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List of Improving Housing Markets leaps ahead

BY Brae Canlen

The number of U.S. housing markets showing consistent improvement in three key measures of strength expanded by 22 in November to a total of 125, according to the National Association of Home Builders/First American Improving Markets Index (IMI). This marks a third consecutive monthly gain for the index, which now includes representatives from across 38 states, as well as the District of Columbia.

Markets added to the list in November include such geographically diverse locations as San Diego; Gainesville, Fla.; Omaha, Neb.; Louisville, Ky.; and Charlotte, N.C. The three indicators that are analyzed to compile the monthly index are employment growth from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, housing price appreciation from Freddie Mac and single-family housing permit growth from the U.S. Census Bureau.

"Not only did 22 additional markets qualify for the improving list in November, but the geographic distribution of included metros expanded from 33 states to 38 (plus the District of Columbia), while 97 out of 103 markets retained their spots on the list from the previous month," observed Barry Rutenberg, NAHB chairman and a home builder from Gainesville, Fla. "This shows that a housing recovery is firmly taking root and helping generate needed jobs and economic growth across much of the country — though we know that this expansion could be even stronger were it not for ongoing challenges, including overly tight lending conditions and difficult appraisals."

"The solid increase in the number of improving housing markets this month illustrates the degree to which the housing recovery has gained momentum since we initiated the IMI last year," noted NAHB chief economist David Crowe. "Compared with the 30 markets that made the list as of November 2011, we now have 125, which is about one-third of all the markets surveyed for this index."

"This new high point for the Improving Markets Index provides the latest evidence that housing has turned a corner due to rising demand from consumers who are increasingly confident about the direction of local home values," said Kurt Pfotenhauer, vice chairman of First American Title Insurance Company.

A complete list of all 125 metropolitan areas currently on the IMI, and separate breakouts of metros newly added to or dropped from the list in November, is available from the NAHB by clicking here.

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Newsweek ranks 15 greenest retailers in America

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Home Depot has been recognized in Newsweek magazine’s annual Green Rankings as the No. 4 greenest large retailer in the United States. Lowe’s took the No. 11 spot.

Here is Newsweek’s ranking of the 15 greenest U.S. retailers: 

1. Office Depot
2. Staples
3. Best Buy
4. The Home Depot
5. Wal-Mart Stores
6. Kohl’s
7. Target
8. J.C. Penney
9. Sears Holdings
10. Whole Foods Market
11. Lowe’s Cos.
12. Kroger Co.
13. Costco Wholesale
14. Safeway
15. Supervalu

To produce the 2012 Green Rankings, Newsweek collaborated with two leading environmental research providers, Trucost and Sustainalytics, to assess each company’s environmental footprint, management of that footprint and transparency. The Green Rankings focus on the largest publicly traded companies in America and worldwide. Each list consists of the largest 500 companies by revenue (most recent fiscal year), market capitalization and number of employees, as of April 30, 2012. A number of the largest U.S.-based companies appear on both lists.

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FTC: Beware of ‘eco-friendly’ labeling

BY Brae Canlen

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a revised set of green guidelines designed to help marketers ensure the truthfulness of their claims about the environmental attributes of their products. The updates to the existing “Green Guides” include new sections on the use of carbon offsets, green certifications and seals, and renewable energy and renewable materials.

Specifically, the guides apply to environmental claims included in labeling, advertising, promotional materials and all other forms of marketing, whether asserted directly or by implication. Although these are not enforceable regulations, the guidelines could be used as a determination in FTC actions or other legal challenges involving a marketer’s claim about the attributes of a particular product.

Among other modifications, the guides caution marketers not to make broad, unqualified claims that a product is "environmentally friendly" or "eco-friendly." The FTC’s consumer perception study confirms that such claims are likely to suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits. Very few products, if any, have all the attributes consumers seem to perceive from such claims, making these claims nearly impossible to substantiate.

The Guides also contain new sections on: 1) certifications and seals of approval; 2) carbon offsets, 3) free-of claims, 4) non-toxic claims, 5) made with renewable energy claims, and 6) made with renewable materials claims.

The new section on certifications and seals of approval, for example, emphasizes that certifications and seals may be considered endorsements that are covered by the FTC’s endorsement guides. The Guides caution marketers not to use environmental certifications or seals that don’t clearly convey the basis for the certification, because such seals or certifications are likely to convey general environmental benefits.

Finally, either because the FTC lacks a sufficient basis to provide meaningful guidance or wants to avoid proposing guidance that duplicates or contradicts rules or guidance of other agencies, the Guides do not address use of the terms "sustainable," "natural" and "organic."

For a full copy of the revised Green Guides, click here.

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