Let’s get this started

Why is it taking so long for the Commerce Department to estimate housing starts?

Here we are in December, and the latest available stats date all the way back to August, when the Bureau’s estimate for total housing starts came in at a disappointing seasonally adjusted annual rate of 883,000.

The timing for the delay is particularly unfriendly. The industry is riding a recovery (see cover story). We were keeping our fingers crossed to break the million-start pace in September or October, thus boosting the morale of the industry and the market and causing a virtuous cycle of investing.

Instead, we have uncertainty wrapped by a riddle.

If the starts for September, October and November are released on Dec. 18 as planned, that adds up to a two-month delay. September starts were originally expected back on Oct. 17.

The Census Bureau blamed the two-month delay on the 16-day partial government shutdown. “The lapse in federal funding affected the data collection schedule for the Survey of Construction, the source of data on new housing units started and completed,” the Bureau said in a press release that pushed back the release date.

I know the government has bigger fish to fry with this little initiative known as the Affordable Care Act, but come on, man. A two-month delay for a 16-day shutdown seems excessive. It’s not like you don’t readjust your figures every month anyway.

The Bureau was able, however, to issue some of its residential construction data for September and October, and the results were pleasant. Both months showed gains in building permits and a 1-million-plus permits pace for October.

Still, for the second issue in a row, the HCN Industry Dashboard (see page 38) does not include housing starts figures. We swapped in building permits as a temporary fix and look forward to a return to normalcy in January.

A word on the Industry Dashboard.

When the editors of HCN back in 2011 decided to create the Industry Dashboard of leading statistics, we had a vision. Someday, somewhere, somebody would use our Dashboard in a PowerPoint presentation to industry decision-makers.

In our vision, the presentation would capture the vital statistics of this wide-ranging industry on a single slide and present HCN as a thought leader.

This dream quickly became reality in 2011, when the Dashboard was presented during a gathering of lumberyard executives at the ProDealer Industry Summit in San Antonio. However, it was my presentation, so that didn’t really count.

Cut to the 2013 Distribution America/PRO Group executive planning conference. In a meeting with Hardware Distribution Warehouses Inc. (HDW) of Shreveport, La., CEO Kenny Beauvais made the following unassisted comment: “I used your Industry Dashboard in a recent presentation.”

Mission accomplished.