ByTonya Vinas If the steel industry is any indication, material prices are on the way down. U.S. steel prices dropped in October for the first time since May 2003. The Washington, D.C.-based American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) reports a significant increase in steel imports from September to October and a decline in hot- and cold-rolled sheet spot prices in October of 5.6% and 2.3% respectively. (AISI reports on spot prices using data from "Purchasing" magazine.) "The October data remind us that the U.S. and world steel markets are subject to changes," says AISI Chairman David S. Sutherland, president and CEO of IPSCO Inc. "The good news is that globally competitive steel producers in the U.S. and NAFTA region are today in a strong position to support North American customers in construction and manufacturing." Imports of steel to the U.S. are also up -- 50.2% on the year. The past year has been one of the most successful in recent times for U.S. producers, who survived several years of bargain-basement prices and massive consolidation at the beginning of this century. They were helped by temporary tariffs on imports the Bush administration imposed and by growing global demand.