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Economy in Brief

FIBER: Industrial Commodity Price Strength Outpaces Activity
by Tom Moeller  February 13, 2017

The Industrial Materials Price Index from the Foundation for International Business and Economic Research (FIBER) increased 2.9% during the last four weeks, and has risen 23.9% during the last twelve months. This follows strength during all of last year. The level of factory sector production, however, has barely changed over the same time periods.

Prices in the metals sector have been notably strong, rising 4.4% during the last month and by one-third y/y. Steel scrap prices surged 12.5% in the last month alone, capping a two-thirds increase y/y. Aluminum prices strengthened 4.1% during the last month and have increased 21.0% y/y. The cost of copper scrap rose 3.4% in four weeks as part of a 28.1% y/y gain. Zinc prices similarly surged 13.7% last month, and by roughly one-half y/y. Crude oil & benzene costs also have strengthened. WTI crude oil prices averaged roughly $53.00 per barrel so far this month, up by over three-quarters y/y. Prices for the petro-chemical benzene similarly rose more than three-quarters y/y.

In the miscellaneous group, natural rubber prices jumped 11.3% m/m and have more than doubled y/y. Continued strength in the housing market raised framing lumber prices moderately in recent months and 18.4% y/y. Prices for structural panels increased similarly in the last month and by 8.2% y/y. In the textile group, cotton prices moved 2.4% higher during the last month and increased by one-quarter y/y. Also showing strength were burlap prices which improved 8.1% during the last month and by 5.8% y/y.

The current industrial output projection from the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) calls for a 1.7% increase in production during all of 2017, following a 0.9% decline this year. During the last ten years, there has been a 52% correlation between the three-month change in prices and the change in U.S. industrial output. In addition, moderate growth in factory sector production worldwide is continuing.

Commodity price data can be found in Haver's DAILY, WEEKLY, USECON and CMDTY databases. The NABE forecast is in the SURVEYS database.

FIBER Industrial Materials Price Index (%) 1-Mth 3-Mth 6-Mth 12-Mth 2016 2015 2014
All Items 2.9 9.6 11.2 23.9 19.2 -16.3 -10.0
 Textiles 0.8 2.0 3.1 4.3 2.8 2.2 -4.2
  Cotton (cents per pound) 2.4 7.5 1.7 25.9 10.2 2.6 -24.2
 Metals 4.4 13.5 20.7 34.8 32.9 -27.8 -8.7
  Aluminum ($ per metric ton) 4.1 5.1 11.2 21.0 13.0 -19.2 9.4
  Copper Scrap (cents per pound) 3.4 12.2 21.2 28.1 17.3 -27.0 -12.0
  Steel Scrap ($ per ton) 12.5 58.4 35.6 66.9 74.5 -53.8 -18.6
 Crude Oil & Benzene 3.8 15.7 14.6 41.0 20.4 -19.4 -26.5
  Crude Oil (WTI, $ per Barrel) 1.1 19.0 24.5 83.3 44.3 -35.8 -43.2
 Miscellaneous 2.9 9.7 8.5 24.2 21.7 -18.0 -6.7
  Framing Lumber ($ per 1000 board ft.) 2.5 6.1 -0.3 18.4 12.9 -16.4 -1.6
  Natural Rubber (cents per pound) 11.3 59.2 66.2 124.6 89.4 -22.5 -32.3
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