Q1 2020 sees rush to complete ongoing projects in Romania

Written by Dr. Sebastian Sipos-Gug – Ebuild, EECFA Romania

The first quarter of the year 2020, mostly starting with mid-February, was marked by ominous economic forecasts. Thus, some decline in construction activity was to be expected, and indeed newly started construction projects dropped to just over EUR 1.3bln in Q1 2020. This amounts to a 14% decrease compared to the equivalent period of 2019, according to the latest edition of the EBI Construction Activity Report for Romania.

At the same time, the amount spent on construction increased by 25%. Coupled with the record amount of completed construction works (nearly double that of the first quarters in each of the previous 5 years), lends us to the conclusion that investment was increased in order to rush and complete the (at the time) ongoing projects, before the anticipated negative economic impact of Covid-19 took place.

Covid-19 changes in reporting frequency

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic impact, the data visualization for EBI Construction Activity Report is currently updated on a monthly basis, rather than quarterly.

Renovation activity increases in building construction

Building constructions started for the first quarter of 2020 dropped by 3% over the same period of 2019. However, the amount of new building construction for Q1 2020 is actually higher than in the first quarters of 2014-2018, and thus this small drop is more due to the good performance in 2019 than a clear sign of decline for 2020.

Looking at renovation figures, however, we can notice a somewhat new trend: that of increased renovation activity. While new building construction can, and in some cases was, pushed back due to uncertainty regarding the economic conditions, renovation works are less prone to this effect since they are more urgent in nature. Furthermore, as government measures started to be implemented in March, individuals and businesses alike needed to make adjustments to their living and working conditions: spaces were converted to quarantine centres, offices and industry alike had to adapt to new conditions and started to ensure layouts that allow more social distancing, hospital wings were relocated and so on.

Civil engineering output exceeds expectations, but low activity starts caution about future

The first quarter of 2020 saw an estimated expenditure of EUR 804mln on civil engineering projects, exceeding any single quarter since data aggregation started in 2014. The high level of output achieved came with the completion of many ongoing works and comes with a significant caveat: the quarter was also markedly worse than the previous year in terms of Activity Starts, with a 38% drop over Q1 2019. The most notable drops in new projects were in the segments of road and public utilities. Both reportedly had quite an increase in output over the same period, and thus the focus here seemed to be completion, rather than starting new projects.

Regional disparities in new construction activity

Despite the national-level decline in new activity, a large level of regional disparity can be noticed. The Center, South and West regions are showing an actual increase in construction starts compared to Q1 2019 in several segments, moving against the overall trend of the country. This could be an indicator of the higher level of resilience of local construction markets and a higher investor confidence in local economies. These regions might also be tardier in their response to the anticipated crisis, but it’s something to keep an eye on in the future and more data will show how resilient they are.  

EBI Construction Activity Report

The EBI Construction Activity Report is a quarterly publication that relies on the project information database of iBuild and is prepared by Buildecon and Eltinga. It comprises an analysis of projects based upon several object types: multi-unit residential construction, non-residential (further split into 9 segments) and civil engineering (split into 8 segments). The report offers information about the number and value of projects started or completed, and an estimate of the total amount spent on each segment in that quarter. If you would like to receive a data visualization for the EBI Construction Activity Report free of charge, please write to us at the ebi@ibuild.info e-mail address.

Lowest figures in started construction projects in Hungary in the past 3 years

The last quarter of 2019 saw another significant decline in launched construction projects in Hungary, amounting to only HUF 424bln worth started total construction works – as per the latest edition of EBI Construction Activity Report. Works started in the sector in a much lower value for the 2019 year as a whole as well. The drop in 2019 was 21% over 2018; and even compared to 2017, the difference was -11%. In 2019 the Activity Start Indicator of the Report totalled less than HUF 2200bln, compared to the almost HUF 2790bln a year earlier.

Building construction activity fell in Q4 2019

The Report has also found that in Q4 2019 building construction registered a lower value of started works than in the previous quarter, amounting to HUF 311bln. Overall, in 2019, Activity Start for building construction accounted for HUF 1364bln – significantly less than in 2018 and marking a decrease of 15%. However, calculated based on the ibuild.info project database, even the value in 2017 surpassed the 2019 one.

