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Fraser announces mill shutdown

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Toronto-based wood pulp company Fraser Papers has announced the closure of a Juniper, New Brunswick-based mill that manufactures pulp-based supplies and lumber products for home builders.

The company will shut down the mill for up to 11 months starting Oct. 5. Fraser cited a weak housing market in the United States, continued oversupply of lumber and a strong Canadian dollar for contributing to Ounsustainable operating losses at the mill.O

In addition, reduced logging activity in recent months has significantly reduced the supply of wood from private lands,O the company said in a statement.

“Despite significant efforts by our employees to minimize costs and improve operations, we have been absorbing significant cash losses at our Juniper sawmill,” said Peter Gordon, president and CEO of Fraser Papers

Fraser said it expects tough market conditions will persist into 2008. The shutdown will impact approximately 175 employees at the mill.

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Existing-homes sales flat in July

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Sales of existing homes basically were flat in July, at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.75 million units from a revised pace of 5.76 million in June. The sales pace is 9 percent below the 6.32 million-unit level recorded in July 2006.

“Home sales probably would be rising in the absence of the mortgage liquidity issues of the past two months,” said Lawrence Yun, senior economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR). “Some buyers with contracts have been scrambling when loan commitments did not materialize at the last moment, while other potential buyers are simply waiting for the mortgage market to stabilize.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 6.7 percent in July, up from 6.66 percent in June; the rate was 6.76 percent in July 2006.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $228,900 in July, down 0.6 percent from the July 2006 median of $230,200. The July 2006 number was the highest monthly price on record, according to the NAR.

Total housing inventory rose 5.1 percent at the end of June to 4.59 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 9.6-month supply at the current sales pace, up from an upwardly revised 9.1-month supply in June.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the West rose 1.8 percent in July to an annual pace of 1.12 million, but were 15.2 percent below a year ago.  The median price in the West was $349,400, up 0.9 percent from July 2006.

Existing-home sales in the Northeast increased 1 percent to a level of 1.02 million in July, but are 2.9 percent lower than July 2006. The median existing-home price in the Northeast was $290,900, up 5.9 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South were unchanged at an annual rate of 2.26 million in July, but are 10.7 percent below a year ago. The median price in the South was $186,300, down 3.2 percent from July 2006.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest fell 2.2 percent in July to a level of 1.35 million, and are 5.6 percent below July 2006. The median price in the Midwest was $173,800, which is 1.8 percent below a year ago.

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Toro sees earnings, sales rise in third quarter

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Lawn care products company Toro reported net third-quarter earnings of $42.5 million, up 5.5 percent from $40.3 million last year. Total sales were $478.7 million, up slightly from $477.9 million last year.

“In the face of challenging economic and market conditions, our earnings performance in the third quarter and year-to-date has us on track to deliver another year of solid financial results,” said Michael Hoffman, Toro chairman and CEO.

The company’s professional business outshone its residential segment — professional sales rose 3.8 percent to $322 million, resulting from strong worldwide growth in landscape contractor equipment. Professional segment earnings for the third quarter were $70.9 million, up 13.5 percent from $62.5 million last year.

Residential segment sales decreased 8.5 percent to $133 million. Strong growth in domestic shipments of zero-turning-radius riding mowers was offset by a “significant decline” in snowthrower shipments, the company said. Residential segment earnings for the third quarter were $8.2 million, down 5.8 percent from $8.8 million last year.

Bloomington, Minn.-based Toro is a global provider of outdoor maintenance and beautification products for home, recreation and commercial landscapes.

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