The U.S. housing market this year will be better than 2012's — which in turn was much better than the year before that — but the path to higher profits won't be perfectly straight or smooth, the CEO of Louisiana-Pacific told analysts and investors Friday.
"The market dynamics are very good but there could be some bumps along the road," Curt Stevens said during a conference call with analysts and investors. "One million housing starts in 2013 is certainly possible […] but the prudent course of action is to prepare for a slightly lower number."
The Census Bureau last month said builders started work on about 780,000 homes in 2012, so getting to 1 million starts this year would mean growth of 28 percent. But Stevens said his team is planning for a market that will post numbers of 850,000 to 900,000 starts. Among the potential issues to going higher than that, he said, are the struggles of builders, suppliers and homebuyers in getting credit to buy and develop land as well as actually purchase finished homes. In addition, he said, a number of builders and suppliers are complaining about the supply of labor and building materials and many municipalities are still having trouble balancing wider austerity measures with investments in infrastructure.
If one of Stevens' goals was to keep investor exuberance to a minimum, he appears to have succeeded for now. During the call, shares of LP (Ticker: LPX) gave up ground after briefly rising. As of 1:15 p.m., they were changing hands just below $20, down 2.4 percent on the day and down about 0.5 percent from where it was at the start of the call. But the stock is still up more than 25 percent over the past three months.
Stevens' 2013 outlook came after LP reported a fourth-quarter profit of $46.1 million, reversing a year-ago loss of about $57 million. Per diluted share, earnings were 18 cents, 3 cents below analysts' estimates. Revenues rose almsot 50 percent year over year to $459 million.