Stop Sliding?

   Anyone checking the Latest News section of Stone Business Online last week came across something that’s definitely not about stone … but the subject might tell us a lot about the rest of 2009.

   “Remodeling Forecast: Still Gloomy” noted the opinion of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University on U.S. home-renovation trends. While it’s pretty easy to deride a bunch of Ivy League folks in relation to the construction trade, the research here may tell us more that other studies.

    Harvard’s Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA) includes general economic measurements, but it also tracks sales of basic construction materials, such as framing wood and plumbing fixtures. It also keeps a close eye on major appliance sales, and also factors in consumer borrowing.
    Notice that the Harvard brains trust doesn’t include stone in all the calculations. Admittedly, we’re pretty small potatoes in the larger economic picture of home makeovers, and it’d be tough to find any index that included granite and travertine.
    For the most part, though, the Harvard crowd has this down to basic nail-and-stud numbers. And, the 12-percent decline for this year doesn’t sound like the construction trade will get in tune during 2009.
    Take a longer-term look at those LIRA numbers, and you can see that, while we’re not seeing brilliant silver linings from the current economic storm clouds, the rain is stopping. The numbers for 2009 are nowhere near the disastrous slide in renovation activity for 2008 or, in some parts, 2007.
   In other words, we’re reaching the trough of the cycle, with business (and competitors) thinned out. That’s not to say that things can’t get worse; however, for the most part, we’re now rummaging around in an overall climate that’s as bad as it’ll get.
   Nobody knows when things will really look up, but we don’t need to keeping looking down to find the bottom. We’re there. And it’s time to quit worrying about tomorrow, and finally start planning for it.

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