New construction starts are forecast to rise six percent this year to $506 billion, according to the Midyear Update to the 2013 Construction Outlook from McGraw Hill Construction, a division of McGraw Hill Financial. This is the same rate of increase for total construction starts that was predicted last October, and follows the eight percent gain that took place in 2012. “The recovery for construction continues to unfold in a selective manner, proceeding against the backdrop of the sluggish U.S. economy,” stated Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw Hill Construction. “While the degree of uncertainty affecting the economy seems to have eased a bit from last year, tight government financing continues to exert a dampening effect on both the economy and the construction industry. On the positive side for construction, the demand for housing remains strong, market fundamentals for commercial building are strengthening, and lending standards for commercial real estate loans continue to ease gradually. On balance, the recovery for construction is making progress, but at a single-digit pace given the mix of pluses and minuses by major sector.” The main points by sector for the 2013 construction market: ►Single family housing will advance 28 percent in dollars, corresponding to a 24 percent increase in the number of dwelling units to 640,000 (McGraw Hill Construction Dodge basis). The inventory of new homes for sale is currently very low, which should spur more construction, and home prices are heading upward. The recent increase in mortgage rates has raised concern, but rates remain near historic lows and have not significantly affected affordability for most potential homebuyers. ►Multifamily housing will climb 23 percent in dollars and 20 percent in units, helped by the gains reported for occupancies and rents over the past year. Major metropolitan areas such as New York continue to see groundbreaking for large apartment projects, along with the re-emergence of large condominium projects. ►Commercial building will grow 15 percent, after the 11 percent increase reported for 2012, although this year’s level of activity in dollar terms will still be 39 percent less than what was reported during the 2007 peak year. The pace of store construction is picking up, joining earlier gains registered by warehouses and hotels. The increase for office construction will remain relatively subdued in 2013, as more privately financed office projects are countered by fewer government office buildings. ►The institutional building market will slide an additional five percent, after falling 10 percent in 2012. While state fiscal health has shown some improvement, state and local budgets remain tight, further dampening school construction. Uncertainty related to hospital mergers and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act is restraining construction of healthcare facilities. ►The manufacturing building category will drop eight percent, as firms hold back on plant investment given the sluggish U.S. economy and slow export markets. ►Public works construction will rise three percent, helped by growth for highways and bridges. The transportation sector was largely exempt from the federal spending cutbacks under the sequester, and the current year is seeing a number of large bridge projects reach the construction start stage. ►Electric utilities will see a 40 percent plunge in the value of new construction starts, following the record high that was achieved in 2012 which included the start of two large nuclear facilities. With new generating facilities coming on line and capacity utilization rates dropping, the near term is seeing downward pressure on new power plant construction.