As I write this letter in late March, winter is officially over, and the mid-70’s in the south are a sign that the spring construction season is here. The construction industry is still booming, and our products and materials remain in stock with the things you need for your residential and commercial construction jobs. We have another 2,000 tilt-up braces coming next month, and we have been told we now have the second largest inventory of tilt braces, not just in the south, but in the country.
The beginning of the industry’s busy season is here and there have been significant changes impacting commodity pricing and availability. See below for a detailed look at what’s going on.
Due to the dramatic rise in domestic and international metal scrap prices, both rebar and wire mesh have been severely impacted. On March 8th, one of the region’s largest mills announced a price increase of $100 per ton effective immediately. By March 10th, the other three major mills in the Southeast all followed with $100 per ton increases of their own. The massive increase of scrap metal pricing was listed as the root cause for the $100 per ton increase. With the war in the Ukraine still raging, scrap metal prices are surging not only internationally, but domestically as well. Ukraine is one of the largest producers of steel (and resulting scrap) in their region, and with all three of their mills down, regional availability has plummeted, and surrounding countries are scrambling to find inventory to feed need. Turkish and Italian rebar is helping to supplement some of the regional demand, but that is also resulting in very little import rebar being sent west towards the United States.
Domestic transportation costs are also having impact on both rebar and wire mesh pricing. To add on top of the high scrap pricing, domestic fuel price increases and trucking shortages have caused manufacturers to push through a freight increase on all loads shipping after April 1st. This will roughly be an increase of 30% over prior freight rates resulting in an additional price per ton increase of $10 to $12. This freight increase is on top of the $100 increase on material mentioned earlier.
With rumors of another pending material price increase to be announced by the mills before the end of March, we could possibly see rebar prices increase over $200 per ton in just the month of March.
Wire mesh has followed the same path as rebar and has also seen multiple increases in March. Mesh pricing is now 10 – 12% higher than February’s numbers. Expectations are for both rebar and mesh to climb until the market can bear no more and projects begin to be put on hold.
Metal goods are not the only commodity seeing increases. The recent increase in the price of oil is having a major impact on the polyethylene market. Multiple poly manufacturers have sent out price increase notices in the month of March. These increases are ranging from 8-10% on all orders placed on and after April 1st. Lead times are holding firm in the three-to-four-week range depending on size and mil thickness needed.
The only commodity that has not seen an increase over the past month is lumber. The lumber market appears to have crested and is slowly working back down. Given the recent volatility within the lumber market, the dip may not last long, but buyers are currently holding off on large purchases in hopes the market will continue to soften. Should a flurry of purchases begin to come in, the market could once again change if inventory tightens.
Construction input costs outpaced bid prices in February, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data posted on March 15. The producer price index (PPI) for material and service inputs to new nonresidential construction climbed 2.0% for the month and 21% year-over-year (y/y). The PPI for new nonresidential building construction—a measure of the price that contractors say they would bid to build a fixed set of buildings—increased 0.6% for the month and 17% y/y. There were double-digit y/y increases in numerous input PPIs. The PPI for steel mill products soared 74% y/y despite declining 9.9% for the month. The index for diesel fuel jumped 14% in February and 57% y/y; aluminum mill shapes, 6.2% and 37%, respectively; plastic construction products, 1.3% and 36%; copper and brass mill shapes, 0.8% and 24%; lumber and plywood, 4.1% and 23%; gypsum products, -1.3% and 21%; asphalt felt and coatings, 2.1% and 21%; architectural coatings, 9.9% and 20%; insulation materials, 0.6% and 18%; truck transportation of freight, 2.0% and 19%; concrete products, 0.9% and 10%; and flat glass, 0.2% and 10%. AGC posted tables and graphs of construction PPIs.
Click here for the latest update on the construction economy from Ken Simonson, the chief economist of the AGC.