March 2009: For The Record


March 2009

For The Record

Information about the Masonry Industry

Looking for Signs

I was going to use this page to talk about the World of Concrete/World of Masonry shows, as well as the MCAA Convention, which took place in Las Vegas last month. But with our extensive coverage of the convention (p. 38) and the show (p. 44), and our insightful President’s Message (p. 10) from MCAA President Tom Daniel, suffice it to say I boarded the airplane to head back to Atlanta feeling a lot better about industry attitudes toward our tough economy than I felt during the flight out.

Everyone knows the economy is a mess. But most of the people I met with seem a little tired of the negative rehashing of the market, and a little more willing to look for a brighter side. This gloomy period will correct eventually. Until then, we have to move forward and try to be positive.

On that note, I’d like to share with you six top indicators that the market is improving from*

1) Home Sales
Any perking up in the housing market would be a signal that we’re on the mend. The National Association of Home Builders House Market Index is at an all-time low of 8 on a scale of 100, where 50 to 60 is normal. If the index gets back to 20 this year, it will comfort some experts.

2) Jobs
Private sector average weekly hours worked stuck at a record low 33.3 hours in January. Look for this number to stabilize over a period of two or three months, and then begin to inch upward for an early indicator that the economy is recovering. The key is a change in direction. You can track these hours at

3) Jobs (again)
A second job-related indicator that economists are watching is monthly temporary employment. The monthly change in temporary employment has been negative for more than 25 months. When it swings positive, you can be sure better times will follow. Track this at

4) Car Sales
A car is one of the first big-ticket items that consumers buy when they start to feel good again. When new vehicle sales stabilize – at any level – and then start to tick higher, it will provide a solid read on the mood of consumers.

5) Retail Sales
Retail sales fell in January. When that reverses, it will be a positive sign. But more important will be any shift away from discounters, like Wal-Mart and Dollar General, toward higher end stores, like Nordstrom or Saks. You can track retail sales at

6) Interest Rate Spreads
Although the credit freeze may be thawing, borrowing rates remain way out of whack. For example, consider the difference between the 10-year Treasury bond, currently yielding around 3 percent, and a typical 10-year corporate bond, now yielding around 7 percent. That spread of 4 percentage points has narrowed from 6 percentage points in recent weeks but still is double what is typical.

Historically, wide credit spreads between securities that tend to track closely suggests that borrowers – other than the U.S. government, anyway – are having great difficulty getting funds. When credit spreads across the spectrum narrow, it will signal that money is flowing again, a critical development.

*Tips were edited for space.

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