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UBS director points to jobs as key metric

Chicago -- The difficult task of looking into the future from the vantage point of a Wall Street investor -- and sharing that view with home improvement researchers -- fell upon Joshua Rosenbaum, of UBS.

And the key to the future, he said, is jobs.

Rosenbaum, managing director of the global industrial group of UBS Investment Bank, was one of seven presenters during the 2013 Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI) Fall Conference held here. The author of "Investment Banking," and the speaker at previous HIRI events said IPO activity is one of the big stories affecting home improvement this year -- among them: Boise Cascade, Ply Gem, HD Supply and Stock Building Supply.

These IPOs are a positive sign for the market. Another good one is shareholder activism. "Shareholder activism is coming back in a big way," Rosenbaum said. "In a bull market, and this is a legitimate bull market, there is a lot more courage to go in and get 5% of a company and agitate for change."

There is no shortage of signs, some of them conflicting, that shed light on the housing industry. But the most important indicator to the health of home and housing, he said, is jobs.

"The Labor market is the key to everything," Rosenbaum said. "As the labor market goes, so goes the housing market."

Historical note: Since the 1950s, annual housing starts have averaged about 1.5 million. So, with annualized housing hovering around a 900,000 pace, Rosenbaum says Wall Street clearly sees a runway for growth, and it also understands that it could be slow growth.

Another big question is cultural: Is it becoming more popular to rent a house, as opposed to buying a house?

Rosenbaum pointed to a chart that showed a 65% home ownership rate, down from a high of 69% in 2004. 

"If we stay where we are today, it's not a bad thing," he said. "But could it go down to 60%?" Time will tell what is the "right level of homeownership for the U.S," he added.

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