I hate to harp on the U.S. housing market so much, but it is a major indicator of the health of the U.S. economy. Following previous recessions, investment in the U.S. housing market increased early on and helped drive the recovery. In fact, the U.S. housing market was a major factor that helped lift the U.S. economy out of past recessions in 1981, 1990, and 2001. But it isn’t happening this time around.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, the U.S. housing market contributes to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in two ways: private residential investment and consumption spending on housing services. Historically, residential investment, which includes construction of new single-family and multi-family structures, residential remodeling, the production of manufactured homes, and brokers’ fees, has averaged around five percent of U.S. GDP. (Source: “Housing’s Contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” National Association of Home Builders web site, last accessed March 3, 2014.)
Housing services, which includes gross rent, utility payments, and imputed rent (an estimate of how much it would cost to rent owner-occupied units), averages between 12% and 13%. That leads to a combined total of 17%–18%.
But the U.S. housing market has been falling short as an engine of economic growth. In 2005, residential investment accounted for 6.1% of U.S. GDP. In 2012, it accounted for just 2.8%, and it has averaged just three percent since then—meaning that two percent of the national GDP is missing from private residential investment.
More broadly, since the U.S. housing market collapsed in 2008, the industry has made less than half its normal contribution to U.S. economic growth. According to the United States Census Bureau’s second estimate, total U.S. GDP for 2013 will come in close to $16.8 trillion—that means the missing two percent of private residential investment translates into a lost $336 billion.
Collectively, private residential investment and consumption spending accounts for 15.3% of total U.S. GDP growth, significantly less than the 17%–18% average. And the most recent U.S. housing market data continues to suggest that actual growth is still on the horizon.
Pending sales of U.S. homes climbed just 0.1% month-over-month to 95.0 in January—a far cry from the 2.9% growth analysts were projecting and virtually unchanged at a two-year low. This comes on the heels of a 5.8% drop in December and is nine percent below the January 2013 reading of 104.4.
Like most, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is blaming the weak data on the weather. But even that is a little suspect. Pending home sales in the winter-ravaged Northeast rose 2.3% month-over-month in January, but they’re still 5.3% below January 2013’s sales. Pending home sales in the South increased 3.5%, 5.5% lower than a year ago. In the Midwest, the index slipped 2.5% and is 9.3% lower than a year ago. In the balmy West, the index fell 4.8% and is an eye-watering 17.5% below January 2013.
Interestingly, in its press release, the NAR optimistically proclaimed, “Pending Home Sales Hold Steady in January.” This is a little disconnected from the notion that the U.S. housing market is both healthy and not in a bubble. (Source: “Pending Home Sales Hold Steady in January,” National Association of Realtors web site, February 28, 2014.)
As a result, “holding steady” is a pretty bad economic indicator of U.S. housing sales in February and March, especially when you take into consideration that forecasters were predicting a 2.9% month-over-month change, but instead, the U.S. economy was gifted just 0.1%. To put it another way, if I was expecting $2,900 and was given just $100.00, I’d be a little miffed.
Weak pending U.S. housing market sales might have more to do with higher borrowing costs, low supply, and increasing home values than the weather.
D.R. Horton, Inc. (NYSE/DHI), Lennar Corporation (NYSE/LEN), and PulteGroup, Inc. (NYSE/PHM) are three homebuilders looking for the U.S. housing market to turn around on the long-term investing horizon. In the meantime, those investors who believe the U.S. housing market will continue to experience downward pressure could consider shorting these same stocks.
This article Three Homebuilders to Short During $336-Billion Housing Gap was originally published at Daily Gains Letter