Buy, Sell or Hold: Is Lennar's Big Move Just a Sign of Another Housing Bubble?
All you have to do is look at a price chart of Lennar Corp (NYSE: LEN) to see the proof that the U.S. housing market is on the mend.
Since January 2012, shares of the Miami, Fl.-based new homebuilder have more than doubled.
In fact, since the industry nearly collapsed six years ago, new-home construction for builders like Lennar is now clearly on an upswing.
According to the March 2013 report from the U.S. Commerce Department, new home construction was on pace for more than one million units for the first time since the gaudy days of June 2008.
Much of this home-buying fervor can be attributed to a few important points:
1. A pent-up demand that has built up over the last six years,
2. Low inventories,
3. And an outrageously low interest rate environment thanks to the Federal Reserve.
The question now is whether or not the "Housing Bubble 2.0" still has legs, making Lennar Corp. a smart new buy with plenty of room to run.
Is Lennar Still a Buy?
Of course, evaluating Lennar on its own merits is a fine exercise in due-diligence.
Are "Wall Street Buyers" Like Blackstone Group Creating Another Housing Bubble?
Where there's smoke there's fire.
When it comes to rising home prices, the question is whether the on-fire price increases are a healthy sign of a housing recovery or a smoke screen masking another investor-led real estate bubble.
The answer is it's both.
So, the real question is: are the two compatible and is the trend sustainable.
The answer to that compound question is "yes" and "no," in that order.
On the surface, everything is coming up roses.
These 5 Charts Prove the Housing Recovery is for Real – and Just Beginning
The housing market has rebounded in a big way, with home prices increasing the most since the housing bubble burst in 2006.
Prices aren't the only indicator pointed toward recovery.
Housing barometers including sales, permits and housing starts have surged well beyond their recession troughs and back into healthy territory - and bullish analysts say there's plenty more room for growth after years of decreased activity.
The housing market activity has been driven by pent-up demand, improved consumer confidence, low interest rates and still affordable prices. And the industry's comeback comes at a time when supply is tight. The inventory of homes available is at near-historic lows, and foreclosures have declined.
Is This a Recovery or a New Housing Bubble?
Investors have taken comfort from the recent improvement in housing prices seen across the country.
But now the shares are rolling over. Could the relative underperformance of the homebuilders be telling us something?
David Stockman, former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan, thinks so.
In an interview with The Daily Ticker, Stockman said, "I would say we have a housing bubble again. I don't think we have a real, organic, sustainable recovery."
Stockman argues that "fast money" is moving into the local real estate markets that suffered the biggest declines in order to "speculate in buy-to-rent for a quick trade."
Stockman thinks that these speculators will be looking to sell out as soon as prices rise sufficiently to give them a specific rate of return and that "they will be gone as quickly as they came."
Case-Shiller Home Price Index and Home Sales: What the Latest U.S. Housing Market Data Show
The latest U.S. housing market data released Tuesday underscore the persisting trend of uneven performance in the industry.
The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index showed prices hit post-bubble lows in February, and U.S. home sales data show that while not all housing news is dismal, a strong and stable recovery is a long way off.
The U.S. housing sector has been a drag on the economy since a home price bubble burst and helped cause the 2007-2009 recession. While many economists maintain that a budding recovery is blooming in the troubled sector, recent housing market data are simply another wake-up call.
Here's a look at the numbers.
Case-Shiller Home Price Index Falls
The Case-Shiller Home Price Index of 20 cities revealed a price drop from January to February of 0.8% (on a non-seasonally adjusted basis). The 10-city index also fell 0.8%.
The 20-city index declined 3.5% from a year ago, while the 10-city composite slipped 3.6%.
"Nine housing markets and both composites hit post crisis lows," David Blitzer, a spokesman for S&P, told CNN Money. Included in the nine markets are Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Las Vegas and New York.
Blitzer went on to note, "While there might be pieces of good news in this report, such as some improvements in many annual rates of return, February 2012 data confirm that, broadly speaking, home prices continued to decline in the early months of the year."
Foreclosures and other distressed property sales continue to be the main challenge for home prices, Pat Newport, an analyst for IHS Global Insight relayed to CNN.
"We still have 6 million homeowners who are late on their payments," said Newport. "We'll still have lots of foreclosures, which will depress prices."
In fact, with January's mammoth $26 billion mortgage settlement between five major banks and a group of state attorneys general, foreclosures that had been held up for a year or more are now moving forward.
"Enough homes are in the foreclosure pipeline to keep house prices falling through much of this year," Celia Chen, a housing economist at Moody's Analytics, told the Los Angeles Times.
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The Greatest Episodes of Market Manipulation…Is Silver Next?
Market manipulation has a long and storied history.
From the Tulip Mania of the 1600s all the way to the recent housing bubble, market manipulators have employed a wide range of tactics to lighten the wallets of unsuspecting investors.
And even though market manipulation is prohibited in the U.S. under a section of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 - it's as American as apple pie.
Everyone from high-ranking government officials to investment bankers have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
The list includes scofflaws like Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken, and Jack Abramoff.
Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC's "Mad Money," said he regularly manipulated the market when he ran his hedge fund, calling it "a fun...and lucrative game."
Not surprisingly, a recent study found that those closest to the information loop -corporate insiders, brokers, underwriters, large shareholders and market makers - are most likely to be the perpetrators.
To give you an idea of how things work, here are three notorious examples of market manipulation.
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Romney Avoids Nevada's Housing Market Problems with a Tactic That Could Work – for Now