How to Invest in the Soaring Rate of U.S. Homeownership

Accelerating Homeownership Rates

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated many trends that were underway going into 2020. Rising homeownership rates in the U.S. hopped onto the trend.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Homeownership Rate for the United States [RSAHORUSQ156S], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; July 29, 2020.

The above (adjustable) graph shows the total homeownership rate in the U.S. as the blue line, second from the top. That rate started declining ever so slowly at the peak of the last housing bubble in 2005/2006. The rate finally bottomed in 2016 at 63.1%. The rate reached 65.3% in the first quarter (Q1) of 2020 just ahead of the coronavirus pandemic. In Q2, the rate jumped to 68.2%, a level last seen exactly 12 years before.

The accelerated trend in the homeownership rate provides yet one more data point for the current narrative of strong demand from first-time home buyers and now the rising numbers of households leaving rentals in dense urban environments for homes in the suburbs.

Diverse Participation

These trends are so strong that all ethnic groups are making similar moves. While African-Americans still have the lowest rate of homeownership, they experienced the sharpest and most rapid increase so far in the pandemic. African-Americans hit an all-time low (data available back to 1980) in the rate of homeownership just last year in Q2 at 40.9%. So the current rebound in homeownership from African-Americans is particularly dramatic.

The category “all other races” is the closest to its all-time high: all other races hit 60.6% in Q3 2006 and is not at 59.3%.

The Trade

The ETF iShares Dow Jones US Home Construction Index (ITB) is one of the most diversified ways to invest in homeownership in the U.S. The ETF components include home builders as well as housing materials, furniture, paint, and hardware chains Lowe’s Companies (LOW) and Home Depot (HD). The pandemic created historic churn in ITB. The rapid recovery in ITB parallels the soaring increase in the rate of homeownership.

The monthly chart of the iShares Dow Jones US Home Construction Index (ITB) shows the dramatic rebound from a 4-year low to an all-time high.
The monthly chart of the iShares Dow Jones US Home Construction Index (ITB) shows the dramatic rebound from a 4-year low to an all-time high.

I use a seasonal investment strategy for selectively trading in and out of most home builders. This year of the pandemic delivered an extreme exception. The market crash in March brought the to an early end, but the depths of the selling compelled me to add to existing positions and buy new ones.

I am keeping the seasonal trading strategy shelved in exchange for buying home builders selectively based on earnings results and technical price breakouts. Tri Point Group (TPH) is the latest example of my current approach (see Housing Divergence: Full Recoveries, Uneven Earnings, Lagging Consumers – Housing Market Review (July, 2020)). I will continue to cover highlights of the most interesting and impactful earnings reports.

Those Left Behind

The market for housing is not all roses.

Despite the diversity in the rapid rise in homeownership rates, a significant dichotomy exists in the market of housing. There exists a two-speed economy where another large segment of the population is backpedaling. Last month, Zillow provided data on the numbers of young people retreating to live with parents or grandparents as a result of the economic pressures of pandemic. Zillow explained the 2.7 million increase as a result of “the added uncertainty of the pandemic and future employment prospects.” The more than 32 million adults living with a parent or grandparent is a U.S. record. The numbers soared 9.7% in April, 2020 from April, 2019.

Forbes painted an even more stark picture of the percentage of households facing evictions at the of July if pandemic relief payments are reduced or even expire:

“The analysis is based on Household Pulse Data from mid-July and it found that some states will be hit harder than others. For example, West Virginia is estimated to have the highest share of renter households facing eviction at close to 60%. Tennessee, Minnesota, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana are all among the states set to be worst impacted with shares at 50% or higher. Elsewhere, Vermont is the state where renters will be at the lowest risk of eviction, though 22% of them will potentially lose their homes over the course of the crisis.”

This wider economic crisis will at some point act like a hard ceiling on the rush to buy homes. I created an “economic reality” index to help stay moored even as financial markets continue to look far over the horizon beyond the current recession.

Be careful out there!

Full disclosure: long TPH

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