Earlier this week, the National Association of Homebuilders' (NAHB) Housing Market Index showed an intensified level of pessimism for homebuilders. Yet, I'm telling you not to worry about it, because it doesn't matter.
The NAHB's Housing Market Index (HMI) dropped 2 points in March, after shedding a point in February. The HMI fell to a mark of 44 in March, from 46 the month before, and made fools of economists who on average were expecting the index to improve by one point to 47.
The NAHB explained the falloff and the third straight month of flat to deteriorating data on ancillary issues. The industry group said that builders were still seeing increasing demand for new homes, but were frustrated by "bottlenecks in the supply chain for developed lots along with rising costs for building materials and labor." And despite what seems like a better capital position for housing lenders like Bank of America (BAC), according to the Federal Reserve, credit availability was reported as an ongoing problem. The NAHB also regularly mentions faulty appraisals, which include the values of sold distressed properties as comparables.
Yet, I'm telling you that there's nothing to worry about. This index has remained underwater since the real estate market collapse, despite the nascent success of the nation's largest builders. That's the issue here. The NAHB is made up of builders, large and small, liquid and insolvent. Many small builders remain constrained by an inability to access capital. However, the large publicly traded builders including those listed herein are doing fine and dandy and are on an optimistic high today. They have access to capital, and the ability to steal market share from their humbled brothers. The evidence of their success is clear here.
Publicly Traded Builder
Year-to-Date Gain Thru 03/21/13
SPDR S&P Homebuilders (XHB)
KB Home (KBH)
D.R. Horton (DHI)
Ryland Group (RYL)
Toll Brothers (TOL)
MDC Holdings (MDC)
They are not all higher on the year though. Beazer Homes (BZH) and Hovnanian (HOV) are in the red. Some of the difference has to do with regional variation. Some of the once hottest markets fell far from their peaks, but those same markets are on fire today again, including Phoenix, Las Vegas, California, and Florida. KB Home's west coast operations are a big reason for its performance this year. The HMI Report showed that the three-month moving average for the West Regional Index was up four points in March, and was easily in positive territory above 50 at a mark of 58. The Northeast Index was unchanged at 39, while the Midwest and South Indexes skidded by a point each to 47 and 46, respectively.
The part of the report I've always found most interesting is where builders are asked to report on current sales conditions, forward expectations and actual prospective buyer traffic. I find the first two measures are purely perceptional, and that the measure of real traffic tells a different and truer story for the majority of builders, who are mostly small. The index measuring current sales conditions fell by four points to reach a mark of 47. The measure of sales expectations for the next six months rose by one point to 51. However, the measure of prospective buyer traffic rose three points, and still measured deeply under breakeven sentiment at a mark of 35. Remember, though, it doesn't matter because the real estate recovery is under way nonetheless. It's just being enjoyed by a select few publicly traded companies, which have garnered a good deal of market share from the least among their peers.