Beyond the Build

Construction Trends

Our Economic Life (A couple of simple approaches)

To me, newspaper coverage aside, the economic climate still boils down to what’s happening with the boots on the ground, to us. The big trends will be in the newspaper, and they are good national or global indicators. But this is really our neighborhood. Smaller companies make 99.7 percent of business transactions and 46 percent of the GDP. Perhaps what’s happening here reveals more about what we really need to know to be successful today.

Construction in the U.S. is about an $850 billion slice of the economy. This is a big pie, and if we cannot get what we need, regardless of the cycle, then something’s wrong with us. Beyond what I read in the newspaper, these three indicators might assist:

1. How does one feel? Short and sweet, gut feelings are crucial. And things are never as bad or as good as we think they are at 2 am.

2. The steakhouse index. When corporate belts got tightened 5 years ago, expense accounts were among the first things on the chopping block. There were fewer dinners at high end restaurants. Now, in 2013, Fortune reports that steakhouses are seeing a turn around, and that might equate to the business climate in general. Full steakhouses = more business deals.

3. The scrap metal index. Alan Greenspan tracked scrap prices daily, believing they were an important indicator of economic health, especially to anticipate (or maybe predict) a recovery or recession. I agree. When scrap metal prices are on the rise there’s generally good sailing ahead.

Bottom line, I still read the newspaper. The Wall Street Journal (or WSJ) has come a long way in the last few years, not only with their business coverage, but also with their human interest pieces. The Saturday morning Personal Journal section is a great example. Over the course of a busy week, the papers get stacked up on the counter at my home. When I have a moment, I go through them, cutting out the interesting articles and stashing them in my briefcase to read on the plane.

I read the Journal. I listen to my heart and brain. While I did not eat a lot of fancy steak or buy scrap iron, their uptick gives me some pretty good trends to work with.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.