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New Construction Starts Decline for Second Consecutive Month

March 23, 2018

New construction starts declined in February for the second consecutive month, falling a total of 5% since January, according to Dodge Data & Analytics.

Following a 12% increase in December, new construction starts dropped 2% and then 3% in January and February, respectively, notably impacting the nonbuilding construction sector that includes public works and electric utilities/gas plants. After its 152 average in the last quarter of 2017 and beginning of 2018, the Dodge Index slipped from 154 in January to 150 last month.

However, Dodge Chief Economist Robert A. Murray said in the press release that activity in public works and electric utilities is “likely to bounce back” in the next couple of months.

“Compared to last year’s fourth quarter, the first two months of 2018 have seen further increases for nonresidential building, helped by its institutional building segment, and residential building, helped by multifamily housing,” Murray said. “This suggests that construction expansion, while slowing, is still in progress.”

Annual February rates in nonbuilding construction reached just over $118 billion, the biggest hit striking electric utility/gas plants, which plummeted 83%. Meanwhile, nonresidential building increased month-over-month at an annual rate of nearly $247 billion. This was in large part related to advancements in office, hotel and commercial garage construction; however, warehouse construction declined.

The report said residential building was up 1% from January, with single-family housing increases in the Northeast and Midwest.

-Andrew Michaels, editorial associate

Architecture Billings Remain in Growth Territory

March 22, 2018

Architecture billings continued their residency in expansion territory despite a slight setback in February. The Architecture Billings Index (ABI) from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) dropped 2.7 points last month to a score of 52.

“We remain optimistic about the trends we’re seeing at architecture firms this year with the ABI continuing to show growth in February,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, Ph.D., in a release on Wednesday.

“Any score above 50 is consistent with growth in billings, and the index has remained above this threshold for 11 of the past 12 months,” according to a report from Wells Fargo Securities. “The ABI suggests construction continues to have strong momentum despite February’s slight pullback in the ABI,” Wells Fargo continued.

Among the positives in February were the increases in the West and Midwest regional averages. The Northeast increased as well from January but remained in contraction territory. The South decreased modestly but stayed above 50. Project inquiries and design contracts also remained in positive territory in February.

“Construction and development appears to have solid momentum going into the spring,” concluded Wells Fargo. Baker predicted strong businesses conditions and optimism in the months ahead.

-Michael Miller, managing editor

Building Permits, Housing Starts Down in February

March 19, 2018

Privately owned building permits and housing starts suffered significant setbacks in February. Permits were nearly 6% behind the revised January rate, and housing starts down by 7% of January’s revised estimate, according to the latest data from the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. However, housing completions were almost 8% above January’s numbers.

Building permits and housing completions were each above their respective February 2017 rates, but starts were 4% behind compared to a year ago.

“The winter months are normally a slow period for new home construction, but unseasonably mild winter weather and the lack of new homes available for sale have allowed for more construction to get underway, particularly in the supply starved West and South,” explained a report from Wells Fargo Securities. The West and South each showed solid year-over-year gains in single-family permits and starts.

Single-family permits, however, declined for a second straight month, yet are still at the highest February rate since 2007.

The housing recovery has been slow during the past few years, noted Wells Fargo. This is in part due to shortages in lots and skilled labor as well as an increase in building material prices, most notably softwood lumber. “The tide appears to be turning somewhat, with completions of single-family homes trending higher over the past year,” Wells Fargo concluded.

-Michael Miller, managing editor

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