Investors don't have a very bullish outlook on many things these days, but mention the word "housing" and you can expect to get a snicker from just about anyone. With credit still tight and unemployment staying stubbornly close to 10%, there doesn't seem to be an end in sight for the U.S. housing market.
A very slow death
Today certainly didn't help. The National Association of Homebuilders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index reportedly stayed the same from last month, at a shockingly low number of 13. Just for context, a number above 50 implies more builders are optimistic about sales than are not; 13 is the lowest it's been since March 2009.
Stringent credit conditions and the expiration of last year's tax credit has caused an unchanged sales outlook for the next six months, contrary to those pointing to an inevitable recovery in housing due to extraordinarily low interest rates. Cliff Draughn, chief investment officer at Excelsia Investments, recently said: "You'd hope to get some recovery in housing, but that's not going to happen soon. The whole bubble began with real estate and it remains the big issue for the economy. You have way too much surplus and not enough people who qualify for loans, meaning housing numbers will remain weak for a while."
One possible silver lining
As you can expect, U.S. homebuilders have been getting crushed this year. KB Homes (NYSE: KBH ) , Ryland Group (NYSE: RYL ) , and PulteGroup (NYSE: PHM ) have all seen double-digit decreases in their share prices as housing starts and completions have shrunk from 2009's comparables.
However, the nation's third largest homebuilder, Lennar (NYSE: LEN ) , stands alone as it has managed to surge upwards by almost 20%. Not only did it report a higher-than-expected quarterly profit today, but it also saw orders drop far less than analysts anticipated. CEO Stuart Miller attributes some of this to the company's mid-Atlantic exposure in areas like North Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia.
For the quarter ending August 31st, Lennar posted a profit of $0.16 per share as opposed to last year's loss of $0.97 per share, obviously quite an improvement.
In a sector full of bad news, pessimistic outlooks and negative earnings, Lennar seems to be standing alone -- at least for today.
Would you invest in a homebuilder or do you think a housing recovery is too far off? Sound off in the comments below!