A couple of my subscribers emailed me expressing frustration over the fact that their recent homebuilder puts are either not moving higher or losing value despite the sell-off in the overall stock market. There’s two factors. First, the homebuilder sector has dropped well over 30% since late January. To an extent there may be some seller’s fatigue. At some point there will be short term rally that could generate at 15-25% bounce in the sector. I believe that rally will occur from a lower level on the DJUSHB currently, but it’s always a risk if you are short.
The second factor is the abrupt move in the 10yr Treasury yield from 3.25% down to 2.85%. This move occurred in four weeks. This is a big move in that period of time. Hedge fund algos are programmed to buy homebuilders when interest rates drop on the premise that lower rates stimulate home sales. It’s really that simplistically knee-jerk. That’s why the Dow can fall 400 points and the homebuilders remain flat or even move higher (stocks fall and the money flows into Treasuries which drives yields lower and homebuilders higher). Since the stock market began dropping in late October, the DJUSHB has moved from 595 to as high as 683 intra-day on November 28th. I’m surprised it didn’t bounce over 700. The move from 595 to a high-close of 686 on November 29th. This is nearly a 15% bounce. The DJUSHB closed at 643 this past Friday, down 5.6% from the 686 close.
But lower rates in the current context are not going to be a benefit for home sales. The mini-crash in the 10yr yield, combined with the flat yield curve, reflects a weak economy growing weaker. Potential homebuyers, in conjunction with the tightening credit market discussed above, are going to find it hard to qualify for a mortgage. Many no longer have the ability to make even a 3% down payment. Two weeks ago on Friday, when the stock market began to tank, the DJUSHB was up as much 14 points from Friday’s close. The DJUSHB closed down 8 points (1.2%) for the day. This was with the 10yr yield closing at its lowest yield since August 31st. On that day, the DJUSHB closed at 768. With the DJUSHB at 661, it’s 14% below where it was trading the last time the 10yr hit 2.85%.
Reinforcing my assertions above about the financial condition of prospective middle class homebuyers, The U of Michigan released its December consumer sentiment index on Friday. While the overall index was flat vs November, the future expectations component (the “hope” index) fell to its lowest level since December 2017. However, the homebuying conditions index fell to its lowest in 10 years. Recall that the homebuilders sentiment index for November plunged.
The graph below shows what’s going with builders in terms of actual economics. The chart plots the ratio of homebuilding permits to completions. Permits can be a fluff number because a homebuilder does not have put up much money to file a building permit. But completions reflects both demand and a homebuilder’s willingness to build spec homes (homes without buyer orders). A falling ratio indicates falling demand from buyers, rising order cancellation rates and risk aversion from homebuilders.
Another indication of the air flowing out of the housing bubble is the bidding war indicator. A subscriber sent me an article from the Seattle Times on the stunning drop in multiple bids for the same home across the country in the previously hottest bubble areas. In February 2018 in Seattle, for instance, 81.4% of listed homes had multiple bids. By November that number plunged to 21.5%, the lowest percentage of multiple bids on homes for sale in the history of the metric (Redfin began tracking this data in 2011). Other cities that made the top-10 list by Redfin include Boston, L.A., San Diego, Washington DC, Denver, Portland, Austin – all included in any list of the hottest bubble markets over the last 5 years.
The bottom line: We may have just seen the first real bear market counter-trend rally in the builders when the DJUSHB jumped 15% over three months. If the 10yr continues to drift lower, we might see one more push higher.
The above commentary is an excerpt from a recent Short Seller’s Journal. The latest issue has a short idea related to new housing starts that has at least 50% downside. To learn more about this newsletter, click here: Short Seller’s Journal information