Construction starts edged up 1% in May after a weaker performance in April. Total construction starts for the first five months of 2017 came to $274.3 billion, down 5% from the same period a year ago. From April to May, nonresidential construction decreased 4%, residential building declined 4%, and nonbuilding construction jumped 23%.
The significant gains in nonbuilding construction in May were boosted by a 166% surge in the miscellaneous public works category. Meanwhile, highway and bridge construction grew a more modest 5%.
The decline in nonresidential building in May was driven by decreases in the commercial categories (-10%) and in the institutional categories (-4%). Gains were, however, reported in warehouse (+17%) and store (+16%) construction.
The retreat in residential building in May was caused in part by a 10% decrease in multifamily housing. Single family housing fell back 2% in May, marking the third month in a row of declines after steady growth during the fourth quarter of 2016 and the first two months of 2017.
Compared with the same period last year, total new construction starts by region for the first five months of 2017 performed as follows: South Central, down 14%; Northeast, down 3%; Midwest, down 18%; West, unchanged; and South Atlantic, up 8%.
Robert A. Murray, chief economist for Dodge Data & Analytics, said this recent pattern of activity "is consistent with the up-and-down behavior that's often been present in the current expansion, and a continuation of this pattern means that renewed strengthening can be expected in the months ahead."