Inflation Waiting in the Wings (Copper Wiring)

Although producer prices fell 0.6% in September, producers who rely heavily on commodities as inputs have experienced sharp pricing pressures for the past several months. Encore Wire Coporation (WIRE) provides one of many examples.

WIRE is a small producer of copper wiring ($486M market capitalization and net sales last quarter of $169M). The company described the squeeze it feels from higher copper prices during its conference call announcing third quarter earnings (click here for the complete transcript from Seeking Alpha):

“We’re tempted to lead the industry with several price increases during the quarter but met limited success…copper’s doubled since late last year and historically that’s been a fantastic situation for our industry. The change this time around on the copper climb has been there is a competitor that’s been very public with, they don’t agree with the passing on those cost, because they feel like the [market] won’t allow it.

Our approach to that is you pass it on and it is what it is regardless of the demand. It’s very transparent for contractors and distributors alike to see that copper is up $0.10 or down $0.05 or whatever the volatility would lead to and from my 20 years…copper is the deciding factor on a price increase or actually price decreases as well. You can have PVC, you can freight, you can nylon, you can have other cost influences but until copper trends one way or the other, the price increases typically fail.”

In other words, when construction activity picks up again and/or becomes relatively more robust, there is plenty of inflation waiting in the wings for commodity-based products like copper wiring. That inflation will likely translate quickly into higher costs for construction across the board.