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Reading between the data, optimism at home summit

Chicago — Mixed macroeconomic signals lurked behind many of the charts displayed at the Home Improvement Research Institute’s (HIRI’s) Industry Summit last month. But presenter J. Walker Smith stressed that the fault lies in ourselves, not the economy. He pointed to several companies outside the home improvement industry that have shown amazing growth — Apple, Hyundai and Zappos, for instance. “These companies have shown unprecedented success during the third-worst downturn in U.S. economic history,” said Smith, executive chairman of The Futures Co. He described innovation as the best antidote for sustained down markets.

Relative optimism for the home improvement market continued from an unlikely source: Zelman & Associates, a firm made famous by bearish and accurate outlooks on home builders before the downturn.

“Just like we were early on in the bust, the data supported the bust,” said Dennis McGill, director of research for Zelman & Associates. “And we feel the data today supports something more optimistic.”

“At some point, we have to get up to 1.3 million [starts],” McGill said.

The two-day event coincided with the release of the Commerce Department’s residential construction report, which showed a 15% increase in starts, countered by a 5% decline in permits, he said. “The housing starts numbers were good,” said presenter Joshua Rosenbaum, director of the Global Industrial Group at UBS. “Whether it’s real — we’ll find out next month.”

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