Buffett Bullish On US Homebuilders
Billionaire Warren Buffett said the U.S. residential real estate slump will end by about 2011, predicting that’s how long it will take demand for homes to catch up with the supply.
According to Buffet’s latest annual shareholder Letter, “the industry is in shambles for two reasons, the first of which must be lived with if the U.S. economy is to recover. This reason concerns U.S. housing starts (including apartment units). In 2009, starts were 554,000, by far the lowest number in the 50 years for which we have data.
Paradoxically, this is good news. People thought it was good news a few years back when housing starts – the supply side of the picture – were running about two million annually. But household formations – the demand side – only amounted to about 1.2 million. After a few years of such imbalances, the country unsurprisingly ended up with far too many houses.”
Jokingly, Buffet offered three ways to adjust the imbalance:
1. Blow up a lot of houses, a tactic similar to the destruction of autos that occurred with the “cash-for-clunkers” program.
2. Speed up household formations by, say, encouraging teenagers to cohabitate, a program not likely to suffer from a lack of volunteers.
3. Reduce new housing starts to a number far below the rate of household formations.
“Our country has wisely selected the third option, which means that within a year or so residential housing problems should largely be behind us, the exceptions being only high-value houses and those in certain localities where overbuilding was particularly egregious,” he said. “Prices will remain far below “bubble” levels, of course, but for every seller (or lender) hurt by this there will be a buyer who benefits. Indeed, many families that couldn’t afford to buy an appropriate home a few years ago now find it well within their means because the bubble burst.”
Buffett built Berkshire into a $198 billion company. His deals transformed Berkshire from a failing textile mill into an enterprise that makes candy, produces power and sells flight time on private jets. The shares traded at about $15 when he took control in 1965; the Class A stock last closed at $119,800.
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