“At this point, it has become hard to overlook housing’s dismally slow pace of recovery.
Sure, home prices are back to historic highs and housing-market activity continues to pick up, but many important aspects of the housing market are depressed. The housing recovery hasn’t lived up to expectations so far; this is something about which housing bulls and bears can probably agree. Indeed, 10 years after the last peak, single-family starts (which matter most for public builders) are at traditional trough levels, and total starts aren’t much better.
It’s hard to dispute what’s going on in single-family housing starts. Particularly alarming to us is when we hear that ‘housing has lagged’ the economy, or that housing demand is ‘slow and steady’. Call us cynical, but last we checked, housing doesn’t lag anything — it’s a leading indicator; and just because housing is slow doesn’t make it more steady or less cyclical, it’s just slow.
Two Housing Realities
There are two realities that we think investors still need to come to grips with. First, pent-up demand can stay pent up for a long time, and second, housing probably isn’t early-cycle anymore.
Pent-up demand is the idea that there are buyers in the pipeline, waiting to pull the trigger, but when can you expect them to pull the trigger?
The Housing-Market Bulls Could Have the Story Wrong
To be clear, we believe pent-up demand in housing is real, but we also believe this deficit may persist for many more years. Meager wage growth, crushing levels of student debt, glacial expansion of credit, negligible support for a housing stimulus in Washington, Millennials’ cynicism towards home ownership, a looming Texas slowdown, and a shortage of construction labor have all been impeding a satisfying snap- back in housing demand thus far.
No Quick Fix
To our eyes, these challenges defy a quick fix, and are likely to keep the growth rate of housing demand constrained for the foreseeable future. Second, the presumption that the housing recovery is still in the early stages is worrying to Kim. He says that a common question is “What are your mid-cycle [i.e., 2017] earnings estimates?” To Kim, we may already be in mid-cycle.
It seems reasonable to think that this might be a truncated cycle — cut short by an economic recession.”
In this environment, Kim likes building-products companies over home builders, and he suggests staying away from companies that depend on the housing market accelerating
Residential Construction Hiring
As if to bear out some of these sombre analyses, the US National Association of Home Builders said Friday the count of construction job openings held steady in August as hiring in the home building sector continued to slow. The average monthly employment gain for builders and remodellers is just over 5,500 over the last six months.
According to the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) and NAHB analysis, the number of open construction sector jobs was effectively unchanged at 138,000 for August. The cycle high of 168,000 was set during March.
On a three-month moving average basis, the open position rate for the construction sector ticked down to 2.1 per cent for August. The open rate has been trending upward since 2012, with the current three-month moving average slightly off the cycle high set during May (2.4 per cent). In September, the number of jobs in home building and remodeling (sea- sonally adjusted) increased by only 3,900. The pace of hiring for the industry has slowed over 2015, with the average monthly employment gain standing at just over 5,500 over the last six months.
China All-Cash Purchases of US Homes
It is important to note, however, that an analysis of housing sales in the US shows that 46 per cent of Mandarin Chinese-speaking buyers who purchased homes in the 17 months ending in May 2015 paid all-cash, according to RealtyTrac Tuesday. The analysis by the Irvine, California-based realty research company and Ethnic Technologies, a New Jersey-based multicultural marketing company, also showed that since 2005 Mandarin-speaking buyers paying all cash had an increase of 229 percent from the 14 per cent share paying all-cash in 2005.
The two companies looked at 10 million publicly recorded residential property sales deeds in 2014 and 2015 compared with 2005 by ethnicity and native language spoken. RealtyTrac quoted several US brokers in various parts of the US about sales.
Asian buyers make up more than one-third of all international real estate buyers in the US, and Chinese buyers spent US$22 billion on US housing in the 12 months through March 2014, 72 per cent more than a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors, buying mostly high-end homes with a median price of more than US$500,000.