Editor’s note: Housing begins to make its move

May 19, 2013

The federal industrial complex that dominates our local economy may be bracing for leaner times, but I’m detecting glimmers of optimism among those not so dependent on government work.

The evidence, mostly anecdotal, can be found in the financial reports and transcripts of earnings calls with Wall Street analysts typically released this time of year.

Perhaps the happiest notes are coming from businesses tied to the long-depressed housing industry. Home builder NVR started the parade off last month with news that revenuewas up 28 percent for the quarter compared to 2012. Orders for new homes rose 11 percent.

Then, earlier this month, District-based mortgage finance giant Fannie Mae offered its own measure of the market’s growing financial strength, saying it would return $59.4 billion to the taxpayers who bailed it out. Fannie has received $117 billion since it was taken over by the government in 2008, and has now repaid $95 billion. Fannie’s sibling, Freddie Mac of McLean, reported a $4.6 billion profit of its own.

Trex, the Winchester company that sells decking material made from alternatives to wood, said it rang up higher sales amid a strengthening home remodeling market, giving it hope for the future.

“We are confident about our prospects for 2013,” Ronald W. Kaplan, the company’s chairman, president and chief executive, said in a statement.

Likewise, Comstock Holding Cos. sounded an upbeat note. Chairman and chief executive Christopher Clemente said in a statement that the Reston homebuilder spent the downturn preparing for just the sort of recovery the region now appears to be experiencing. Comstock, he said, bided its time “developing a strong land acquisitions team, building new relationships with land developers and project lenders, and where needed, committing management’s personal resources and guarantees on construction loans to facilitate Comstock’s access to favorable project financing. As a result, Comstock is positioned to take full advantage of the rebounding market.”

Individually, nuggets like these hardly signal happy days are here again. But there does seem to be a sense that the days of hard slogging may be giving way to a slightly more sprightly step, at least among those not tied to the federal budget, another reminder of the yin and yang that drives Washington’s fortunes.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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