The housing recovery seems to be picking up steam. Still, with the stop-and-go nature of the recovery, doubters may need concrete proof that we're turning a corner. Here are a few items that caught my eye recently that point to a more consistent climb toward a more healthy housing market.
Fannie and Freddie have been able to hold on to some money this year
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, those quasi-public mortgage entities that nearly went under along with most of Wall Street during the financial meltdown, are finally in the black. Well, not completely -- they both still owe a combined $144 billion in bailout money to taxpayers -- but they have stopped hemorrhaging cash, and have even tucked some away. Fannie reported $5.1 billion in net income for the second quarter, $2.4 billion more than the first quarter and a huge improvement over its $2.9 billion loss one year ago.
Freddie's situation improved as well, as it declared $3 billion in income versus only $577 million last quarter, and a loss of $2.1 billion in the second quarter of 2011. This happy news is due directly to lower default rates and rising home prices: House prices have clocked a 4.8% increase from Q1 to Q2, the best quarterly performance in six years and annual gain in eight years.
Housing exchange-traded funds are moving up
ETFs such as the SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF and the Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction ETF (NYSE: ITB ) have rebounded nicely from their previous doldrums. These funds are almost entirely made up of homebuilding and construction stocks, so their robust performance is most decidedly based upon the expected fortunes of the housing sector. Even though some analysts have pointed out that housing stocks are still down about two-thirds since the spring of 2006, there's no doubt that a solid rebound looks to be in the works.
Railcars are being dusted off to ship building materials
Bloomberg reports that Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP ) , CSX (NYSE: CSX ) , and Canadian National Railway are all moving a whole lot more lumber and other homebuilding products than they have in years -- so much more that Union Pacific had to haul out some unused railcars to keep up.
Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC ) is also feeling the love from an expanding homebuilding market, noting a 6% increase in business. Earlier this month, the company announced a 6.4% quarterly dividend increase, as well.
If all of this isn't enough to convince you, consider that even manufactured housing is going great guns. Clayton Homes, a subsidiary of housing bull Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B ) , recently reported a 45% rise in earnings year over year. That sounds like a lot of off-site building going on.
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