- Housing is showing inflationary signs but still offers an opportunity to profit from the rising trend as a downturn is unlikely and not expected in the short term.
- Amidst all the positive news, manufacturing turned negative. Yet despite this, stock valuations keep going up, increasing the risk.
- In the week ahead: the FED’s decision and GDP data. It looks like stable weather in the near future.
The last sequence of economic data was very positive. In this article we are going to discuss the important data coming out this week and analyze the information released last week. Then we’ll combine it with the current situation on the market and, as always, analyze the risks and rewards.
Existing home sales came in at 5.5 million which is the highest in the last 10 years. This is great news and indicates a continuation of the positive trend in the real estate market. Distressed sales from foreclosures are at 6%; down from last year’s 8%.
Figure 1: Existing home sales since 2013. Source: FRED.
Some might think that a new housing bubble is being created. Unfortunately, a clear answer to that can only be given in hindsight. There are several worrying factors, but every bull market climbs the wall of worry. The most alarming factor is that the number of people renting is growing which may indicate that many are already priced out of the market.
In support of a continued uptrend is that fact that home inventory is low as housing starts are at 1.18 million, which is still subdued when compared to the historical average of around 1.5 million, but much higher than it has been over the last 7 years.
Figure 2: Housing starts. Source: FRED.
According to Bloomberg, another worry is that many homes are being purchased by “mom and pop” investors with less experience, while institutional investors are ducking out of the market. Institutional investors used to account for 50% of investor foreclosure purchases, but in June that number fell to 38%. More troublesome is institutional investors now only make up 2.5% of the market, down from 9.8% in 2013.
Similarly to the situation we had in 2007, more and more foreclosed homes are bought by amateur speculators, which may be over-inflating the market.
Figure 3: Third-party investors auction home purchases. Source: Bloomberg.
Housing is cyclical and at some point in the future we will see another down market, but the above mentioned worries do not indicate an immediate decline, which means there is still money to be made in the uptrend. Investors might want to look at building and building materials companies that are trading below their real values and still feeling the consequences of the great recession. But beware of the risks, the downturn will eventually arrive. It might be a soft landing as more new homes are built which smooths out the price increases, or a hard landing similar to the one we saw in 2009.
The S&P/Case Shiller home price index will be published today, and prices are still expected to grow at 5.5% year over year which is very high for housing markets, but if low interest rates continue we might see a few more years of such increases.
The S&P 500
The recent S&P 500 breakout is strengthening on the positive housing data and jobless claims at 43 year lows.
Figure 4: Jobless claims. Source: FRED.
So far, 25% of S&P 500 companies have reported positive earnings surprises, further fueling the stock market. Earnings are not growing, but 68% of companies have reported earnings above estimates. As of this weekend, the S&P 500 earnings decline for Q2 2016 was expected to be at -3.7%, and unfortunately, expectations for earnings in Q3 2016 have been constantly falling over the last several months.
According to Factset, Q3 2016 will be the sixth consecutive quarter with declining earnings (-0.1%). Positive analysts don’t expect a return to earnings growth until Q4 2016, but the below figure shows how quickly analysts’ forecasts can change.
Figure 5: Expected S&P 500 Q3 2016 earnings growth rate. Source: Factset.
With positive economic news and declining earnings, it is difficult to know where the market goes from here. From a fundamental perspective, the market is getting riskier and investors are paying more for lower returns. The current S&P 500 price earnings ratio has now surpassed 25, indicating that in the long term you should not expect stock returns to be higher than 4%.
Figure 6: S&P 500 PE ratio. Source: Multpl.
Reaching full employment means that companies will have to pay more for employees, and thus have higher costs, which should put more pressure on earnings. This should spur inflation, but we will know more on Wednesday when the FED issues its Monetary policy statement.
The Real Economy
As always, life for the FED will be difficult. Low jobless claims, higher house prices and a higher S&P 500 are all good, but there is always the fear that those are just asset inflation repercussions.
The Philly Fed Manufacturing business outlook survey has turned negative again. As manufacturing is the basis of a healthy and sustainable economy, this might push the FED to postpone rate increases, but we might hear a more positive tone.
Figure 7: Current and future general activity indexes. Source: Philadelphia FED.
No matter what the FED says, the week will be overshadowed by Friday’s publication of the preliminary data on GDP. A big rebound is expected given the positive economic activities happening in the last few months. GDP is forecasted to grow at 2.5% in Q2 2016.
Figure 8: Forecasted GDP. Source: Wall Street Journal.
The current environment is one full of positive news and positive expectations which is very good, but as savvy investors we must always look at ways to protect ourselves. More and more indicators are signaling that we are getting closer to the end of the real economic growth period and entering a bubble period.
House flippers are inflating house prices, stocks are reaching new highs even as earnings are declining—and still expected to decline further—while the real manufacturing economy is not growing. All this mixed data indicates that we are close to a recession and a bear market, but the good times could still last for a while as the FED continues to keep interest rates low. We will watch this week’s news releases and earnings carefully and update you on the new developments. Stay tuned.