Following several months of relatively positive business conditions, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) fell almost three points in April. As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate nine to twelve month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the April ABI score was 47.6, a precipitous decrease from a reading of 50.5 the previous month. This score reflects a sharp decrease in demand for design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings). The new projects inquiry index was 55.0, down from a mark of 58.7 in March, but still at a healthy level.
“The first question is whether this drop is a sign of an industry wide reversal in demand for design services or a bump in the road,” said AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “The fact that most construction projects funded under the federal stimulus program have completed their design work, the anxiety around the possibility of a shutdown in the federal government in April, as well as the unusually severe weather in the Southeast had something to do with this falloff. However, the majority of firms are reporting at least one stalled project in-house because of the continued difficulty in obtaining financing. That issue continues to be the main roadblock to recovery.”
Key April ABI highlights:
-Regional averages: Northeast (51.2), Midwest (51.1), South (48.3), West (47.7)
- Sector index breakdown: multi-family residential (53.9), commercial / industrial (49.9), institutional (45.9) mixed practice (45.2)
-Project inquiries index: 55.0
About the AIA Architecture Billings Index
The Architecture Billings Index (ABI), produced by the AIA Economics & Market Research Group, is a leading economic indicator that provides an approximately nine to twelve month glimpse into the future of nonresidential construction spending activity. The diffusion indexes contained in the full report are derived from a monthly “Work-on-the-Boards” survey that is sent to a panel of AIA member-owned firms. Participants are asked whether their billings increased, decreased, or stayed the same in the month that just ended as compared to the prior month, and the results are then compiled into the ABI. These monthly results are also seasonally adjusted to allow for comparison to prior months. The monthly ABI index scores are centered around 50, with scores above 50 indicating an aggregate increase in billings, and scores below 50 indicating a decline. The regional and sector data are formulated using a three-month moving average. More information on the ABI and the analysis of its relationship to construction activity can be found in the White Paper Architecture Billings as a Leading Indicator of Construction: Analysis of the Relationship Between a Billings Index and Construction Spending on the AIA web site.