"Red hot" infrastructure market turns cold, especially in Texas

Link to press release here.

Best quote in the press release….“Texas is the coldest market.” You bet it is…we can’t afford foreign-controlled toll roads at 3-4 times the price of FREEways! This shift to privatization and tolling is 100% about greed, the highway lobby, and politicians thinking they can blame someone else for raising taxes 20-100 times more per mile than we pay in gas tax. With gas prices lowering our standard of living at an alarming rate, it’s past time to end this disastrous policy of tolling freeways.

RED HOT DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION MARKETS BEGIN TO COOL

WASHINGTON, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, May 21, 2008 -/E-Wire/– Design and construction markets related to environment, infrastructure, and facilities began to slow their rate of growth in 2007, and growth rates are expected to decline still further in 2008, according to the 20th annual State-of-the-Industry Report delivered by management consultants Farkas Berkowitz & Company to an invitation-only conference of CEOs from leading architectural, engineering, and construction firms.

Designers for transportation, power, water quality, remediation, and facilities in the U.S. enjoyed, in aggregate, a robust growth rate of 12 percent in 2007, down slightly from the phenomenal 15 percent growth rate of 2006. Alan Farkas, Managing Director of Farkas Berkowitz & Company, explained that the volatile power engineering market masked a more significant growth rate decline. He explained, “Excluding power engineering, the aggregate growth rate of the remaining segments in 2007 were half that of 2006, declining from a 14 percent growth rate in 2006 to a 7 percent growth rate last year.”

Farkas Berkowitz & Company forecasts that the five infrastructure markets in aggregate will grow 5 percent in 2008 and 7 percent in 2009. “We expect the current economic slowdown to affect all major markets, but the timing and significance will vary,” said Mr. Farkas. He noted that preliminary estimates of first quarter 2008 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate was 0.6 percent, unchanged from the 0.6 percent rate of growth in the 4th quarter of 2007. The slowdown in growth coupled with the housing crisis, rising fuel prices, and the disruption in the municipal bond market will result in a slowing of growth in design markets related to transportation, water quality, and remediation. The slow rates of growth will be partially offset by the still rapidly growing design markets for power and non-residential facilities. Moreover, the U.S.-based design firms doing business abroad will continue to see more robust rates of growth from international projects. Mr. Farkas pointed out, “Longer term, infrastructure needs should bolster strong design and construction markets well into the next decade.”

Transportation, Engineering and Construction

Farkas Berkowitz & Company estimates that the transportation engineering market grew 4 percent to $9.8 billion in 2007. Mr. Farkas noted, “This was the second consecutive year of declining growth rates. We saw the growth rate peak at 12 percent in 2005, decline to 7 percent in 2006, and we expect the rate of growth in this design market to decline further in 2008 and 2009. We look for a 2-3 percent growth rate this year and no growth in 2009.”

Exhibit 1 U.S. Transportation Engineering Market, 2006-2009 ($ Billions)

Chart 1.JPG
Source: Farkas Berkowitz & Company Actuals based on ENR Top 500 Design Firm Survey

Mr. Farkas went on to point out that a shrinking highway and bridge market in 2008 and 2009 would offset growing rail, aviation, and ports and harbor segments. Highway construction increased 7 percent in 2007. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual value of construction put in place, the construction market has increased 30 percent over the three years 2004-2007. However, Mr. Farkas noted, “Unfortunately, construction costs have increased more than 30 percent since 2004. Therefore, real dollar investment in this important asset class actually declined over the three-year period.”

Farkas Berkowitz & Company estimates that the engineering market for highways and bridges will contract by 5 percent in 2008 and contract another 5 percent in 2009. “We have the highway equivalent of ‘the perfect storm.’ We could call it ‘the perfect pile-up.’ A confluence of political and economic forces will subject this market to extraordinary pressure.” The report quotes experts who forecast a $3 – $4 billion deficit in the highway trust fund, which could result in a cut back in obligations of $16 billion in federal FY 2009. The firm forecasts that we will see another significant delay in the re-authorization of the Federal law, now due to expire on September 30, 2009. Meanwhile, high gasoline prices are causing motorists to cut back on driving, resulting in a decline of revenues flowing into state highway trust funds.

Mr. Farkas explained, “Given the growing importance of local and state sources of highway funding, we find that the outlook varies considerably by state and region. We look for strongly growing markets on the West Coast and most of the Southwest.” The report notes that the hottest state market is California, thanks in large part to funding from the self-help counties. The coldest market is Texas, where spending on highway capital improvements is expected to decline from $5 billion in 2006 to less than $3 billion in 2008. Florida and Georgia were also cited as relatively weak markets.

Public-private partnerships and toll roads will be a positive force in the marketplace over the coming years, but neither funding mechanism will have a significant impact this year or next. The firm believes that public-private partnerships, particularly for greenfield projects, will be increasingly favored, and the development of toll roads, especially for arterial highways, will help over time to narrow the funding gap.

Farkas Berkowitz & Company estimates that the transit engineering market grew at an 8-10 percent growth rate in 2007, showing a steady acceleration from an estimated low single digit rate of growth in 2005. The freight rail market seemed to slow for engineers in 2007, but the firm predicts bright long-term prospects. “The cost advantage that railroads have over trucking, with a better than three-to-one fuel efficiency rating, will continue to allow freight rail to broaden its market from one of hauling raw materials to transporting containerized consumer goods.” explained Mr. Farkas.

Turning to the aviation market, construction on airports grew 14 percent in 2007. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that most of this growth is accounted for by terminal construction, while work on runways and taxiways remained virtually unchanged from 2006. The firm estimates that design work for airports increased 5 percent in 2007, equaling the growth rate in 2006. Mr. Farkas reported that firms serving this market expect strong double digit growth in 2009 and 2010. Farkas Berkowitz & Company, however, is projecting a 5-10 percent growth rate this year and next. As Mr. Farkas explained, “With jet fuel costs increasing 70 percent in the last 12 months, the pressure on airfares is too strong to ignore. As airfares increase, we expect passengers to cut back on travel. As passengers cut back on travel, some airport authorities will delay their expansion plans.”

The firm reports that engineers serving ports and harbors enjoyed their fifth consecutive year of growth greater than 10 percent. In 2007 firms benefited from the conduct of due-diligence studies to support a change in terminal ownership, with more terminals now in the hands of international shippers, port operators, and private equity funds. “We look for growth in the engineering market to slow in 2008 to about 5 percent, but then increase in 2009 and beyond as ports, particularly in the Southeast and the Gulf Coast prepare for the widening of the Panama Canal,” said Mr. Farkas.

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