The Housing Chronicles Blog: "Poison Ivy" Zelman on false hope for homebuilding stocks

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"Poison Ivy" Zelman on false hope for homebuilding stocks

Former stock analyst-turned-consultant Ivy Zelman, nicknamed "Poison Ivy" due to her storied history of analyses which hammered building stocks, is now writing for BuilderOnline.com. In her latest post, she argues that the rise in homebuilding stocks since the beginning of the year is based on false hope:

If stock prices represent a reliableindicator of fundamental trends, one would be led to believe that the outlook for home builders is quite rosy. Since the start of the year, major public home builder stocks have appreciated nearly 40 percent on average, versus the broader market which is down 7 percent. I have heard many reasons for the market’s optimism, most notable of which is the theory that a government bailout of foreclosed homeowners, higher loan limits on government-sponsored mortgages, a tax credit for buyers of new and foreclosed homes, and a four-year tax-loss look back for builders will stabilize the housing market and ultimately lead to an earlier-than-expected recovery.

Despite the apparent optimism, I continue to believe that the fundamental outlook for the industry remains extremely challenging, and more pain is on the horizon. I expect the glut of home inventory, weak absorption rates, turmoil in the mortgage markets, and a deteriorating job environment to pressure pricing downward.

Given this dynamic, I expect new-home prices to continue to decline approximately 10 percent to 15 percent through 2009. I expect existing-home prices to fall even further, declining through 2010 or 2011, as existing-home prices have been stickier than new-home prices on the way down. These price declines should further pressure land values, which I estimate are already down approximately 40 percent from peak levels for finished lots and down as much as 80 percent in some former investor hotbed markets. Raw lot prices have plummeted even further, with an average decline of 60 percent from their peak. In many markets throughout California, Arizona, and Florida, finished lots are now worth less than the cost of development.

While many industry participants believed that Lennar’s bulk land sale in November 2007 at 40 percent of book value was artificially low in order to generate tax refunds, subsequent deals by M/I Homes (at roughly 30 percent to 35 percent of original purchase price) and Centex (approximately 15 percent to 20 percent of purchase price) demonstrate the recent free-fall in land prices. I expect builders to take additional impairments over the coming quarters as land values deflate further...

Although the banks have finally awakened to their woes and become aggressive in re-margining assets or, worse, foreclosing on properties, I believe we are only in the early stages of this capitulation. Banks have begun talking to investors about selling bulk loan packages, but the bid-ask spreads are still way too wide. Therefore, no significant transactions have taken place yet. The magnitude of downside in home and land values will likely be contingent on the regulators and how much pressure they apply to the banks in the coming months.

2 comments:

Gerbil said...

Wow you guys got it wrong. Poisy Ivy was more right then your worst nightmares you cheerleaders.

Gerry Nelson said...

It amazes me that although the real estate cliche about location, location, location is constantly touted the industry never seems to be able to understand that that translates into lot value, lot value, lot value. Ms. Zelman points that out clearly in her references to the prices of raw land. Homes don't appreciate in value - they depreciate constantly. It's the land value that rises in relation to supply and demand and that is what is now falling. The reason home prices rose was because buyers were not interested in the price of the home. They were only interested in their payments. And as long as the lenders were allowing them to get credit and minimize their payments they bought whatever their monthly mortgage payment would allow them to buy. That translates into affordability. And when the relationship between affordability and payments balances out, the market will stabilize and get back to normal.