Graph © Architectural Record

While it’s no longer sinking, the Architectural Billings Index, a leading economic indicator, barely moved between April (42.8) and May (42.9). However, the May inquiries score was 55.2, the third consecutive month it has landed in the mid-50s. (A score above 50 indicates an increase, and below 50, a decrease).

The current numbers were released today by the American Institute of Architects, which produces the ABI based on surveys sent to firms. The index reflects a nine- to 12-month lag time between architectural billings and construction spending.

“The design and construction marketplace is extremely competitive right now,” says Kermit Baker, the AIA’s chief economist. “Prospective clients are casting a wider net, causing numerous firms to bid for the same project, which is why the high level of inquiries is not necessarily resulting in billings for project work.”

The regional scores for May were a mixed bag:

  • The Northeast rose to 48.3, up from 47.9 in April
  • The Midwest rose to 41.5, up from 40.5
  • The South dipped to 41.3, down from 43.5
  • The West remained at 39.4

The building sector scores also were mixed:

  • Multi-family residential rose to 45.5, up from 43.8
  • Commercial/industrial scored 43.1, up from 41.7
  • Institutional dropped to 38, down from 41

All scores are considerably higher than earlier this year. In January, the national billings score plunged to 33.3, an all-time low; regional and building sector scores also hovered in the low- to mid-30s.

Still, the national billings score has fallen below 50 for 16 straight months. The last time it showed gains was in January 2008, when it landed at 50.2. 

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