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    Credit: PHOTO BY DENISE BAKER

The pool industry’s economic forecast appears to be looking up — or at least leveling off — according to data discussed at PoolCorp’s annual International Sales Conference.

At the conference, which took place Oct. 3-5, PoolCorp CEO Manuel Perez de la Mesa and Vice President/CFO Mark Joslin reviewed the latest data on the pool market.

The leaders are cautiously optimistic, noting that many regions of the country are beginning to rebound.

“Having hit bottom in 2009 and 2010, we’ve seen new construction, as well as remodeling and refurbishment, grow a little in 2011,” Joslin said. “Those are positive signs.”

Perhaps the most clear-cut indicator of industry growth is an increase in new-pool construction, which rose slightly nationwide in 2011, following a mostly level 2010. Though 2011 starts are predicted to remain below 50,000, the overall trend forms an undeniable uptick, and PoolCorp executives expect new construction to rise by a healthy 12.3 percent in 2012. Much of that spending is expected to be focused on the commercial market.

“There’s definitely more new-pool construction going on in our area than there was a year ago,” said Tommy Canaday, general manager of PoolCorp’s Central Division in Baton Rouge, La. “We’re seeing an increase in sales of building materials.”

However, market conditions in the Southwest are more mixed, with Nevada continuing to decline while Arizona appears to have leveled out with pool construction in Phoenix metro up by 2 percent, and the state down by 2 percent, according to permit data.

Also, at PoolCorp’s Credit Suisse Small Midcap Conference in September, Joslin pointed out that even through the recession, more pools have been added to the overall market than have been taken out of service, according to P.K. Data Inc. 2011 saw a continuation of this trend, with approximately 5.3 million inground pools and 4.5 million aboveground pools now in operation.

PoolCorp officers also noted that renovation has shown small but distinct growth in 2011. This means that, along with an increase in purchases of building supplies, there is an accompanying rise in spending on replacement parts and equipment.

“Homeowners are finally willing to buy the right parts to properly fix and replace their equipment instead of just trying to keep it working for an extra six months,” said Tom Burba, general manager of PoolCorp’s Mountain Division in Gilbert, Ariz.

Meanwhile, despite a slight drop in housing starts in 2011, Perez de la Mesa’s presentation forecasted an upward curve in housing over the next several years, with a “return to normal levels” at approximately 1 million projected for 2014.

“If you look out over the next five to seven years, there’s a lot to be optimistic about,” Joslin said.

PoolCorp is the world’s largest distributor of pool and spa products. Based in Covington, La., the firm trades under the stock symbol POOL.