 55.9, this is the 11th straight month over 50.