Time to empty the notebook on Louisiana-Pacific's fourth-quarter conference call from Friday. CEO Curt Stevens and CFO Sally Bailey entertained a number of questions related to their plans to ramp up production, so let's start there.
LP's big plant in Clark County, Ala., is on track for a second-quarter restart, and Stevens said he's been "a little bit positively surprised" by how well the hiring has gone. Of the people the company has brought on, about 30 percent have worked in Clark County in the past and 70 percent have worked for LP there or somewhere else. In British Columbia, fourth-shift hiring efforts at the Peace Valley factory — which LP is in the process of acquiring in full — are going well, although Stevens said LP leaders are regularly "pinged" by oil sands companies for technical staff.
There's been a good bit of industry chatter of late about how prices for LP's oriented strand board products will trend in 2013, so it was no surprise that Stevens was asked Friday when pricing "will come back to earth." Stevens gave one of the better not-so-fast comments we've heard in a while, saying that the manufacturing capacity he and his peers are adding isn't all going to come online quickly or at once. Restarting new plants takes a good bit of time and with the housing construction market expected to keep strengthening, that should "keep operating ratios at a pretty high level," he added.
But, asked analyst Steve Chercover at D.A. Davidson, OSB prices above $300 per 1,000 square feet shouldn't be considered the new normal, right?
"I can’t tell you the new normal," Stevens responded. "We set prices every day with our customers."
Investors have digested LP's Q4 report and the call went well, it appears. As of 11:50 a.m., they had upped the stock (Ticker: LPX) 3.7 percent to $21.20. No doubt also helping were price target hikes from both UBS — to $15 from $13 — and RBC Capital Markets — from $23 to $25.
The mother-son team of residential real estate brokers Dianne Christian and Matt Daniel have broken away from the Franklin office of Keller Williams Realty to launch their own company. Daniel-Christian Real Estate has set up shop in downtown Franklin.
“The Middle Tennessee real estate market has weathered the recession well and is now poised for another growth opportunity,” Daniel said. “Dianne and I are very confident that our expertise gives us an edge. We can help clients achieve their dreams and goals in a thoughtful and strategic way.”
Analyst Stephen Atkinson at BMO Capital Markets says the rising single-family housing market bodes well for Louisiana-Pacific. His firm has hiked its housing starts forecasts for this year and next, and Atkinson himself has upgraded shares of downtown-based LP (Ticker: LPX) to 'outperform' from 'market perform.' His $24 price target, however, isn't changing yet, leaving 20 percent of upside from where the stock opened Friday morning.
Here's another positive data point from the Middle Tennessee housing market — and by extension the region's banks, some of which are still busily scrubbing the loan portfolios. Our foreclosure rate fell for the seventh straight month in November, and the three-month delinquency rate dipped to 4.54 percent, a full point below year-end 2011's level. Check here for past months' numbers.
D.A. Davidson analyst Steve Chercover has taken "the uncomfortable step" of cutting his rating on shares of Louisiana-Pacific to 'underperform' from 'neutral' despite raising his profit estimates and price target. Chercover says the extreme bullishness surrounding LP and other players in the housing market has gone a little too far. LP shares (Ticker: LPX) are off about 2 percent in morning trading.
Quick, what does Nashville have in common with both L.A. and Des Moines?
All three were among the cities added last month to the Improving Markets Index run by the National Association of Home Builders and First American Title Insurance. Two-thirds of the country's metro areas are now esteemed members of that club.
“The IMI has almost doubled in the past two months as stronger demand during prime home buying season boosted prices across a broader number of metropolitan areas,” noted NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “Similar home price gains, and hence the IMI, may be tempered in the future as we see data from typically slower months for home sales.”
Nashville’s ranks 35th of 50 major metro areas on Clear Capital’s just-released Home Data Index Market Report.
The report (read here) forecasts housing strength for 2013 and uses an array of public and proprietary data sources. It notes home prices nationwide in 2012 finished the year strongly, rebounding from the market lows of early 2012.
Clear Capital is based in California.
Analyst Stephen Atkinson at BMO Capital Markets on Wednesday added to the optimism surrounding shares of Louisiana-Pacific. Prediciting a 20 percent jump in 2013 sales, Atkinson hiked his price target for LP shares (Ticker: LPX) to $24 from $18, leaving about 15 percent of upside from their current levels. Like others have said recently, Atkinson expects prices for oriented strand board to drop this year and next, but they'll still be high enough to power some serious profit growth.
John Perry at Deutsche Bank also has hiked his price target for Healthcare Realty Trust, but the REIT's outlook is nowhere near as bright as for LP. Perry's $24 target — up from $20 — is $1 below where Healthcare Realty (Ticker: HR) closed Wednesday's session, and he rates the stock — along with most of the other REITs he covers — a 'hold.'