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In memory of Big Dave

BY Ken Clark

On Thursday afternoon, it was announced to the entire company of Lebhar-Friedman, publishers of Home Channel News, that one of our colleagues had died suddenly and unexpectedly.

Dave Stewart was 51 years old. He was a salesman for HCN’s sister publication Chain Store Age. It is impossible to adequately celebrate any life with an appropriate degree of eloquence and reverence. But it can be helpful for the writer. So here it goes.

He was called “Big Dave.” Think of a really big guy. Now add about 25%. That was Dave. He was 6 feet 7 inches tall. He counts the Denver Broncos among his former employers, but he said he wasn’t quick enough to last as a lineman in the NFL.

Dave was fond of the “rounding error” theory of successful selling. The cost of some of the products he sold, his theory goes, is a rounding error when compared to the benefits of the business gained through participation in a Lebhar-Friedman event.

Dave was persuasive, enthusiastic, thoughtful.

When asked which section of the newspaper he reads first, Dave didn’t hesitate: the opinion pages. Big Dave was full of ideas on politics and current events. He was an archetype of Chicago, the City of Big Shoulders, where he lived.

Big Dave was legendary at introducing vendors to retailers. “Come over here, I have someone who wants to meet you,” he would say to a buyer, referring to a seller. He could not be resisted.

At the University of Miami, Dave blocked for the great Jim Kelly before Kelly was an NFL superstar with the Buffalo Bills. Dave loved participating in the office sports pools, and playing pick up basketball in Chicago.

Big Dave embraced the analogy of the traveling salesman as soldier, and he scoffed at those overnight suitcases on wheels. “A soldier carries his gear into battle,” he said to me many times. “A soldier doesn’t roll into battle.”

In cold weather, Dave wore a ridiculous old-school Elmer-Fudd style hat, which created in total one of the most conspicuous pedestrians to ever walk the sidewalk of a big city in winter. 

There was a colleague who missed our Thursday afternoon meeting. I had to break the bad news. But Dave was so full of life, so large, that my colleague thought I was joking.

I wish it were so.

Dave Stewart will be missed by all who worked with him. And many others.

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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 Sept. 7, 2012

*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 in the West edged closer to the brink, as order files at mills eroded further. Futures remained at a significant discount to cash. In the East, mills accumulated floor stocks and reported difficulty selling at discounted price levels. Limited Southern Pine demand and volumes moving in from other regions forced weaker pricing in what had been the strongest of zones — the West. Narrow widths were once again the highlight of the market, while wides were discounted. Activity in the Coastal species lumber market remained lackluster. Prices were soft, dipping $5 in most instances for both green and dry items. Where floor stocks were greatest, mills discounted the most. Inland species lumber producers reported light sales. Shorter order files and on-the-ground offerings from producers caused some buyers to step back to see if the market was making a correction. ESLP board prices were firm or up slightly, buoyed by steady sales and order files into late September or early October. Idaho White Pine sales were steady and prices remained firm and unchanged. Eastern White Pine board producers reported two to three week order files. Sales were slower with the majority of orders made up of mixes. Light trading was reported for Ponderosa Pine boards, but producers held prices, despite the quiet tone. Some weakness was still prevalent in Ponderosa Pine Mldg&Btr prices, especially 6/4 stock. A few buyers were contacted by producers looking for offers. Order files for rough Radiata Pine 5/4 Mldg&Btr were well into October and early November. Shop grades were still unavailable. Reports of improved Western Red Cedar sales activity compared to the prior week were few, but producers noted a slightly better sales pace than what was experienced throughout most of August.

Panels: A quiet market greeted OSB traders upon their return from the long holiday weekend. Long mill order files had producers unconcerned about the quieter pace of the market. Sales activity in the Southern Pine plywood market was sluggish, eroding mill order files but influencing prices little. Producers sold into the week of Sept. 17, most of them unable to sell a week’s worth of production. Western Fir plywood buyers continued to hold out, in some cases waiting for mill order files to potentially erode further. Some volumes of CDX available for prompt shipment were sold by at least one producer at modest discounts. Modest sales of Canadian plywood were reported. A holiday on Monday and mill order files out two to four weeks were said to be part of the reason for the quieter pace. MDF sales maintained a fairly steady pace, and order files at mills remained flush. Particleboard volumes were a struggle for some producers to sell. 

For more on RISI, click here.

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Unemployment blues: A closer look at the data

BY Ken Clark

The nation’s unemployment rate fell from 8.3% to 8.1%, according to Labor Department data released Friday, but there are several reasons why nobody was celebrating a jobs comeback.

The key reason is that only 96,000 jobs were created in July, compared with an average of 139,000 per month since the beginning of the year. In 2011 the average monthly gain was 153,000.

Other considerations gave the data a disappointing hue. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics employment situation summary table showed 368,000 fewer people in the “Civilian labor force,” as many people stopped looking for jobs. This adjustment lowered the unemployment rate, even though the total number of employed people declined in August to 142,101,000, compared with 142,220,000 people with jobs in July.

The employment-population ratio in August was 58.3%, which was down from 58.4% in July and 58.6% in June. In fact, August’s employment-population ratio was the same as August 2011, when the official unemployment rate was all the way up at 9.1%.

More bad news from the August data released Sept. 7 is the downward revisions of June and July reports.  The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for June was revised from plus-64,000 to plus-45,000, and the change for July was revised from plus-163,000 to plus-141,000.

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