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Building Permits, Housing Starts Down in February

March 19, 2018

Privately owned building permits and housing starts suffered significant setbacks in February. Permits were nearly 6% behind the revised January rate, and housing starts down by 7% of January’s revised estimate, according to the latest data from the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. However, housing completions were almost 8% above January’s numbers.

Building permits and housing completions were each above their respective February 2017 rates, but starts were 4% behind compared to a year ago.

“The winter months are normally a slow period for new home construction, but unseasonably mild winter weather and the lack of new homes available for sale have allowed for more construction to get underway, particularly in the supply starved West and South,” explained a report from Wells Fargo Securities. The West and South each showed solid year-over-year gains in single-family permits and starts.

Single-family permits, however, declined for a second straight month, yet are still at the highest February rate since 2007.

The housing recovery has been slow during the past few years, noted Wells Fargo. This is in part due to shortages in lots and skilled labor as well as an increase in building material prices, most notably softwood lumber. “The tide appears to be turning somewhat, with completions of single-family homes trending higher over the past year,” Wells Fargo concluded.

-Michael Miller, managing editor

Construction Input Prices Continue to Increase

March 14, 2018

Construction input prices have continued to increase since the beginning of the new year, according to Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics data. February prices rose 0.7% from those set in January.

Overall construction inputs jumped 5.2% compared to 12 months ago. Total nonresidential inputs were only slightly behind at 4.9% higher than February 2017. All 11 nonresidential construction subcategories of the Producer Price Index increased year-over-year. Only three declined month to month.

“For the last several months, construction firms have become increasingly concerned about rising construction materials prices,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “A confluence of factors will likely continue to push materials prices higher in the months to come.” Among the factors singled out by Basu were a strong U.S. construction market and the nation’s policies.

The imposed steel and aluminum tariffs were mentioned by Basu, but steel prices have been increasing despite the new policy, up 7.1% with iron year-over-year. Steel mill products have also climbed since February 2017.

Softwood lumber and natural gas at 5.6% and 23.5%, respectively, had the largest February price gains. Meanwhile, crude petroleum had the highest 12-month change with inputs increasing 16.6%. Softwood lumber was second at 15.6%.

-Michael Miller, managing editor

Fortune 500 Company Looking to Shrink Labor Shortfall

March 12, 2018

One of the largest companies in the country is looking to help combat the skilled worker shortage in the United States. The Home Depot Foundation announced earlier this month it is contributing $50 million over the next 10 years to train 20,000 tradespeople in the construction industry.

While construction employment has increased recently, the number of skilled workers to fill those openings has not. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), industry employment increased by 61,000 in February and by 185,000 during the last four months. However, The Home Depot cited BLS data and said in a statement “there are currently 158,000 unfilled construction sector jobs in the U.S.”

The Home Depot Foundation and Home Builders Institute founded a training program last year for military members at Ft. Bragg and Ft. Stewart. The program is a 12-week apprenticeship provided at no cost for students, according to the release from the Foundation.

“We’re thrilled to train 20,000 next-generation plumbers, electricians, carpenters and beyond. It’s a true honor to welcome our first classes of separating soldiers as they transition to civilian life and into successful careers in the trades,” said The Home Depot Foundation Executive Director Shannon Gerber in the release.

-Michael Miller, managing editor

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