Prices for inputs to construction industries expanded 0.8% in March, the largest monthly increase in more than two years, according to the April 14 producer price index release by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Prices have now expanded for two consecutive months after declining during the previous six; however, input prices are down 3.6% on a year-over-year basis.
March marks the fourth consecutive month that year-over-year input prices have declined, the longest such streak since 2009. Crude petroleum prices fell 4% in March and have fallen in eight of the previous nine months.
“Although overall construction materials prices rose for the month, prices for more categories of materials decreased than increased, including sharp monthly declines in the price for softwood lumber and iron/steel,” said Associated Builders and Contractors Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “On a year-over-year basis, deflationary pressures are even more apparent as crude petroleum prices are down 55% and natural gas is down 45%, despite an increase in gas prices in March.
“Though U.S. nonresidential and residential segments continue to expand, global construction volumes remain suppressed by widespread weakness in Asia, Europe and Latin America,” said Basu. “With the U.S. dollar likely to get stronger over the next few months as domestic interest rates begin to rise, there is little likelihood of significant increases in construction input prices over the next six to nine months.
“Overall producer prices managed to increase 0.5% on a monthly basis, the first increase since June 2014. This reading serves to increase the likelihood that the Federal Reserve will begin to increase short-term interest rates later this year,” he said.
Only two of the key materials prices increased in March.
• Fabricated structural metal product prices inched 0.4% higher for the month and have expanded 1.3% on a year-over-year basis.
• Natural gas prices expanded 1.5% in March but are down 45.3% from the same time a year ago.
Nine of the 11 key construction inputs did not expand for the month.
• Prices for plumbing fixtures fell 0.3% in March but are up 2.5% on a year-over-year basis.
• Prices for prepared asphalt, tar roofing and siding fell 0.4% for the month and are down 0.2% on a year-ago basis.
• Iron and steel prices fell 2.5% in March and are down 11.5% from the same time last year.
• Steel mill products prices fell 1.9% for the month and are 4.8% lower than a year ago.
• Softwood lumber prices fell 4.1% and are 7.4% lower than a year ago.
• Nonferrous wire and cable prices remained flat on a monthly basis and grew 2.5% on a yearly basis
• Crude petroleum prices fell 4% in March and are down 55% from the same time last year.
• Crude energy materials prices fell 1.4% in March but are 43.7% lower year over year.
• Concrete products prices remained flat in March and are up 4.1% on a yearly basis.