The construction industry has recently witnessed a notable shift in construction input prices, presenting both challenges and opportunities for businesses. For the first time in over 18 months, these prices have experienced a year-over-year decline, hinting at a potential stabilization in the market. Despite this decrease, input prices continue to fluctuate, creating uncertainty for construction business owners as they navigate the complexities of material costs. This article will explore the factors contributing to these fluctuations, the impact on the industry, and the importance of developing effective strategies for managing costs and lead times in this unpredictable environment.

For the first time in over 18 months, construction input prices experienced a year-over-year decline. Although they were still 39% higher than in February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted global supply chains, the decrease signals a potential stabilization in the market. In March 2023, overall construction prices and nonresidential costs decreased by 0.9% and 0.6% respectively compared to March 2022, according to an Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) analysis.
Despite the yearly decrease, construction input prices still increased slightly over the last 30 days. Overall construction and nonresidential input prices rose by 0.2% and 0.4% in March 2023, respectively, compared to the previous month. This situation poses a challenge to construction business owners, as they must navigate the uncertainty of material costs.
The fluctuating input prices can be partially attributed to the decline in natural gas and unprocessed energy materials prices, which fell by 21.4% and 11.9% in March compared to February. Crude petroleum prices also dropped by 10.2%, as reported by ABC. However, only five of the 19 categories posted price drops in March, while other commodity prices, such as iron and steel, continued to rise.
Despite the decline in some categories, inputs to nonresidential construction remain 39.5% higher since February 2020. This indicates that the construction industry is still grappling with the lingering effects of the pandemic on supply chains and costs.
The Federal Reserve’s expected 25 basis point interest rate hike at its May meeting could potentially be the last of the cycle. While some may welcome the end of rate increases, the Federal Reserve might need to maintain higher interest rates for longer to suppress inflation. This, coupled with other indicators of slowing economic activity, suggests that the risk of recession remains elevated, and the economic outlook is increasingly uncertain.
The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) also reported a slight decrease in the producer price index for inputs to nonresidential construction for final demand, dropping 0.1% from February to March. This decrease was driven by a 2.3% drop in energy inputs. However, many inputs still posted double-digit cost increases from a year ago, such as cement prices, which jumped 17%, and concrete products, which increased by 14.5%.
The volatile nature of construction input prices has made contractors cautious about committing to projects with unpredictable costs and lead times. As Ken Simonson, AGC chief economist, stated, “While the inflation in the broader economy is settling back to earth, construction costs keep hitting updrafts.”
In conclusion, the construction industry faces significant challenges as it navigates the unpredictable nature of construction input prices. Business owners must adapt to these fluctuations and develop strategies to manage costs and lead times effectively. As the industry continues to adjust to the changing economic landscape, it is crucial to remain informed and proactive to ensure the long-term success of construction projects.