Weakening non-residential and multi-unit housing construction figures both were to blame for the slump in building construction. Multi-unit housing projects had also been seeing a decline in the value of Activity Start indicator over the past quarters, and the trend continued in Q4 2019 as well. Non-residential construction projects posted a much more modest drop.

Launched building construction projects in Q4 2019 comprise several hotels and office buildings, the construction of the Szeged Handball Arena, Phase I of Nagykanizsa multifunctional sports and event hall, upgrades of M3 Business Center buildings A and B, and renovation works of Hungexpo.

Published quarterly, the EBI Construction Activity Report creates aggregates from project data for 18 segments by object type (multi-unit residential, 9 non-residential segments and 8 civil engineering segments). It is prepared by Buildecon, Eltinga (creation of indicators and development of algorithms for aggregation) and ibuild.info (project research and project database). Full publications can be purchased at ebi@ibuild.info.

The fourth quarter of 2019 was very poor in civil engineering

Even though the period between April and September 2019 saw the start of civil engineering works in a massive value, Q4 2019 recorded a huge drop in numbers. Activity Start amounted to only HUF 113bln, the lowest value since Q4 2016 and only one-third of the value in Q3 2019. As a result, civil engineering closed the year with a massive decline, posting 30% fewer started construction projects in 2019 than in 2018 (a 22% drop against 2017). However, the 2019 Activity Start (HUF 835bln) is not considered to be extremely low in the segment. Rather, the years of 2017 and 2018 are considered to be extremely high.

In 2019, within civil engineering, mainly road and railway construction projects started in a much lower number than in 2017 and 2018, accounting for HUF 432bln. This was mainly due to the major decline in the Activity Start of railway construction projects, with only HUF 48bln of projects entering construction phase. The HUF 384bln worth Activity Start in road construction showed a much smaller difference compared to 2017-2018, and it surpassed the values in preceding years.

Started civil engineering projects in Q4 2019 are scarce, but include the construction start of the South Railway Bridge on the Danube in November 2019, for example.

Central Hungary was in the lead again in Q4 2019

Like Q3 2019, Q4 2019 also saw the start of fewer projects than in previous years in Eastern Hungary, offsetting the region’s high share in H1 2019. Thus, in 2019, 36% of the value of started construction works concentrated in Eastern Hungary.

Central Hungary was the other way around: while in H1 2019 its relative share in Activity Start was lower than in previous years, in H2 2019 it significantly exceeded it. The Report has found that between October and December 2019 more than half of the value of new construction works concentrated in Central Hungary.

There is a clear downturn in multi-unit housing construction

From January 1 this year, resetting the VAT rate from the previous 5% back to 27% brought a major change in the Hungarian multi-unit housing market. As of this year, units in projects having obtained a building permit after November 1, 2018 can only be sold at the higher VAT (above net prices). Last year, the approaching end-of-December deadline increasingly had a knock-on effect on the value of started construction works. The value of the EBI Activity Start Indicator for multi-unit housing construction amounted to only HUF 49bln in Q4 2019. For comparison, in all quarters of 2018 the value of projects started for three months exceeded HUF 100bln. In 2019, as a result of the downturn, construction works started in a total of HUF 263bln against the more than HUF 400bln in the previous two years. Last year, the EBI Activity Start Indicator for multi-unit housing construction fell 39% nationwide.

Despite the rosy figures of Q3 2019, only 44% of the investment value was concentrated in Budapest, so the capital city’s share in multi-unit housing construction dipped compared to previous years. It is not surprising, though, as in 2019 the shrinkage in construction starts was 51% y-o-y, according to the EBI Construction Activity Report. Central Hungary had a share of 52% of the total value of newly built multi-unit buildings, indicating a huge drop against previous years.

In 2019, the EBI Activity Completion Indicator Continue reading Lowest figures in started construction projects in Hungary in the past 3 years