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Market Recap: RISI Crow’s Construction Materials Cost Index

BY HBSDEALER Staff

A price index of lumber and panels used in actual construction for Feb. 8, 2013

*Western – regional species perimeter foundation; Southern – regional species slab construction.

Crow’s Market Recap — A condensed recap of the market conditions for the major North American softwood lumber and panel products as reported in Crow’s Weekly Market Report.

Lumber: SPF prices increased early and continued to rise throughout the week. Distributors replenished inventories and wholesalers purchased significant speculative volumes. Up-limit moves in futures early delivered more confidence to the cash market. A short-lived downturn in Southern Pine lumber prices came to a halt last Friday and continued throughout this week. Tuesday was a huge sales day for mills, with some setting records for volumes sold. Treaters purchased multiple carload volumes and continued to shop the market late in the week. Coastal species lumber producers sold strong volumes, allowing them to push prices often beyond multi-year highs established in January. Needing to supplement inventories, buyers gave up trying to wait for prices to drop further. The Inland species lumber market continued to rebound from last week’s momentary softness. Producers reported good activity in Hem-Fir narrows. Radiata Pine prices were firm and offerings were limited, especially in Shop grades. Although Ponderosa Pine Moulding and Shop markets appeared a little more active, the general opinion was that the movement was as much supply driven as it was improved demand. Prices were firm but unchanged. Ponderosa Pine board producers reported a "substantially better market" for Selects and Commons than they have seen in recent times. Producers also reported steady sales of Idaho White Pine and ESLP. Eastern White Pine producers reported firm pricing and good demand for all widths of Standard and Industrial grades. With inventories at Western Red Cedar mills tight and buyers still willing to participate at current price levels, producers continued to contemplate raising prices further.

Panels: OSB markets started the week with a quiet but firm tone. On Wednesday that all changed, as market activity picked up strongly. So much, in fact, the resurgence in business caught many traders off guard. Wholesalers and distributors purchased large volumes of Southern Pine plywood beginning Wednesday, helping drive prices higher. Most producers extended order files to at least the week of February 25. Strong sales throughout the week in the Western Fir plywood market strengthened mill order files and placed upward pressure on a number of prices. Yards from several regions participated in buying, including the Northeast. Canadian plywood activity saw order files from the major producers out to the week of March 11 or March 18, depending on the item. Quotes and sales of plus 2 or 3 points for cash wood occurred, while orders were taken early in the week at less 2 points. Particleboard sales remained steady, leaving no room for any upward price movement. MDF continued its strong showing. Customers remained on allocation. Moulding manufacturers eagerly accepted their allotted volumes and searched for any other they might find.

For more on RISI, click here.

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Screening the screeners

BY Roy Maurer

The background-screening industry is facing greater scrutiny over the accuracy of its reports, according to industry experts. In 2012 some job seekers claimed that inaccurate criminal background checks prevented them from finding employment.

Accuracy of background-check-report information and greater scrutiny of the screening industry are the No. 1 trend for 2013, said attorney and background-check expert Lester Rosen.

“One of the primary jobs of a professional background screener is to provide accurate and actionable information so that employers can make considered decisions on hiring issues,” said Rosen, author of "The Safe Hiring Manual," a comprehensive guide for employment screening.

Background screening is increasingly the subject of regulation, litigation and legislation, so it is important that employers use knowledgeable providers, Rosen told SHRM Online.

The increased attention in 2012 included the following:

  • A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report recommending regulations on data brokers.
  • FTC charges against companies for alleged Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) violations, including the $2.6 million settlement against HireRight Solutions, which represented the first time the FTC charged an employment background-screening firm with violating the FCRA.
  • Oversight from the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • An NBC “Today Show” report on background-check errors costing people jobs.

In the HireRight case the FTC charged the company with failure to take reasonable steps to ensure that the information in its reports was current and reflected updates, such as the expunging of criminal records, and failure to follow reasonable procedures to prevent inaccurate consumer-report information from being provided to employers. HireRight also was charged with failing to give candidates copies of their reports, failing to reinvestigate consumer disputes and failing to sufficiently notify consumers when public-record information was used to determine hiring eligibility.

Rosen advises employers to be more diligent in hiring screening firms. “Although the overall accuracy rate for background checks is extremely high, it is still easy for the press to take one or two examples out of millions of reports done every year and create a sensationalistic story,” he said. “But employers need to kick the tires and make sure to ask enough questions about background-check firms they may want to use for employment screening.”

Asking the right questions

The most crucial action you can take to protect your company from providers who engage in questionable screening practices is to ask the right questions, according to a recent white paper published by EmployeeScreenIQ, a Cleveland-based employment-screening company.

