Built to Bust

In 2007, it was reasonable to expect that construction spending in the US would be depressed for some time to come. But the extent of the subsequent fall-off in construction spending relative to long-run trends has dwarfed the level of excess spending in 2003-2006.

BERKELEY – In the mid-2000’s, the United States had a construction boom. From 2003-2006, annual construction spending rose to a level well above its long-run trend. Thus, by the start of 2007, the US was, in essence, overbuilt: about $300 billion in excess of the long-run trend in construction spending.

When these buildings were constructed, they were expected to more than pay for themselves. But their profitability depended on two shaky foundations: a permanent fall in long-term risky real interest rates, and permanent optimism about real estate as an asset class. Both foundations collapsed.

By 2007, therefore, it was reasonable to expect that construction spending in the US would be depressed for some time to come. Since cumulative construction spending was $300 billion above trend, it would have to run $300 billion below trend over a number of years in order to return to balance.

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