Hubbell Lighting to buy USI's domestic lighting group

In its largest acquisition ever, Hubbell Inc., Orange, Conn., announced its plan to acquire U.S. Industries Inc.'s (USI) domestic lighting division, LCA Group Inc., which includes well-known lighting brands such as Progress, Architectural Area Lighting, Columbia, Dual-Lite, Kim, Moldcast, Prescolite and Spaulding. The acquisition would give Hubbell Lighting a commanding presence in the residential lighting market and fill out its commercial and industrial lighting offerings. Progress Lighting is one of the biggest names in the residential market, and several of the other brands would add to Hubbell Lighting's specification business, particularly in the fluorescent, track, downlighting, and outdoor lighting markets. Other lines that would be acquired include emergency lighting, commercial outdoor fixtures and light-commercial decorative lighting fixtures. The sale does not include USI's European lighting company, SiTeco.

According to Hubbell, LCA Group had 2001 sales of more than $575 million. Hubbell expects the transaction to close in the second quarter.

Buckles-Smith to expand into San Francisco Bay Peninsula

Expanding its San Francisco Bay area presence, northern California industrial distributor Buckles-Smith Electric Co., San Jose, Calif., has signed an agreement to acquire Electrical Materials Inc., Palo Alto, Calif.

Buckles-Smith, with four locations in northern California, does approximately $40 million to $45 million in sales per year. Buckles-Smith is listed among the top 150 on Electrical Wholesaling magazine's “250 Biggest” listing.

Electrical Materials, a one-house distributor, shares with Buckles-Smith an emphasis on the industrial MRO and OEM market.

Art Cook, president of Buckles-Smith, said that the primary reason for the acquisition was to give his company a physical foothold in the San Francisco Bay peninsula. Cook said that although Buckles-Smith has had customers in the peninsula, this acquisition will help the company capture more of that market, as well as better serve its customers in that area.

Craig Kelsey, current president and chief executive officer of Electrical Materials, will join the senior management team at Buckles-Smith.

Cook said Electrical Materials would not immediately change its name.

T&B to discontinue several product lines

Thomas & Betts Corp., Memphis, Tenn., said it will discontinue the manufacture and sales of several product lines, including metering equipment, safety switches, meter packs and residential load centers.

The move, which includes product lines that came with its acquisition of Anchor Electric and the 1994 purchase of portions of the Challenger/Westinghouse circuit-protection line, is part of the company's strategy to focus on its core industrial and commercial business. While T&B will no longer manufacture residential load centers, the company will continue to manufacture and sell residential circuit breakers, including classified breakers, T&B residential breakers, molded-case circuit breakers and Zinsco circuit breakers, said Nick Cassella, vice president, global marketing for T&B's electrical division.

T&B originally bought the Anchor metering equipment line and the other products affected by this announcement to build its residential platform. But Cassella said the company is discontinuing these businesses because it was not getting the volume of business it needed from load centers, and because the Anchor business — while a good business — was not a focus for T&B's salespeople.

Rexel to leave IMARK

Rexel Inc., the largest single member of IMARK Group Inc., announced plans to leave the buying group effective July 1. Rexel will continue as a member through June 30, which marks the end of IMARK's fiscal year.

In a joint press release issued by Rexel and IMARK on March 8, Rexel said its senior management team reached the decision at its division presidents' meeting on March 6.

Rexel was not available at press time to comment on why it's leaving IMARK, but the company's decision to pull out of IMARK ends uncertainty over whether Rexel would continue its affiliation with IMARK through Westburne and other companies it acquired in the past two years.

Rexel's association with IMARK began in 2000 with its acquisitions of the Branch Group, Upper Marlboro, Md., and Westburne Inc., St. Laurent, Que. The Branch Group and many of the other independent distributors acquired by Westburne and Rexel have had a long association with IMARK and its predecessor groups.

Steven Cunningham, IMARK's chief executive officer, doesn't expect Rexel's leaving IMARK to have any effect on the buying group's remaining 195 members. One of the biggest losses from losing the distributor, he said, comes from the contributions that individuals associated with Rexel and their companies have made to the buying/marketing group over the years.

Housing starts rise 2.8%

Overall housing starts rose 2.8 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.77 million units, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. The gain was due entirely to the single-family sector, where starts rose 7.4 percent to a rate of 1.46 million units — their fastest pace since December 1978.

Multi-family starts, typically more volatile, retreated 14.3 percent to an annual rate of 312,000 units, partially offsetting a substantial gain registered in January. Starts rose in three out of four regions in February. The West's gain of 14 percent was the largest, while the Midwest and South posted more moderate gains of 0.8 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively. The Northeast was the exception to the rule, with a 9.3 percent decline that followed a sizeable increase in January.

“These exceptionally strong numbers, combined with upwardly revised figures for January and December, are ample evidence that housing, specifically residential fixed investment, is helping pull the economy out of recession,” said Gary Garczynski, president of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a builder/developer from Woodbridge, Va.

Building permits, which can be an indicator of future building activity, also rose in February. The volume of permits increased nearly 2 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.75 million units. Single-family permits rose 2.7 percent to a rate of 1.37 million units, while multi-family permits declined 1.3 percent to a rate of 381,000 units. Both were up from their fourth-quarter 2001 averages. Regionally, permits rose in all but the Midwest in February.