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Multiple Factors Drive Construction Prices Higher
WASHINGTON, D.C. — For the fifth consecutive month, prices for construction materials increased, rising 1.1% in February, according to the March 16 Producer Price Index (PPI) report by the Department of Labor. Year-over-year, construction materials prices are up 6.1%. A number of categories experienced significant increases in materials prices in February. Steel-mill product prices jumped 4.7% for the month and are up 13.3% year over year. Iron- and steel-producer prices were up 2.8% in February and are up 16.8% over the last 12 months. In addition, prepared asphalt, tar roofing, and siding increased in cost by 0.6% for the month and are up 2% over the past 12 months. Categories in which prices declined include softwood lumber, down 2.7% in February, but up 0.2% compared to the same time last year. Crude-energy prices increased 0.9% for the month and are unchanged from the same time last year. Overall, the nation’s wholesale prices jumped 1.6% in February, the largest increase since June 2009. Year over year, wholesale finished-goods prices are up 5.8%. Anirban Basu, chief economist at Associated Builders and Contractors, noted that the data reflects a weakening U.S. dollar, ongoing expansion in the global economy, and unrest in the Middle East. He added that the current data does not reflect the recent events in Japan.

Gender Gap
Widening in
Retirement Confidence
SPRINGFIELD — Retirement plan investors had a “good year overall”; however, it appears that economic uncertainty and market volatility have contributed to lower levels of investing confidence and generally more conservative investing behavior among participants. MassMutual’s Retirement Services Division conducted an online survey between Nov. 15, 2010 and Jan. 15, 2011 of 1,517 participants in retirement plans on the MassMutual platform. MassMutual’s data indicates that men believe the stock market will improve vs. decline in the next 12 months at a ratio twice that of women. Overall, only 37.3% of participants are confident in making their own investment decisions. However, women were significantly less confident in making their own investment decisions (25.9%) compared to men (44.1%). At the same time last year, the percentages were 32.8% for women and 47.8% for men. The survey indicates that anxiety about having adequate savings to retire is increasing. Among participants who made a change in their approach to investing in the last 12 months, 61.7% became more conservative compared to 38.3% who became more aggressive.
‘A Closer Look at the Berkshires’ Contest
PITTSFIELD — The Quality Printing Co. is once again sponsoring “A Closer Look at the Berkshires” photography and art contest. The 2012 full-color calendar will feature the top 12 winners of the contest. Application forms are available at most Berkshire County libraries, as well as area Chambers of Commerce, the Prime Outlets in Lee, the Berkshire Mall, the Berkshire Visitors Center in Adams, and numerous photo and framing-supply stores throughout the region. Full-color photos, transparencies, slides, paintings, and digital images with a horizontal format are being accepted. Cash prizes totaling $1,050 will be awarded, and all entrants will receive a 2012 calendar. The deadline for submissions is April 29. For more information, contact June Roy-Martin, manager of communications, at (413) 442-4166, ext. 119, or [email protected]

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