NEMA’s Lighting Systems Index increased in the fourth quarter of 2012 after a decline in the third quarter, growing 1.9% on a quarter-to-quarter basis and by 3.3% on a year-over-year basis. Lighting equipment demand has struggled to gain traction since the recovery began and remains well below the levels observed during the previous economic expansion. For the second consecutive quarter, miniature lamps and fixtures registered solid gains in sales value while emergency lamps, ballasts, and large lamps fell further.

Lighting output gains are likely to pick up over time as construction activity gradually improves. The housing recovery remains on track as overall housing starts were roughly 25% higher in January on a year-over-year basis.  Building permits, a typically less volatile measure, climbed more than 30% in January from a year ago. Total housing starts are estimated at 781,000 in 2012, 975,000 in 2013, and 1.215 million in 2014.    

However, nonresidential construction was flat in 2012, with investment outlays up only a scant 0.2% on an annualized basis in the fourth quarter. Leading indicators such as architecture firm billings and income property prices continue to indicate that forward progress is on the horizon, but rapid and broad-based gains in activity are not likely in the cards in the near future. However, the outlook for commercial construction — office, retail, warehouse, dining/drinking establishments — is more promising for electrical equipment manufacturers. While the sector has seen sporadic increases over the last two years, the gains have been inconsistent. Steadier progress is expected this year, though, with growth accelerating heading into 2014.