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4 Funds for a Post-Sandy Building Bounce

These two mutual funds and two ETFs could be fruitful


Last week’s positive new-home sales data gave homebuilders another shot in the arm, although some bears fear the high-performing sector had soared into overbought territory and is due for a fall. Then came Sandy, a meteorological sucker punch that closed the New York Stock Exchange for two days and wreaked untold havoc up and down the East Coast.

Although it seems crass to look for upside in the wake of a superstorm that caused such tragic loss of life and human suffering, the resulting damage to homes and businesses (early estimates point to tens of billions of dollars) could have a positive impact on homebuilders.

Companies like Toll Brothers (NYSE:TOL), Lennar (NYSE:LEN) and KB Home (NYSE:KBH) have returned an average of more than 90% year-to-date just on the rebound in homebuyer confidence and new residential construction. Sandy’s aftermath likely will keep the surge going.

Real estate data firm CoreLogic estimates 95,000 homes with a value of $40 billion were among the hardest hit by Sandy and could need to be rebuilt or extensively repaired. That translates into big business homebuilders and related suppliers.

Because the homebuilders sector has had such a strong run lately, I prefer a broader approach through mutual funds or exchange traded funds (ETFs) rather than going all in on individual stocks. Mutual funds have the advantages of size, diversification and active portfolio management, but usually require a minimum buy of $2,500. ETFs usually have lower expenses and trade over a major exchange like stocks, but they’re usually tied to an index and managed passively.

Given those pluses and minuses, here are two mutual funds and two ETFs to consider if you want to take advantage of further growth in the homebuilding sector:

Fidelity Select Construction and Housing Portfolio (MUTF:FSHOX). This mutual fund is solidly focused on home design and construction, and has returned nearly 29% year-to-date. Although long-time manager Dan Kelley moved on in October, he left the fund in co-manager Holger Boerner’s capable hands. Boerner, who has been responsible for primary research coverage on 30 to 40 REITs and has worked directly with REIT portfolio managers since 2008, has been at FSHOX since January 2012.

Its top holdings in Home Depot (NYSE:HD) and Lowe’s (NYSE:LOW) could pay off big during the rebuilding effort. It also has holdings in LEN, TOL and the Equity Residential REIT (NYSE:EQR). With nearly $309 million in assets, FSHOX has a net expense ratio of 0.96 and has a minimum initial investment of $2,500.

American Century Global Real Estate Fund (MUTF:ARYVX). This mutual fund focuses more on real estate than on homebuilding — and that diversification can be viewed as a strength in these tough times. The very actively managed fund boasts a 23% year-to-date return.

In addition to REITs, top holdings include Weyerhaeuser (NYSE:WY) and Public Storage (NYSE:PSA) — both strong bets at a time when lumber futures are soaring and short-term storage demand is rising. Vice President and Senior Portfolio Manager Steven Brown, who has managed the fund since 2008, has seen it all when it comes to the housing market’s fits and starts, and has a steady hand. With about $25 million in assets, ARYVX has a net expense ratio of 1.21% and a minimum initial investment of $2,500.

PowerShares Dynamic Building & Construction (NYSE:PKB). This ETF tracks the performance of the Dynamic Building & Construction Intellidex Index and has a year-to-date return of nearly 35%. PKB focuses heavily on homebuilders, with holdings including Pulte Group (NYSE:PHM), Lennar, Toll Brothers and D.R. Horton (NYSE:DHI). Its top holding is construction materials supplier Vulcan Materials (NYSE:VMC).

I think that PKB is nicely diversified and still has upside. With $39 million in assets, PKB has a net expense ratio of 0.63%.

SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF (NYSE:XHB). This is a homebuilder ETF that ventures outside the ranks of traditional builders. It tracks the performance of the equal-weighted S&P Homebuilders Select Industry Index and has a wildly attractive year-to-date return of 46%. I like this ETF because its top holdings include companies that likely will be in hot demand post-Sandy.

Besides Home Depot and Lowe’s, XHB includes floor-covering giant Mohawk Industries (NYSE:MHK), heating and cooling companies such as Lennox (NYSE:LII) and A.O. Smith (NYSE: AOS) and appliance manufacturer Whirlpool (NYSE:WHR). With $1.9 billion in assets, XHB has a tiny net expense ratio of 0.35%.

As of this writing, Susan J. Aluise didn’t hold a position in any securities mentioned here.

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