Heading into 2019, the case for the iShares Dow Jones US Home Const. ETF (BATS:ITB) was reasonably simple. Housing and construction stocks were hammered in 2018. In fact, ITB stock dropped some 31%. While there were concerns — slowing new construction spending, labor shortages, rising input costs — the steepness of the decline seemed to be an overreaction.
That case is why I chose ITB as my pick for the Best ETF of 2019. So far, the call is working out. ITB stock has gained 16% so far this year — and risen 25% from late December lows.
Yet even with those gains, the core bull case here still holds. Many housing stocks still are cheap. The sector on the whole doesn’t seem to be getting enough credit. While the rest of the market signals continuing economic strength, ITB stock still discounts quite a bit of risk. Particularly for investors who believe the market, and the economy, will stay healthy going forward, ITB remains an attractive choice.
The iShares Dow Jones US Home Const. ETF in 2019
Again, ITB has performed well so far this year. But in context, the 16% gains so far this year perhaps aren’t that impressive. The S&P 500 index has gained almost 12%, meaning housing and construction stocks have only modestly beaten the market so far in 2019.
That gap actually is narrower than a housing bull might have expected. After all, the divergence in 2018 was much sharper: ITB dropped a whopping 31% against just a 6% decline in the index. Going back to the beginning of 2018, ITB has declined 13%, and the S&P 500 has risen nearly 5%.
The question at the moment is whether that gap should persist or narrow. Skeptics might point to slower new home sales, in particular, as a reason for caution. Whether it’s demand for rentals among younger customers or a literal lack of land in popular markets like Denver and Seattle, housing simply is a tougher industry than most right now. ITB’s five largest holdings are homebuilders, with Lennar (NYSE:LEN) and D.R. Horton (NYSE:DHI) alone comprising 27.3% of the fund.
But homebuilder stocks actually have done quite well this year: LEN has gained 25% and DHI 21%. And yet the group remains cheap, with those stocks generally trading at a single-digit multiple to earnings. The rest of the fund, meanwhile, has a potential catalyst as 2019 rolls on.
Will Smaller Positions Boost ITB Stock?
Even with homebuilders doing better, building suppliers and retailers are performing mostly in line with the market. Home Depot (NYSE:HD), for instance, has modestly underperformed the market. So has The Sherwin-Williams Company (NYSE:SHW), the fund’s eighth-largest holding.
The case for ITB was that even if new home sales stayed soft, a strong economy would lift renovation and remodeling spending. Yet it has been ITB’s exposure to new construction, not R&R, that has driven a majority of its gains so far.
Over the rest of 2019, then, there’s a clear path for ITB to continue to rise. Economic strength should increase confidence toward renovation and remodeling, providing another driver for the fund’s holdings.
In that context, the bull case here seems largely intact. Even with a strong start to the year, construction stocks still are lagging the market over a broader timeframe. That leaves room for ITB to continue to outperform in coming quarters. And if new home sales numbers can strengthen, the ETF could skyrocket.
ITB does require the U.S. economy to stay strong, and any macro weakness is the biggest risk to the thesis. But for investors projecting that strength will continue, ITB remains a solid choice for market-beating returns.
As of this writing, Vince Martin has no positions in any securities mentioned.