By Gordon Wilcox
Are they finally here? A real bottom and ensuing rebound in the real estate market? Time will tell, but the recent housing data has at least been improving. Add to that, William Dudley, president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, said today that proper monetary policy that complements other efforts by the government could help the housing within a year or two.
President of the Boston Federal Reserve, Eric Rosengren, said the Fed could help the housing market by buying more mortgage backed securities, according to Reuters.
The recent spate of good or less bad housing data aside, it should be noted the housing market is still a long way from being out of the woods. Then again, by waiting for the real estate market to look picture perfect, investors can easily miss some big gains in housing-related stocks.
With that thought in mind, let's have a look at some stocks that are poised to benefit if and when the U.S. housing market legitimately rebounds.
Caterpillar (CAT) As the world's largest maker of construction equipment, Caterpillar is a housing play and that partially explains the stock's nasty 2008 through early 2009 tumble. The Dow component is more a play on new construction (most folks that buy a previously owned home don't need a Caterpillar bulldozer). Combine that with the other areas Caterpillar is exposed to such as the mining sector and you have the epitome of high-beta cyclical stock.
The stock trades for less than 11 times forward earnings and as the fourth-highest priced stock in the Dow, a price-weighted index, Caterpillar will either be a leader in the Dow's resurgence or a drag on the downside. Another dividend increase from Caterpillar later this year isn't out of the realm of possibility either.
iShares Dow Jones US Real Estate ETF (IYR) The iShares Dow Jones US Real Estate ETF, which is one of the largest REIT ETFs with over $2.9 billion in assets under management, features a little something from almost all corners of the REIT market. The ETF is home to retail REITS, mortgage REITS, residential REITs, commercial office REITs and hotel REITs, among others.
To put it delicately, IYR is sensitive to real estate data. The ETF rests less than 8% off its 52-week high, but it features a distribution yield of over 4%.
Standard Pacific (SPF) With a market cap of just over $633 million, Standard Pacific is the smallest member of this list. It's also the most speculative. Just look at the markets in which the company does business: California, Florida, Arizona, Texas, the Carolinas, Colorado, and Nevada. The residential real estate situations in three of those markets (Arizona, Florida and Nevada) qualify as dreadful with California not being much better. Then again, it can be argued that things can't much worse in those markets.
Standard Pacific isn't a homebuilder stock to recommend to your grandfather, but at 32% below its 52-week, this high-beta low-price tag stock can act as a call option on housing rebounds in the aforementioned markets. Or you can go even smaller and more speculative with Beazer Homes (BZH).
Lennar (LEN) Lennar reports its fourth-quarter results next Wednesday and this will be a report worth watching. The stock has been on fire lately, surging over 45% in the past three months and it's currently trade just north of the average price target. Lennar needs to surprise to the upside next week and issue some bullish guidance to keep the good times rolling. Waiting for a pullback here may not be the worst idea.
Gafisa (GFA) Maybe you haven't heard of Gafisa. Well, the company doesn't build homes in the U.S., it builds homes in Brazil and for all the lumps Brazil's economy and stocks took last year, its housing market is quite robust. That hasn't translated to good performance for Gafisa shares, which have lost two-thirds of their value in the past year.
Yes, Gafisa is speculative and qualifies as a small-cap stock. And yes, Brazilian stocks aren't out of the woods yet. However, the stock trades for just 4.2 times forward earnings and less than 0.5 times book value. Patient investors could find a double here in the next 24-30 months.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.