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"Contractors have been clobbered for several months by double-digit price hikes for diesel fuel, copper and steel products," said Ken Simonson, AGC's chief economist. "Worse, the price squeeze is hitting many contractors while private demand remains weak, public demand is shrinking and the amount they earn for most publicly funded projects is about to be drastically cut."
Simonson noted that the producer price index for all materials increased by 1.4 percent in April and 7.1 percent over the past 12 months. Meanwhile, the price of finished buildings rose 1.1 percent or less in April and only 1.7 percent or less over the past year, depending on building type.
Simonson said the most extreme price increase was for diesel fuel, which jumped 5.7 percent in April and 41.6 percent year-over-year. Prices for copper and brass mill shapes climbed 2.6 percent in April and 14.3 percent year-over-year, while steel mill product prices increased 2.2 percent and 13 percent, respectively.
Noting that prices for crude oil, iron and steel scrap, and copper futures – items that usually indicate near-term price movements for diesel fuel, construction steel, and copper wire and pipe – have slipped from their highs in recent weeks but remain very volatile, Simonson suggested the worst may be over for now.
Meanwhile, construction employment has risen modestly for the past three months and construction spending edged up in March according to government reports last week. However, the construction economist cautioned that many contractors, especially those working on public projects, are still facing cutbacks in work to bid on.