Source: Portland Cement Association, Skokie, Ill.

With the first half of 2012 experiencing favorable weather conditions, gains in residential and nonresidential construction activity and robust gains in cement intensities, the new PCA forecast nearly doubles the expected increase in cement consumption for the year. The association's revised its spring forecast upward, anticipating a 6.9 percent increase in 2012 from 2011 levels (and up from a May forecast of 3.7 percent), followed by a 5.8 percent jump in 2013, and a double-digit increase of 10.9 percent in 2014.

The forecast points to both changes in construction activity and cement intensity (the amount of powder used per real dollar of construction activity) as the key contributors to cement consumption growth. Because cement usage is greatest at the early stages of a construction project, PCA estimates the drop in construction starts was responsible for roughly 75 percent of the cement declines during the recession. “In addition to great construction weather during the first half of the year, real put-in-place construction activity is up 4.2 percent compared to 2011 levels,” Ed Sullivan, PCA chief economist, said. “We expect to see a 5.5 percent gain on real construction activity this year—after seven consecutive years of decline.”

According to Sullivan, one thing is certain going beyond 2012: Uncertainty will characterize the near-term economic outlook and inhibit stronger growth conditions from materializing. For example, as with previous forecasts, job creation is the critical ingredient to recovery and key to healing the structural difficulties that currently face the construction market. An erosion of consumer and business confidence resulting from the impending 2013 “fiscal cliff” can adversely affect this. Under current law, increases in taxes and, to a lesser extent, reductions in spending will reduce the federal budget deficit dramatically between 2012 and 2013—a development that some observers have referred to as a “fiscal cliff.”

“If Congress fails to address the ‘fiscal cliff’ issue during the first or second quarter of 2013, there is the potential for severe adverse economic consequences that could slow the recovery process, potentially leading to a severe decline in 2013 cement consumption,” Sullivan said. “PCA’s baseline projections assume a ‘rational’ Congress that will recognize these risks and take action to minimize restraints on economic growth.”

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