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Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at ConstructConnect
Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at ConstructConnect
Alex Carrick is Chief Economist for ConstructConnect. He is a frequent contributor to the Daily Commercial News and the Journal of Commerce. He has delivered presentations throughout North America on the Canadian, United States and world construction outlooks. A trusted and often-quoted source for … More »

With Few Exceptions, U.S. Construction Material Costs Continue to Speak Softly

 
September 1st, 2016 by Alex Carrick, Chief Economist at ConstructConnect

Article source: ConstructConnect

Table 1 accompanying this article sets out U.S. price movements for numerous construction materials from a variety of time markers in the past to the present (i.e., July 2016).

The data comes from the Producer Price Index (PPI) series calculated and published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Graphs showing the history of the behind-the-scenes index figures on which the percentage changes in Table 1 are based also appear below.

Some of Table 1’s most significant shifts have been as follows.

The charge for softwood lumber in July of this year was +7.8% compared with six months earlier, but it was a more modest +3.0% when set next to July of 2015.

Most cement- and concrete-related products are currently up to a notable degree year over year, with ‘sand, gravel and crushed stone’ +4.8%; ‘cement’, +5.4%; ‘ready-mix concrete’, +4.3%; and ‘pre-stressed concrete products’, +11.7%. The jump in price for the latter has almost entirely occurred in the latest six months, +10.9%.

The fee for ‘steel bars, plates and structural shapes’ has moved in the opposite direction. It is -11.4% year on year, but that degree of negativity may be about to change since the cost of ‘iron and steel scrap’ has moved up by more than a third (+38.0%) in the last half-year. Just the same, that still leaves iron and steel scrap prices well below (-32.7%) where they were three years ago.

The cost of flat glass is +4.8% relative to a year prior and +11.2% when compared with three years ago. Glass has shown a consistent upward movement in price since 2010. Furthermore, the slope of the rising curve for glass has grown steeper over the past year (see graph at website).

‘Copper wire and cable’ prices are continuing their descent, -12.8% year over year and -22.9% compared with three years ago. The price index value of copper products peaked at the beginning of 2011 and it has been on a downward slide ever since.

‘Regular unleaded gasoline’ is -27.8% year-over-year, but +24.4% over the past six months. There is a similar pattern for the cost of diesel fuel, -18.8% y/y but +32.1% in a six-month time frame and +27.8% in a three-month span of time.

Another fossil-fuel-based product, asphalt, has displayed even greater volatility. It has been -28.1% compared with a year ago, but +25.3% over six months and +46.6% over three months. Again, though, the price of asphalt is still far under (-41.0%) what it was three years back.

The bottom line is that U.S. construction material costs, with few exceptions (e.g., cement and glass), remain under wraps. This is made especially apparent in the top section of Table 1, which records percentage changes for private versus government investment and for five type-of-structure categories.

Material costs are +0.9% year over year for private sector investment and +0.4% for work in the public sector sphere. Neither figure is alarming. They are both under +1.0%.

Among structure types, the largest year-over-year gains have come in ‘warehouse building construction’ (+1.5%) and in ‘office buildings’ (+1.4%). At the other extreme has been ‘industrial building construction’ (-0.4% y/y).

Finally, with respect to the most current of price movements, every percentage change on a month-over-month basis in the top portion of Table 1 (and appearing in the last column) is a step onto a stairway that leads downwards rather than to the floor above.

