The return of a market

San Diego Two relatively optimistic housing market forecasts factored heavily in an active day of seminars and award presentations at the ProDealer Conference held here last week.

In the conference’s kickoff presentation, Joshua Rosenbaum, director of the UBS Global Industrial Group, explained that only a matter of time stood between the current housing problems and a return to normalcy. “It really is a question of when, not if,” he said.

Of the six key macroeconomic factors -- described as “pillars” -- of the housing industry, five remain solid: GDP growth, interest rates, unemployment, inflation and non-residential construction spending. Housing starts, the sixth pillar, lags dramatically from 2006.

The question of “when” the return would come was addressed in detail at a later presentation on commodity pricing given by Paul Jannke, senior vp-wood and timber information for RISI. He pointed to research that predicts housing starts will remain weak until late 2008. Pointing to underlying demand created by population growth and household formation, Jannke described the overbuilding of 2003, 2004 and 2005 as a key cause of the dramatic decline in housing starts in 2007. The good news, said Jannke, is that 2009 should see starts jump back to the 1.7 million to 1.8 million level, following a 2008 housing start figure in excess of 1.5 million.

“With the weaknesses forecast in 2007 and 2008, we will have completely made up for the overbuilding” of the previous four years, he said.

If housing starts fall further to the 1 million level, as some expect, the silver lining would be a faster correction and a faster return to housing starts more in line with the underlying demand, he added.

The 11th ProDealer Conference held here at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort wasn’t all about forecasting and finance. A “Custom Builder Panel” on Thursday morning focused on the needs of custom builders and their expectations from pro dealers.

The best way to build a relationship with the custom builder is to do the research and bring solutions to the table, said David Payne, vp-Payne & Payne Builders. Sometimes, the solutions for builders address problems that they didn’t know they had, he said. “The smartest thing for a dealer is to find the time to talk to us to identify our faults, then provide solutions.”

And the panel agreed that when the relationship between the dealer and the builder loses the qualities of a partnership, the relationship is in jeopardy.

In addition, Basketball star Bill Walton, who rose to fame playing for the Boston Celtics and the Portland Trail Blazers, gave some advice on what to do “when the ball bounces the wrong way” during his Sept. 19 talk. He also reminisced about his days at Dixieline Lumber in San Diego, where the 15-year-old freckled redhead unloaded lumber as a part-time job.

Also at the conference, the annual ProDealer of the Year Awards Dinner recognized two companies that represent innovation and success in the LBM market -- Kent, Ohio-based Carter Lumber and Fairfax, Calif-based Fairfax  Lumber & Hardware, the respective recipients of the ProDealer of the Year and Independent ProDealer of the Year awards.

The 11th Annual ProDealer Conference, sponsored by Home Channel News, kicked off with a City of Hope golf tournament. The first place team, winning with a score of 142, was Bruce Brushwood of Moulding & Millwork, Mark Donovan of Forest City Trading Group, Laura Dwyer of Dupont and Mike Fletcher of Moulding & Millwork.

The ProDealer Conference ran through Sept. 21.