Update on the Economy, Construction

The monthly Architecture Billings Index (ABI), which is compiled by the American Institute of Architects, is a leading indicator for the U.S. commercial real estate industry. It offers an indirect look at the upcoming pace of construction spending — about nine to 12 months ahead, according to the organization — by taking a “Work-on-the-Boards” survey among a panel of AIA member-owned firms. Participants are asked whether their billings increased, decreased, or stayed the same in the month just ended as compared to the previous month, and the results are also seasonally adjusted.

In August, the ABI slipped after showing mostly healthy business conditions so far this year, according to the AIA on Wednesday. The August ABI came in at 49.1, down from 54.7 in July. The score reflects a slight decrease in design services. The new projects inquiry index was 61.8, down from a reading of 63.7 the previous month. The index scores are centered around 50, with scores above 50 indicating an aggregate increase in billings, while scores below 50 mean a decline. Like so many monthly indexes, however, one drop might be (1) noise or (2) the beginning of a slide.

Separately on Wednesday, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia also released its coincident indexes for the 50 states for August 2015, a measurement of the current condition of the states’ economies. On the whole, these indexes are on a fairly good upward trend, a condition that helps keep real estate fundamentals healthy. In the past month, the indexes increased in 41 states, decreased in five, and remained stable in four. Over the past three months, the indexes increased in 44 states, decreased in five, and remained stable in one.

The coincident indexes combine four state-level indicators to summarize current economic conditions in a single statistic. The composite indicators are payroll employment, average hours worked in manufacturing, the unemployment rate, and wages and salaries deflated by the consumer price index. The trend for each state’s index is set to the trend of its gross domestic product, so long-term growth in the state’s index matches long-term growth in its GDP, according to the Fed.