After an optimistic showing in October that seemed to indicate the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) was trending positive for the first time since the pandemic began, November 2020’s numbers, released today by the AIA, paint a bleaker picture.
The figures put aside any hopes for a straight recovery, especially with COVID-19 still killing about 3,000 Americans daily (though, with vaccine distribution underway, it will be interesting to see if December’s ABI is more optimistic). In November, the total ABI slid from 47.5 in October to 46.3; as mentioned every report, any number under 50 represents a decline in billings from the month prior. While the ABI had been inching closer and closer to the hold-steady mark, this backslide raised concern of further industry contraction.
“In previous design cycles, we typically haven’t seen a straight line back to growth after a downturn hits,” said AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker, in the AIA’s press release. “The path to recovery is shaping up to be bumpier than we hoped for. While there are pockets of optimism in design services demand, the overall construction landscape remains depressed.”
Regionally, demand has been a mixed bag. While numbers in the West were positive in October, in November the ABI average fell from 50.4 to 48.3, representing a clear month-over-month decline. Conversely, the Midwest, which had been trending positive, broke through, moving from 49.4 in October to 50.1 in November. Things weren’t as good in the South, as regional demand moved from 45.8 to 46.7 last month, representing another decline. All told, the Northeast continued to bear the worst effects of the pandemic, as demand dropped off from 44.9 in October to a dismal 38.7 in November.
Sector-by-sector, multifamily residential demand increased for a third straight month, going from 55.1 in October to 52.2 in November. Demand for practices with a mix of specialties came in at 49.5 in November, while commercial/industrial fell from 48.0 to 47.5, and institutional demand took a beating, falling even further from 42.2 in October to 41.9.
Finally, there is a spot of optimism as it appears developers are still looking towards the future: New project inquiries increased yet again, remaining at 52.0 (from 59.1 in October). However, the amount of newly signed contracts fell to 48.6 from the positive 51.7 the month before.