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U.S. Imposes 20% Duty on Canadian Softwood Lumber

April 28, 2017

The U.S. Department of Commerce is adding a countervailing duty (CVD) on softwood lumber imported from Canada just as Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has called this “a bad week for U.S.-Canada trade relations.”

The duty will not only impact the trade relations between the two countries, but it will have an effect on U.S. jobs, wages, home builders and home buyers. If the preliminary rate stays in effect the rest of the year, the U.S. will lose more than 8,200 full-time jobs and roughly $500 million in wages and salaries, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). More than two-thirds of the lost jobs will be in the construction industry. The average price for a single-family home will jump by more than $1,200.

Commerce announced earlier this week that a CVD will be added to Canadian softwood lumber after an investigation into pricing. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection will collect cash deposits, which also include some retroactive cash deposits. The new CVD will range from about 3% to more than 24%. The preliminary subsidy rate for all but the five specifically named companies will be just under 20%. Commerce estimated softwood lumber imports from Canada were valued at $5.66 billion in 2016. Last year, a third of the lumber used in the U.S. was from abroad. Of that, more than 95% came from Canada.

The CVD “will negatively harm American consumers and housing affordability,” said Granger MacDonald, NAHB chairman, in a news release. “Tariffs needlessly increase the volatility of the lumber markets, resulting in higher prices for U.S. home buyers and other consumers and businesses who use lumber,” MacDonald said.

Canada hopes to strike a fair deal with the U.S. and work with U.S. home builders and retailers, said British Columbia Premier Christy Clark in a release. The province saw nearly 60% of its softwood lumber go to the U.S. in 2015, according to Clark’s report.

“American demand for lumber exceeds what the U.S. lumber industry currently produces. … The fact is, Canadian lumber imports don’t pose a threat to the U.S. lumber industry. There is enough North American demand to grow the U.S. industry while also allowing Canada to supply its U.S. customers as we have been doing for decades,” said Susan Yurkovich, B.C. Lumber Trade Council president, in a release.

The effect of the duty reaches far and wide, but in the short term, the Canadian dollar dropped to a four-month low following the Commerce announcement. The duties will bring in roughly $1 billion a year. The final CVD determination will be announced in September. NAHB believes the two countries should work together on a solution, increase domestic lumber production and reduce U.S. lumber exports to settle the trade relationship issue.

– Michael Miller, editorial associate

Pending Home Sales Slide in March on Low Supply, Higher Costs

April 27, 2016

An index of pending home sales as tracked by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) dipped 0.8% in March as a lack of supply impinged on activity. The Pending Home Sales Index in March was at 111.4, but it’s still relatively high and remained 0.8% over the reading from a year ago.

"Home shoppers are coming out in droves this spring and competing with each other for the meager amount of listings in the affordable price range," Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said. "In most areas, the lower the price of a home for sale, the more competition there is for it. That's the reason why first-time buyers have yet to make up a larger share of the market this year, despite there being more sales overall."

The lack of supply could continue to drive up already high prices over the next months, Yun predicted.  In March, prices rose 6.8% and 42% of homes sold above the list price—the second highest amount NAR has seen since 2012. Yun expects existing-home sales to increase by 3.5% this year to 5.64 million, while the national median existing-home price should grow by 5%.

By region, the Pending Home Sales Index decreased modestly in the Northeast, Midwest and West, but grew in the South by 1.2% on the month, though it remains 2.4% lower than it was a year prior, the NAR said.

– Nicholas Stern, senior editor

Construction Starts Increase for Third Straight Month

April 26, 2017

Construction starts are on the rise due to growth in nonbuilding construction and residential building. Nonresidential building was relatively unchanged in the latest release from Dodge Data & Analytics. March was the third consecutive month of increased starts.

Construction starts jumped 5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of nearly $744 billion. Helping the growth were a pair of pipeline projects valued at a combined $6.7 billion. “The pattern for construction starts in early 2017, with three straight monthly gains, is the reverse of the three straight monthly declines that closed out 2016,” said Robert A. Murray, chief economist for Dodge Data & Analytics, in the release.

Nonbuilding construction shot up 16% after a 35% climb in February. A new Washington, D.C., soccer stadium valued at $300 million joined the pipelines to help lift miscellaneous public works projects. These types of projects include outdoor sports stadiums and mass transit.

Multifamily housing contributed to the 4% hike in residential building.  There were six multifamily projects with a value of at least $100 million that broke ground in March. Meanwhile, single-family housing declined 3% in March.

Large airport projects were the backbone for the 3% increase in institutional nonresidential building. Some of the projects included a $1.9 billion Delta terminal relocation in Los Angeles and a $110 million terminal update in South Florida. Airport terminal starts were valued at $9 billion the first quarter of this year compared to $3.7 billion for all of 2016.

On a year-over-year basis for the first three months of the year, construction starts were down 3% from first quarter 2016 to the first quarter of this year. A major factor for this was the 17% decrease in nonbuilding construction. If manufacturing buildings and electric utilities/gas plants are excluded, construction starts would be up 8% over the same time period. “The improved activity in this year’s first quarter provides evidence that the construction expansion is still proceeding,” said Murray.

– Michael Miller, editorial associate

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