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Despite Slight Uptick, Architectural Billings Index Still Sagging

February 5, 2009

By Jenna M. McKnight

The Architectural Billings Index (ABI) rose to 36.4 in December—up nearly two points from November’s score of 34.7, a record low in the ABI’s 13-year history. The inquiries score for December was 37.7.

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The index is compiled by the American Institute of Architects and is based on surveys sent largely to commercial firms. The ABI, one of the profession’s leading economic indicators, reflects a nine- to 12-month lag time between architectural billings and construction spending. The score has fallen below 50 for 11 straight months; a score above 50 indicates an increase in billings, and below 50, a decrease.

In terms of project sectors, commercial/industrial dropped to 28.1 in December, while multi-family residential landed at 30. Institutional slipped to 39.3, from 40.8 in November.

“The inability to get financing for construction projects is a key reason that business conditions continue to be so poor at design firms,” says Kermit Baker, the AIA’s chief economist.  Baker adds that it will be interesting to see what portion of President Barack Obama’s proposed economic stimulus package is earmarked for the construction industry. The AIA has sent specific recommendations to Capitol Hill regarding schools, greening buildings, historic preservation, and transit and mixed-use projects. The suggested measures total $100 billion and would lead to the creation of 1.6 million jobs, according to the association.

Read more economic news in our Recession and Recovery special section.

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