Norbord Inc’s president and ceo Barrie Shineton expects a challenging 12-18 months, but is seeing signs that the economics of the wood based panels business are starting to stabilise and planning for a business recovery in 2011.

In a recent letter to shareholders that accompanied the Toronto-based company’s Q1 results, Mr Shineton said manufacturing input costs peaked at the end of the Q4 and had since declined sharply.

North American OSB prices were holding above last year’s levels, and in Europe sterling’s weakness was favouring Norbord’s UK based mills by limiting panel imports.

Experts are now forecasting US housing starts at around 500,000 in 2009, said Mr Shineton, making the current downturn the worst since World War II. He said these very low levels were unsustainable, and that housing demand would climb back above the 50-year annual average of 1.5 million when the economy recovered.