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China Passes U.S. in Global Market Share

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China overtook the U.S. last year to become the world’s largest construction market, according to a March 3 report that forecasts market trends to 2020. However, the report suggests that, in the coming decade, the U.S. will be almost alone among developed nations in achieving significant expansion, with an expected annual construction growth exceeding 6%, which will still lag behind the predicted construction growth of emerging economies.

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China grew its global share to 15%, which was 1% ahead of the U.S., as a result of an increased volume of work, rising prices and currency exchange fluctuations, says Graham Robinson, director of London-based Global Construction Perspectives Ltd., which produced the forecast, along with Oxford, England-based consultant Oxford Economics and the London office of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Housing, which accounts for 57% of Chinese construction, has fanned much of the growth, says Robinson. But with the market overheating, the government is curbing residential investment and focusing increasingly on low-cost housing, he adds. “All indications are that [the housing bubble] is not going to burst,” says Robinson.

Further, housing will be key to U.S. construction growth, Global Construction forecasts. Having languished for several years, residential orders are predicted to go through a period of double-digit growth. “The U.S. has been at the heart of economic problems for the [past] few years,” says Neil Blake, head of analysis at Oxford Economics. “But we see much better prospects … in the next five to 10 years.”

Another prime influence on U.S. demand is its expected population increase, says Mike Betts, another Global Construction executive. At 0.9%, U.S. population growth is on par with East Asia’s and five times greater than Western Europe’s. U.S. construction over the decade is expected to total approximately $14.5 trillion. However, infrastructure investment is forecast to remain sluggish.

With the other two exceptions of Australia and Canada, developed nations will experience construction growth at half the rate forecast for emerging economies. Output in developing markets is set to average 7.6% a year to 2015 and 6.6% to the decade’s end. By then, 55% of construction will be in emerging economies, up from 46% this year. A casualty of this trend will be Japan: With the lowest growth rate of any country in the report, that country is set to be overtaken by India as the world’s third-largest market this decade. Last year, Japan accounted for 9% of global construction, while India accounted for 5%, according to the report.

Worldwide, construction growth is forecast to outstrip the global domestic product. The total volume will increase 67% by 2020, from $7.2 trillion today. China, India and the U.S. will generate 54% of the $4.8 trillion increase. Total global construction investment over the period will amount to $97.7 trillion, equivalent to 13.2% of the global gross domestic product.

Together, China, India, the U.S., Indonesia, Canada, Russia and Australia will account for 65% of global construction growth by 2020. “We have a huge demand for infrastructure, but is the execution capacity available?” asks Markus Akermnann, CEO of Swiss-based cement maker Holcim Ltd., Zurich. Mustering sufficient human resources will be a “big, big challenge,” he adds.

In terms of professional services, the “shift of white-collar [jobs] into emerging economies” will continue, says Chris Temple, global building products leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers.


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