The Labor Department’s construction materials composite price index rose by 0.4% between February and March of this year. This brought the March 2000 composite index to a level 2.4% above its reading for the third month of 1999. On an annual average basis, the construction materials price index moved up 1.0% between 1998 and 1999 after declining by 0.5% over the previous year, so the current inflation rate represents a significant acceleration above the 1998-1999 trends.
After the inflation rate for gypsum products soared more than 17% higher during 1999, prices finally stabilized during the first quarter of this year. The price index for this volatile product group fell 3.7% between February and March, following no change in the first month of the new year and only a modest increase during February. Average prices this March were 11.8% higher than in March 1999 -- still a significant increase, but well below the 23.1% gain registered between December 1998 and December 1999.
Average lumber prices also moved lower during March after rising steadily throughout most of the past year. The 0.6% February-to-March dip left average lumber prices just 1.1% higher this March than during March 1999. Lumber prices during the first quarter of this year were 3.7% above the first-quarter 1999 level, after rising by an average of just under 5% for full-year 1999.
Average roofing material prices were unchanged in March, but declined by 0.2% between the final quarter of 1999 and the first quarter of this year - despite the impact of higher oil prices on the cost of producing asphalt shingles. Prices during the first three months of 2000 averaged 1.6% more than over January-March 1999. The average price for fabricated structural metal used in building construction was 0.8% higher during the first three months of 2000 than during the fourth quarter of last year. Inflation in metal product prices continues to accelerate - modestly, but steadily - with the first quarter average this year 3.0% higher than during the first three months of 1999 -- after registering only modest inflation of 1.5% for full-year 1999.
Average ready-mixed concrete prices have also begun to rise at a faster annual rate. Prices rose 0.3% between February and March of this year, and ended the first quarter of 2000 0.9% above their level in the final three months of 1999. Even ceramic tile product prices have started to show a little bit of inflation, rising an unusually sharp 0.7% between February and March. Tile prices were up a marginal 0.4% over full-year 1999, after falling sharply the year before and being essentially flat throughout 1996 and 1997. However, average tile prices during March of 2000 were already 0.4% higher than during the final months of 1999.
Consumer Confidence by Region
New Residential Building Permits by Region