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Home Sweet Home

With the Fed cutting interest rates a whopping 250 basis points so far this year, borrowing never had it this good. While rates bottomed out when 30-year mortgage rates were fetching 6.9% back in March, it's still an attractive notion. According to BankRate, 30-year loans were averaging 7.28% this past week. If you haven't refinanced -- or at least checked to see how much you could save every month by doing so -- what are you waiting for? Mortgage rates are falling and our refinancing center is an excellent starting place to find out how you could benefit.

Lower interest rates may also mean bigger profits for financial institutions, homebuilders, and home improvement centers. While the logical beneficiaries are financial institutions like Citigroup(NYSE: C) and Bank of America(NYSE: BAC) that are collecting the one-time processing fees, if the banks are refinancing their own loans at lower rates, that means less interest accrual for them. They will also be hurt if personal bankruptcies and corporate dissolutions become more popular by-products of a weaker economy. While the finance space looks somewhat attractive here, there are even better opportunities knocking in the housing sector.

Yes, the refinancing boom is for real, but many smart shoppers are using the lower borrowing costs as a means to move out of the rental experience into their first home or buy a new one. From industry leader Centex(NYSE: CTX) to other prominent companies like Lennar(NYSE: LEN) and Pulte(NYSE: PHM), homebuilders have all doubled off last year's lows. Yet they still appear to be relative bargains. Lennar is trading at just eight times fiscal year estimates of $4.71 a share. That's a 29% improvement from last year's bottom line showing. Pulte and Centex are also fetching single-digit P/E ratios.

For those who decide to stay put, where will the refinanced savings or the home equity loan proceeds go? Clear winners will be home improvement powerhouses like Home Depot(NYSE: HD) and Lowe's(NYSE: LOW). Sure, not all Fools agree. While my good friend Paul Larson recently wrote that Home Depot would make a good short, this climate is exactly what makes home improvement chains thrive. From refurbishing products to an uptick in the housing construction market to a renewed interest in energy-efficient appliances, the do-it-yourself chains are having no problem winning back Wall Street's confidence. But I have to agree that Lowe's -- not the orange-apron giant -- is the one to watch. While Home Depot's earnings were flat this past quarter, Lowe's had a 20% earnings growth spurt. 

Still, it's a sector that appears to be worth building a portfolio around. With investors looking for companies likely to nail estimates, these companies have nail guns and they're not afraid to use them. 

Rick has big plans for the summer season. Real big! He owns shares of Disney. Rick's stock holdings can be viewed online, as can the Fool's disclosure policy.

Summer Stocks represents the opinion of one Fool and should in no way be taken as the opinion of either The Motley Fool, Inc. or the company in question, or as representative of anyone or anything other than that specific Fool's thoughts.


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