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January housing starts show signs of life

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Housing starts showed some signs of life last month, particularly in the multi-family segment, though builders still are holding back in an uncertain market.

As HCN reported yesterday, the U.S. Department of Commerce said January housing starts rose to a seasonally adjusted rate of 1.012 million, 0.8 percent above the revised December estimate of 1.004 million. The Midwest and Northeast posted strong gains in month-over-month housing starts. Multi-family housing starts rose 22.3 percent, while single-family home starts fell 5.2 percent.

“Single-family builders in our latest surveys have indicated that improving affordability factors and the large selection of homes on the market are helping draw more potential buyers to model homes in recent weeks,” said David Seiders, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Still, at 743,000 units, single-family home starts declined for a tenth consecutive month to their lowest rate since January 1991. Single-family permit issuance was also at its lowest since January 1991, at 673,000 units.

January’s starts were 27.9 percent below the revised January 2007 figure of 1.403 million units. Single-family unit starts numbered 743,000, 5.2 percent below December’s figure of 784,000.

Overall permit issuance, which can be an indicator of future building activity, according to the NAHB, declined 3 percent in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.05 million units. Single-family permits were down 4.1 percent, while multi-family permits essentially were unchanged at 375,000 units.

Regionally, the Northeast saw a total increase of 18.9 percent month-over-month, with a 43.8 percent increase in single-family units. The Midwest saw a 12 percent increase month-over-month, with single-family units coming in flat. The South saw a total decline of 2.9 percent, with a 9.8 percent decline in single-family units, compared with December’s figures. The West saw a decline of 6.2 percent overall in February, with a 20.3 percent decline in single-family units.

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Ace lays off 20 corporate employees

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Ace Hardware confirmed Feb. 19 that it has laid off 20 corporate employees from various support areas of the company, effective immediately.

“This action was taken to help bring corporate expenditures in line with Ace’s revised bottom line operating expenses, which is compounded by the continued slowdown of both wholesale and retail sales due to the current soft economy and lackluster housing market,” the Oak Brook, Ill.-based company said in a statement to Home Channel News.

“While we regret that these few select positions were eliminated, it will not impact our ability as a company to service our Ace retailers and, in turn, their customers,” the statement said. Although Ace did not specify which positions had been affected, HCN has learned that some of those laid off were field representatives.

One of the former employees who was informed of his termination on Monday said he was told the cuts were related to the company’s effort to return equity to $320 million, the co-op’s equity level before its $152 million accounting error. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said various field representative positions were among the cuts.

The announcement comes six months after Ace discovered the shortfall in its accounting books, which the company recently confirmed was the result of discrepancies between its general ledger and inventory records. Ace made no comment about whether the layoffs were related to the shortfall.

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Standard Lumber opens ‘green’ yard

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Standard Supply and Lumber, a 12-unit chain of lumberyards and showrooms in western Michigan, has announced the opening of a location devoted exclusively to FSC-certified wood products and eco-friendly kitchen and bath products. Located in Grand Valley/Standale, the combination lumberyard/showroom will provide a place where architects, builders, homeowners and others interested in green building projects can source all their products in a single place.

In addition to low-VOC adhesives, composite decking and cabinets and flooring made from sustainable resources, Standard Lumber and Lumber’s “Eco-Connections” will feature Energy Star windows and appliances.

“We are committing our company to the goals of the LEED green building rating system,” said Tim Rottschafer, president of Standard Lumber and grandson of the company founder.

Headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich., the 104-year-old company also manufactures trusses, constructs post frame buildings, and installs windows, roofing and siding in the residential market.

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