U.S. residential construction continues to languish in the wake of the sub-prime mortgage debacle, and it will be at least another year before activity starts to show consistent improvement. Not surprisingly, the drop in residential construction resulted in a sharp decline in output of vinyl siding, windows, and doors. But through the first half of 2008, our indicators for both vinyl siding and window/door profiles suggest that the market will hit bottom very soon and will then start to recover a few months ahead of overall construction spending.
Our latest forecast for the vinyl window and door sector shows a flat year in production compared with 2007 and a gain of 10% in 2009. This follows declines of 15% in 2007 and 5% in 2006. The forecast for vinyl siding output follows a similar pattern. Decreases of 10% and 12% in 2006 and 2007, respectively, will be followed by a no-growth year in 2008 and then a 10% expansion in 2009.
For the year to date, our Siding Business Index is running 4% to 5% below 2007 levels. This index is designed to be an indicator of North American production levels for vinyl siding. The attached chart shows that the 12-month moving total for PVC siding output is down about 30% from the most recent peak in 2004, but the downward momentum is clearly subsiding. We expect the trajectory of this curve to turn upward moderately sometime in the second half of 2008, and the upward slope will get steeper throughout 2009.
Our Window and Door Business Index is also down about 4% to 5% so far in 2008 when compared with the same period last year. Output of these products enjoyed outstanding growth in 2004 and 2005, but production has decreased about 35% since then. The good news is that here, too, the downward momentum has stopped, and the chart is now poised to turn upward in the next quarter or two, and we predict accelerating growth for next year and beyond.
The cyclical rebound in these indices will likely occur before most of the news in the construction sector starts to improve. So manufacturers of these products will want to be alert to as many market indicators as possible, and not just those that are the most widely reported. Most of the reports from the general media on the state of the residential construction and real estate industries has focused on the plummeting data for new housing starts (down almost 30% so far this year), and the downward spiral in real estate values (down 15% to 20% nationwide and much more in certain locations).
These are important indicators for producers of PVC construction materials, but they overstate the decline in the overall market for these products. Broader indicators such as spending for home renovations and retail sales at home-improvement stores are down a more moderate 4% to 5% through the first half of 2008, which is very similar to the declines in our siding and window/door indices.
So despite all the dire headlines about residential construction, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of homeowners are not currently in the market for a house. And while the paper value of their homes may have declined in recent months, they are still spending money to repair and upgrade their properties. They are motivated more than ever by the spike in the cost of heating fuels.
Citing increased costs of energy, freight, and raw materials, major producers of titanium dioxide pigment announced price hikes for June or July. Both DuPont Titanium Technologies, Wilmington, Del., and Tronox Inc., Oklahoma City, Okla., lifted tabs 5¢/lb on June 15. DuPont noted that this was in addition to two 6¢ hikes in late 2007 and early 2008, which were still being implemented in early June.
Kronos Worldwide, Inc., Cranbury, N.J., also raised its TiO2 prices 5¢/lb on June 15, but had also added a 3¢ energy surcharge on June 9.
Meanwhile, Huntsman Pigments/Tioxide, The Woodlands, Texas, and Millennium Organic Chemicals/Cristal Global, Hunt Valley, Md., slated 5¢ hikes for July 1.
Bill Wood, an independent economist specializing in the plastics industry, heads up Mountaintop Economics & Research, Inc. in Greenfield, Mass. He can be contacted by e-mail at BillWood@PlasticsEconomics.com. His monthly Injection Molding and Extrusion Business Indexes are available at www.ptonline.com.