Building Materials Price Growth Slowest Since 2015

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Prices paid for goods used in residential construction advanced 0.2% in December (not seasonally adjusted) according to the latest Producer Price Index (PPI) released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Building materials prices increased 0.1% per month, on average, in 2019. The price of goods used in residential construction rose 1.5% over the year, representing a 0.4ppt slowdown from the pace of increases in 2018 (1.9%). The last year building materials prices increased less than 1.5% was 2015—a year in which prices actually declined 1.8%.

The PPI report shows that softwood lumber prices increased 0.1% (seasonally adjusted) in December and 6.7% over the course of 2019. Although this is directionally consistent with Random Lengths data, that data shows softwood lumber prices rising 14.5% in 2019.

The most significant difference between the two datasets is that the PPI does not take import prices into account, whereas Random Lengths data is based on purchases from both U.S. as well as Canadian mills. Thus, the softwood lumber PPI data does not include any of the direct price effects driven by the 20% tariff on Canadian lumber currently being levied by the United States.

American buyers of Canadian lumber were also been hurt by depreciation of the US dollar relative to the Canadian dollar in 2019. Not only did the price of softwood lumber rise in 2019, but the US dollar also depreciated 4.6% against the Canadian dollar over the period.

The price index for gypsum products increased 0.3% in December (seasonally adjusted). Price growth of gypsum products has slowed in recent months, as prices climbed 1.4%, 1.1%, and 0.3% in October, November, and December, respectively.

Gypsum products prices declined over the year (-4.2%) for the first time since 2015, when prices fell 0.2%. The 4.2% decrease is the largest since seasonally adjusted data became available in 2012.

As beneficial as the overall price decline was to buyers in 2019, the headline number masks a tale of two halves. Prices fell 9.6% in the first half of the year by 1.6% per month, on average. In contrast, prices increased by 3.7% over the final six months of 2019. Even after accounting for the recent increase, however, prices remain 0.5% lower than they were at the start of 2018.

Prices paid for ready-mix concrete (RMC) decreased 0.3% in December (seasonally adjusted) after falling 0.7% in November. RMC prices rose 2.8% in 2019, following a 2.4% increase in 2018.

The regional indexes for the West (-0.2%) and South (-1.9%) regions declined in December, while prices rose by 0.4% and 3.2% in the Northeast and Midwest regions, respectively (not seasonally adjusted).



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