Homebuilder and housing stocks were hammered in 2018, particularly in the second half of the year. Concerns about new home construction started the declines in the summer. Broad market declines in the fourth quarter only added to the pressure. Indeed, the iShares U.S. Home Construction ETF (BATS:ITB) dropped some 31% last year. And I argued late last year that the declines had gone too far. In October — a bit early — I called out six housing stocks for investors looking to time the bottom. ITB was my pick for the Best ETFs of 2019
ITB has rallied in 2019, gaining some 17%. Other housing stocks — including the biggest of the homebuilder stocks, Lennar (NYSE:LEN) — have done even better. But there could be more upside ahead. Housing starts data have been somewhat disappointing of late, but remodel & renovation demand continues to be strong. And most of the sector’s stocks still sit below 2018 highs.
There are risks, admittedly. The gains this year have made valuations less compelling than they were toward the end of 2018. More macro jitters in the broad market could pressure housing stocks. And there are some concerns relative to margins as tariffs have raised certain input costs.
For now, however, the risks seem worth taking. And these five stocks could be the biggest winners if housing and construction stocks continue to rally.
TRI Pointe Group (TPH)
Homebuilder stocks have rallied, as noted, which has moved valuations from close to ridiculous to simply cheap. TRI Pointe Group (NYSE:TPH) has joined the gains, rising 19% so far this year.
But there’s still a case for nice upside here. TRI Pointe has exposure to some of the better markets in the U.S., including Arizona, California, Texas, and Colorado. Fourth quarter results this week were solid, if unspectacular – but guidance still suggests TPH is trading at something like 8x 2019 EPS. The stock even trades at a modest discount to book – a rare occurrence.
Like other homebuilder stocks, TPH has risks. But strong geographic markets and higher price points (the company is guiding for an average sales price of $610-$620K in 2019) drive exposure to the stronger areas of the housing market. As long as the economy cooperates, TPH should keep moving higher as the year rolls on.
There are few growth stocks in the construction space, but Trex (NYSE:TREX) is one of them. The company’s namesake composite decking product has seen huge market share growth, leading TREX stock to nearly quadruple over the past five years. And the innovative product should drive more growth in years ahead while the company adds on ancillary products like lighting and landscaping accessories.
TREX stock isn’t cheap, trading at nearly 27x 2020 EPS estimates. But revenue growth should continue to be around 10%, with EPS growth in the mid-teens. International markets and new products can drive longer-term demand.
TREX stock is unique in the industry, considering its valuation, but for good reason … Anyone who has worked with Trex products knows they’re an improvement on traditional wood offerings – and that should drive growth for many years to come, as well as upside in TREX stock.
Universal Forest Products (UFPI)
Wood products manufacturer Universal Forest Products (NASDAQ:UFPI) competes with Trex in composites but still focuses primarily on traditional wood offerings.
It’s been a wonderful business: UFPI has returned over 10% a year since its 1993 initial public offering (IPO). And while UFPI came down amid residential housing concerns last year, it actually has a nicely diversified business. The company’s exposure to the industrial sector is growing through its concrete forming offering. Home Depot (NYSE:HD) generates nearly 19% of total sales, most of which obviously are in the less-cyclical repair and remodel category.
UFPI, too, has rallied, bouncing 30% off December lows. But there’s another 25% to go to get back to 2018 highs and the stock trades at a reasonable 10.5x forward earnings. A lightly leveraged balance sheet means UFPI can look to M&A to drive further growth going forward.
UFPI stock probably isn’t the most compelling stock in the sector, particularly back above $31. But there’s a nice case here that the next few years could be like the last 25 — with Universal Forest Products stock delivering above-market returns.
I’ve recommended drywall distributor GMS (NYSE:GMS) a few times, including in October, and I own a stake in the stock as well. It’s been rough going for the stock, which still is down 37% over the past year. High leverage and worries about margins have continued to pressure GMS shares.
But those factors also mean there’s a lot more potential upside even after a 48% gain from December lows. GMS remains seriously cheap, at 6x forward earnings and under 7x EBITDA. Margin concerns seem overblown, as in recent quarters GMS has managed through price hikes from suppliers, tariff issues, and rising input costs (notably for its steel framing business) – and yet has kept gross margins reasonably intact.
There are risks here. Last year’s acquisition of WSB Titan gave GMS increased exposure to Canada where housing market concerns are more significant. The leverage on the balance sheet can be an anchor on the stock, as it was for much of 2018.
But $20 remains far too cheap even with those risks. And so I still think GMS is the most attractive play in the space.
Armstrong Flooring (AFI)
The company sold its wood flooring business in November, which drove a 12%+ increase in AFI stock. The move brought in cash to pay down debt, strengthening the balance sheet. An associated cost reduction plan should help earnings, and the move allows Armstrong to focus on higher-growth products like luxury vinyl tile (LVT).
More work is needed, and this is a bit of a turnaround story. P/E multiples don’t look particularly attractive (AFI stock trades at almost 25x 2019 consensus EPS), but thin margins should drive growth and improve the valuation from that standpoint. Q4 earnings next week could be a catalyst but expectations have risen as the stock has gained 25% so far this year.
Still, there’s an intriguing case here, and definite room for improvement. LVT clearly is a growth product, and it could drive stronger results in 2019 and beyond. AFI might be nicer at a cheaper price, but below $15 it’s still quite attractive.
As of this writing, Vince Martin is long shares of GMS Inc. He has no positions in any securities mentioned.