The AIA's monthly Architecture Billings Index (ABI) came in at a score of 52.0 in February, marking the fifth consecutive month of gains. The ABI is a leading economic indicator of construction activity in the U.S., and reflects a nine- to 12-month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending nationally, regionally, and by project type. A score above 50, as seen this month, represents an increase in billings from the previous month, while a score below 50 represents a contraction.
Healthy demand for design services continued in February. While February's reading is 2.7 points lower than January's score of 54.7, any score above 50 still reflects an increase in billings, just a slower rate of growth. New project inquiries—which the AIA economists consider to be the most reliable indicator of future billings—increased 1.3 points last month to a score of 62.4, indicating that demand for design services could be stronger next month.
“We remain optimistic about the trends we’re seeing at architecture firms this year with the ABI continuing to show growth in February,” said AIA chief economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, in a press release. "We saw several major bright spots reflected in February’s data, as billings remained particularly strong at firms located in the West and Midwest.”
Design contracts remained relatively unchanged in February, with a score of 54.5—a 0.6-point increase from January's score of 53.9. This portion of the index has has fluctuated within a range of less than a point for the past six months, but it stayed above the 50-point threshold every month last year—a sign that momentum is strong, despite small month-to-month fluctuations.
The scores for regional billings—which, unlike the national score, are calculated as a three-month moving average—increased in half of the regions during February, with a 0.9-point decrease in the South (54.4) and a 0.3-point decrease in the Midwest. While the Northeast's score saw a 0.2-point increase to 47.5, it was the only U.S. region to be below 50 last month. February marks the third consecutive month of contraction in the Northeast, and the third consecutive month that the Northeast was the only region not growing. Demand for design services was strongest in the Midwest (54.5) and West (57.6) during February. The West saw the most dramatic growth last month, rising 1.4 points from January's score of 56.2 to a score of 57.6.
Billings increased in three of the four sectors, although the commercial/industrial column did see a 1.2-point decrease in its score to 51.0. The only sector showing contraction was mixed-practice, and even that column saw a 0.3-point increase in its score from January. For the fourth consecutive month, demand for design services was strongest in the multifamily residential sector, with a score of 56.6—a 0.4-point increase from January's score of 56.2. The institutional sector also experienced stronger demand during February, with 1.6-point increase in billings from January's score of 52.2 to a score of 53.8. (Results of sectors are also calculated as a three-month moving average.)