Wall Street Week Ahead: Lower rates could boost housing stocks, but
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[August 17, 2019]
By Evan Sully
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lower U.S. interest rates could help support
outperforming U.S. homebuilder stocks, even as they raise worries about
the economy, while a bonanza of industry data and Federal Reserve
speakers next week are likely to help shape the outlook.
After underperforming in 2018, the PHLX Housing Index <.HGX> is up about
30% for the year so far, roughly double the year-to-date gain of the
benchmark S&P 500 index <.SPX>.
Mortgage rates have been declining with U.S. Treasury debt yields, and
the outlook for interest rates suggests further easing after the Federal
Reserve lowered rates last month and indicated it could cut again this
year, depending on data.
This week, U.S. 30-year Treasury yields fell to a record low below 2%,
while benchmark 10-year yields declined to a three-year trough as trade
tensions linger and global economic growth continues to slow.
The 30-year fixed mortgage rate has dropped to 3.60% from a peak of
4.94% in November, according to mortgage finance agency Freddie Mac.
Mortgage rates are often tied to the benchmark 10-year Treasury yield.
Strategists said that could bode well for homebuilders and the housing
market, which has been struggling because of land and labor shortages.
A report on Friday showed U.S. homebuilding fell for a third straight
month in July amid a steep decline in the construction of multifamily
housing units, even as the data provided a positive sign for housing: a
jump in permits to a seven-month high.
Next week, the U.S. Commerce Department will release data on July new
Housing and homebuilding stocks should continue to do well as long as
rates remain low, but the potential for slower demand is a risk, said
Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities
in Los Angeles.
"Lower interest rates lead to lower mortgage rates (which) lead to
increased demand for homebuilders," he said. "You counter that with
potential concerns that, if a recession is coming, even if rates are at
historically low levels, demand for everything is going to be somewhat
Eric Marshall, portfolio manager at Hodges Capital Management in Dallas,
has seen relatively good traction in housing even with the turbulent
markets. Lower rates are a plus, he said, along with an unemployment
rate at its lowest level in years.
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Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in
New York, U.S., August 13, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
"Consumer savings have come up, household formation continues to
grow faster than the supply of housing," Marshall said. "And I think
all of those things coming together make for a more stable
environment for the publicly traded housing stocks."
Recent results from some top homebuilders were mostly stronger than
analysts expected, but some forecasts disappointed investors,
underlining persisting problems in the housing market.
Last month, PulteGroup Inc <PHM.N> forecast full-year home sales and
gross margins below analyst expectations and cited rising land
costs, while in June Lennar Corp <LEN.N> forecast current-quarter
earnings below Wall Street estimates and noted uncertainty triggered
by the U.S.-China trade war.
Multiples for some of the homebuilder stocks have jumped this year,
but many remain below long-term averages. The S&P 500 homebuilding
index <.SPLRCHOME>, which includes PulteGroup, D.R. Horton <DHI.N>
and Lennar, is trading at about 9.5 times forward earnings, up from
about 7 at the start of the year but well below a long-term average
of 14.6, based on Refinitiv's data.
Wedbush analysts in a research note on Thursday said that builders
have been reducing square footages as mortgage rates have declined,
which has addressed affordability issues. The firm has a bullish
bias on homebuilder shares, with an "outperform" rating on William
Lyon Homes <WLH.N>, Beazer Homes USA <BZH.N>, Lennar and others.
Investors will pay close attention to comments from Fed Chairman
Jerome Powell, who is set to give a speech on rates and policy at
the annual Jackson Hole, Wyoming, policy symposium.
"The fact that the Fed has moved to a more dovish position suggests
that those rates should remain relatively low compared to what ...
we saw in late 2018," said Robert Dietz, chief economist for the
National Association of Home Builders.
(Reporting by Evan Sully; additional reporting by Caroline
Valetkevitch; editing by Alden Bentley and Jonathan Oatis)
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