Here’s a chart that’s a useful cross check on US housing optimism

Here’s a read on the housing market that you don’t see everyday. Check out the recent surge in weekly carloads of lumber on major US railroads, through early February.

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Not only are railroads shipping it, people are buying it. Home improvement retailers Lowe’s and Home Depot both spotlighted rising sales of lumber in recent earnings reports. (That can actually hurt the bottom line for the stores, as lumber is a relatively low-margin product.) Even so, Home Depot executives see sales of lumber as an clear positive that plays into a broader story of housing, consumer confidence and better retail sales. “Lumber usually is the first thing that someone buys in order to start their project. So we really get excited when we have our units of lumber going up,” Home Depot’s Diane Dayhoff, vice president of investor relations, told an investors’ conference yesterday (March 4).

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