Table 1: U.S. Producer Price Index (PPI) Results% Change in the July 2016 Index from:
3 Years 1 Year 6 months 3 months 1 month
Ago Ago Ago Ago Ago
Product/Good/Service/Commodity
Final Demand Construction 5.9% 0.8% 0.3% -0.4% -0.6%
Construction for private capital investment 6.0% 0.9% 0.4% -0.3% -0.4%
Construction for Government 5.5% 0.4% -0.1% -0.7% -1.0%
New warehouse building construction 5.5% 1.5% 0.8% -0.2% -0.1%
New school building construction 5.6% 0.1% -0.5% -1.1% -1.4%
New office building construction 7.1% 1.4% 0.7% 0.3% -0.1%
New industrial building construction 5.2% -0.4% -0.7% -1.3% -0.8%
New health care building construction 4.4% 0.9% 0.7% -0.7% -0.8%
Architectural & engineering services 5.7% 1.8% 0.5% 0.2% 0.0%
Construction machinery & equipment 3.8% 0.9% 0.2% 0.1% 0.0%
Asphalt -41.0% -28.1% 25.3% 46.6% 2.7%
Plastic construction products 2.7% -0.8% 0.9% 1.2% 0.3%
Softwood lumber 9.2% 3.0% 7.8% 2.7% 0.4%
Hardwood lumber 2.6% -1.2% -0.3% -0.5% 0.5%
Millwork 6.8% 1.5% 1.4% 0.6% 0.0%
Plywood 1.2% -0.7% 1.6% 2.7% 1.7%
Gypsum 10.2% 2.4% 1.7% -2.8% 0.1%
Insulation materials 8.9% 1.5% -1.1% -2.0% -0.3%
Construction sand, gravel & crushed stone 13.3% 4.8% 1.7% 1.2% 0.2%
Cement 18.6% 5.4% 1.6% 0.7% 0.3%
Ready-mix concrete 13.7% 4.3% 2.4% 0.6% 0.9%
Precast concrete products 9.7% 1.8% 0.6% 0.2% 0.0%
Prestressed concrete products 13.8% 11.7% 10.9% 1.1% 0.3%
Brick (clay) 3.9% -0.6% -0.5% -0.4% -0.5%
Coal -10.8% -3.8% -0.8% -1.7% -4.6%
Iron ore 4.4% 0.6% 19.4% 9.7% -0.8%
Iron and steel scrap -32.7% -6.4% 38.0% 3.8% -4.7%
Steel bars, plates and structural shapes -16.7% -11.4% 1.8% 3.5% 0.0%
Fabricated structural metal products 0.8% -0.1% 1.5% 1.3% 0.6%
Flat glass 11.2% 4.8% 1.8% 1.1% 0.1%
Lighting fixtures 2.9% 0.5% -0.1% 0.2% 0.1%
Plumbing fixtures & brass fittings 4.3% 0.3% 0.0% 0.2% 0.0%
Heating equipment 4.2% 0.2% -0.4% -0.4% -0.3%
Copper wire & cable -22.9% -12.8% -0.3% -5.0% 1.1%
Fiber optic cable -1.8% 1.0% 0.0% 0.3% 0.2%
Regular gasoline unleaded -49.3% -27.8% 24.4% 11.1% -7.0%
Diesel Fuel -49.5% -18.8% 32.1% 27.8% 2.5%
Jet Fuel -47.2% -20.1% 31.9% 31.7% -0.8%
Natural gas -30.4% -1.0% 15.7% 44.2% 40.3%
Natural gas to electric utilities -4.6% 0.1% -4.1% 3.3% 3.7%
Commercial electric power 3.0% -2.0% 7.0% 6.8% 0.5%
Industrial electric power 7.0% -4.7% 10.1% 11.5% 2.8%
Residential electric power 5.1% -0.3% 3.8% 3.7% 0.6%
Commercial natural gas -8.5% -1.8% -1.6% 4.3% 4.7%
Industrial natural gas -15.4% -3.1% 0.5% 6.1% 5.8%
Residential natural gas -5.3% 0.8% 3.5% 7.5% 5.9%
Construction materials 3.2% 0.6% 1.7% 1.1% 0.3%
Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (1982 = 100.0 is the base for all indices).
Chart: ConstructConnect.
Softwood Lumber Price Index – U.S.
Softwood Lumber Price Index - U.S.
The last data point is July 2016.
Data source: U.S. Census Bureau (Producer Price Index/PPI series).
Chart: ConstructConnect.
Gypsum Price Index – U.S.
Gypsum Price Index - U.S.
The last data point is July 2016.
Data source: U.S. Census Bureau (Producer Price Index/PPI series).
Chart: ConstructConnect.
Cement Price Index – U.S.
Cement Price Index - U.S.
The last data point is July 2016.
Data source: U.S. Census Bureau (Producer Price Index/PPI series).
Chart: ConstructConnect.
Ready-mix Concrete Price Index – U.S.
Ready-mix Concrete Price Index - U.S.
The last data point is July 2016.
Data source: U.S. Census Bureau (Producer Price Index/PPI series).
Chart: ConstructConnect.
Iron and Steel Scrap Price Index – U.S.
Iron and Steel Scrap Price Index - U.S.
The last data point is July 2016.
Data source: U.S. Census Bureau (Producer Price Index/PPI series).
Chart: ConstructConnect.
Steel Bars, Plates & Structual Shapes Price Index – U.S.
Steel Bars, Plates & Structual Shapes Price Index - U.S.
The last data point is July 2016.
Data source: U.S. Census Bureau (Producer Price Index/PPI series).
Chart: ConstructConnect.
Copper Wire and Cable Price Index – U.S.
Copper Wire and Cable  Price Index - U.S.
The last data point is July 2016.
Data source: U.S. Census Bureau (Producer Price Index/PPI series).
Chart: ConstructConnect.
Flat Glass – U.S.
Flat Glass Index - U.S.
The last data point is July 2016.
Data source: U.S. Census Bureau (Producer Price Index/PPI series).
Chart: ConstructConnect.
Asphalt Price Index – U.S.
Asphalt Price Index - U.S.
The last data point is July 2016.
Data source: U.S. Census Bureau (Producer Price Index/PPI series).
Chart: ConstructConnect.
Diesel Fuel Price Index – U.S.
Diesel Fuel Price Index - U.S.
The last data point is July 2016.
Data source: U.S. Census Bureau (Producer Price Index/PPI series).
Chart: ConstructConnect.

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