A critical area to inquire about is a company’s demonstrated expertise, said EmployeeScreenIQ Executive Vice President Nick Fishman. “A criminal background check can mean anything from a comprehensive county courthouse criminal search to spidering various court sites to commercial database searches. It’s not enough to know that a company offers this service—you need to know how they conduct their research, how they authenticate the information and what they do, if anything, to ensure accuracy,” Fishman told SHRM Online.

Questions to ask that demonstrate expertise, according to Fishman, include:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Have you ever been held liable for your business practices? Are you facing active claims?
  • Have you ever been sanctioned by a state or federal regulatory agency?
  • Are you accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS)? Less than 2% of consumer reporting agencies are NAPBS-accredited, so be sure to ask providers to supply you with documented proof.
  • What is the average tenure of your leadership team?
  • What is your company’s average criminal-hit percentage?
  • What percentage of the applicants you screen dispute the findings of their background checks?
  • What is your client-retention rate?
  • What is your average turnaround time? How is turnaround time measured?

To help you determine how well a provider is keeping abreast of changing litigation and legislation, ask questions such as:

  • How does your company stay compliant with state and federal laws? Can you provide policies and procedures that demonstrate such compliance?
  • Describe a recent change in screening guidelines. How did you inform your clients about it?
  • Do you have in-house legal counsel?
  • Will my company have access to your legal counsel and/or compliance team?
  • What type of compliance support do you offer clients?
  • What types of client education in this area do you offer?
  • Does your company have private-investigator licenses in every state where required? (State-specific licenses are required in Nevada, Arizona and Texas.)
  • What is your company’s candidate-dispute rate?
  • Describe how your company responds to candidate disputes.

Failing to secure the personal data of consumers and job candidates can be disastrous to a company’s reputation and bottom line. Learn about your potential provider’s practices by asking these critical questions:

  • Does your company have documented disaster-recovery procedures?
  • Does your company have documented data-protection procedures?
  • Has your company ever experienced a data breach?
  • Describe your technology platform, and explain how you protect sensitive customer data throughout the ordering process.
  • Does your company send offshore any part of the background-screening process, whether operational, service or data entry?
  • Have your company’s security policies and procedures ever been audited by a third party?

It’s important that background checks be conducted accurately and with care. Protect your organization by asking potential providers about their practices related to both criminal records and resume verification with questions such as the following:

  • Describe your methods for conducting criminal background checks.
  • Describe your approach to conducting employment verifications.

When comparing prices and determining the overall value of your options, be sure to ask:

  • Specifically, what is included in the price?
  • Do you conduct employment verifications? If so, how many employers are included?
  • Will you follow up with the applicant if you are unable to complete employment or education verification?

Key technology questions include:

  • Are you able to integrate your system with our applicant-tracking/talent-management platforms?
  • What options do you offer for order placement?
  • What type of training and support do you offer?
  • Can your system be customized to support our unique needs?
  • How often do you release new system features and functionality?

Evaluating your findings

After all this it’s time to evaluate the responses you’ve received. Companies should meet with potential partners and drill down further on their practices, Fishman said. Every organization will weigh its specific findings differently, according to its unique needs and concerns. EmployeeScreenIQ has three basic guidelines to help determine which providers potentially offer a good fit:

  • Verify providers’ claims through independent sources.
  • Ask for references, not only from current clients but from those who are no longer using the company’s services.
  • Ask for a set of test searches before you make a commitment.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

©2013 SHRM. All rights reserved.

Have HR-related questions and concerns? Get access to essential forms, policies and guides, plus a live call center, at ToolkitHR.com, powered by HCN and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

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Decorative fireplaces win a court fight

BY Ken Clark

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled today in favor of an appeal filed by the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) challenging DOE’s recent actions to regulate decorative hearth products. The Court ordered that “the entire statutory definition of ‘Vented Hearth Heater’ be vacated, and remanded the definition to DOE to interpret the challenged provisions in accordance with the Court’s opinion. 

Rick Roldan, president and CEO of NPGA stated: “If left unchallenged, the effect of the DOE rules would have eliminated entire product lines of decorative gas fireplaces and decorative gas log sets that would no longer be available to home builders or homeowners. Additionally, the rules unfairly targeted the small businesses comprising the propane industry and would have resulted in a more than $20 million loss for our industry.”

The Court also rejected DOE’s notion that these products could be regulated by establishing exclusion criteria, including a ban on standing pilot lights. This equated to imposing a design standard on the industry, and the Court ruled that DOE does not have the statutory authority to do so in this circumstance. 

The decision strikes down onerous regulatory requirements imposed by the two DOE Final Rules affecting vented gas fireplaces, and gas log sets (75 Fed. Reg. 20112 and 76 Fed. Reg. 71836). The ruling culminates a nearly two-year battle of the propane and hearth product industries with DOE on the agency’s ruling of vented gas hearth products.

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