Home Depot down, West Nile up

The housing slump busts the home improvement chain's earnings, but provides fertile breeding ground for mosquitos

Published May 15, 2007 3:42PM (EDT)

Frank Blake, chairman and CEO of Home Depot, did not sugarcoat the news Tuesday morning, during the company's first quarter earnings call. The first words out of his month:

"This was a difficult first quarter for us."

A few seconds later:

"This was worse than we anticipated."

The Home Depot "departments" taking the biggest hits were lumber, building materials, floor work, and kitchen and bath. The reasons? The "soft" housing and home improvement market, and "the coldest April in more than a decade."

Could we have a moratorium on blaming the weather excuses? Weather was not responsible for the fact that, as executive vice president Craig Menear noted, "lumber prices are at their lowest point in five years." Weather is not responsible for the ongoing decline in the percentage of gross domestic product accounted for by "private residential investment" -- from a high of 6.3 percent at the end of 2005 to about 5 percent now.

Weather of a metaphorical kind, might be a problem going forward, however.

"We continue to see head winds in our market," said Menear, "and are not planning on any near term market improvement."

But what's bad news for Home Depot is good news for... mosquitos.

The Housing Bubble Blog alerts us to an alarming story from the Sacramento Bee. There are 9672 homes for sale in California's mosquito-plagued Sacramento and Yolo counties. Around 1400 have swimming pools. Many of them are not being properly maintained while they sit on the market, and mosquitos are beginning to breed in their algae-infested waters like, well, flies. This is raising fears of a particularly virulent West Nile season.

As the region's housing slump creates more vacant houses and a growing excess of homes in transition between buyers and sellers, Culex mosquitoes that can spread the West Nile virus to birds, other animals and humans are thriving in uncared-for swimming pools, garden ponds and yards flooded by broken sprinklers, said David Brown, manager of the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District.

"A 5-gallon bucket can literally produce a thousand mosquitoes a week," Brown said. "Multiply that by the surface of a pool and you see how many mosquitoes can affect an entire neighborhood. These mosquitoes can fly one to five miles."

Is Home Depot listening? Looking for new markets? Give some more shelf space to mosquito nets!

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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