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Economy in Brief

FIBER: Industrial Commodity Prices Weaken Moderately This Month
by Tom Moeller  March 20, 2017

The Industrial Materials Price Index from the Foundation for International Business and Economic Research (FIBER) declined 1.6% during the last four weeks, but has risen 18.7% during the last twelve months. This follows strength during all of last year when prices rose 19.2%. Recent price weakness has occurred despite a pickup in U.S. factory sector output, up 0.5% in both January & February. This scenario last played out in early 2014, when prices similarly improved before weakening with the crash in oil prices.

Prices in the metals sector eased 1.5% during the last four weeks, but still have risen 31.1% y/y. Copper scrap prices led the weakness last month with a 3.8% decline, but they're up 17.1% y/y. Countering the decline was a 6.5% rise in steel scrap prices which have risen by two-thirds over the last year. Aluminum prices were little-changed this past month, but strengthened by roughly one-quarter y/y. Zinc prices similarly eased 5.6% last month, but have risen by one-half y/y. Crude oil & benzene costs declined 5.9% during the last four weeks. WTI crude oil prices averaged $48.73 per barrel last month, nearly a four-month low (+27.3% y/y). Prices for the petro-chemical benzene similarly fell 13.1% during the last month, but have risen by one-third over the last year. In the miscellaneous group, framing lumber prices rose moderately in recent weeks, and 24.8% y/y. Prices for structural panels increased similarly in the last month and 15.8% y/y. Natural rubber costs were part of the recent price weakness, posting a 16.5% four-week decline, though up by roughly two-thirds y/y. In the textile group prices have been little-changed recently. Cotton prices moved 1.4% higher during the last month and increased one-third y/y. Burlap prices improved modestly during the last four weeks, and by 16.3% y/y.

The current industrial output projection from the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) calls for a 2.6% increase in production during all of 2017, following a 1.2% decline last 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, factory sector production in the European Union and Japan is strengthening.

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 -1.6 3.4 11.8 18.7 19.2 -16.3 -10.0
 Textiles 0.4 1.9 5.2 6.2 2.8 2.2 -4.2
  Cotton (cents per pound) 1.4 5.6 11.7 31.8 10.2 2.6 -24.2
 Metals -1.5 3.9 19.9 31.1 32.9 -27.8 -8.7
  Aluminum ($ per metric ton) 0.2 7.3 20.5 23.6 13.0 -19.2 9.4
  Copper Scrap (cents per pound) -3.8 0.9 24.8 17.1 17.3 -27.0 -12.0
  Steel Scrap ($ per ton) 6.5 28.7 32.3 66.3 74.5 -53.8 -18.6
 Crude Oil & Benzene -5.9 -0.6 7.1 15.4 20.4 -19.4 -26.5
  Crude Oil (WTI, $ per Barrel) -8.5 -16.0 8.8 27.3 44.3 -35.8 -43.2
 Miscellaneous -1.4 6.0 12.6 20.6 21.7 -18.0 -6.7
  Framing Lumber ($ per 1000 board ft.) 2.8 12.0 14.5 24.8 12.9 -16.4 -1.6
  Natural Rubber (cents per pound) -16.5 2.7 48.8 64.4 89.4 -22.5 -32.3
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