The housing market might crash in the near term as mortgage demand remains under pressure because of low housing inventory and high-average 30-year fixed mortgage rates.
Homebuyers locked into the sub-5% pandemic-era mortgage rates simply aren’t selling. The total number of homes on the market for the four weeks ending September 3, 2023, has declined 18% year-over-year, registering the biggest decline since February 2022. Meanwhile, new listings fell 9.3%.
Prospective home buyers have also been thwarted by rising property prices, which have increased for five months in a row. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), more than half of U.S. metro areas registered home price gains in the second quarter of 2023. It also reported that the median sale prices of existing homes are near record highs.
Last month, mortgage rates climbed to their highest level in 23 years. Mortgage rates have risen as the Federal Reserve undertook aggressive interest rate hikes since last year to curb high inflation. The weekly average of the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage as of September 7, 2023, stood at 7.12%.
The high mortgage rates led to mortgage applications reaching the lowest level since 1996. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending September 1, 2023, mortgage applications fell 2.9% compared to the prior week.
MBA’s Vice President and Deputy Chief Economist Joel Kan said, “Mortgage applications declined to the lowest level since December 1996, despite a drop in mortgage rates. Both purchase and refinance applications fell, with the purchase index hitting a 28-year low, as prospective buyers remain on the sidelines due to low housing inventory and elevated mortgage rates.”
Freddie Mac’s chief economist Sam Khater said, “The economy remains buoyant, which is encouraging for consumers. Though inflation has decelerated, firmer economic data have put upward pressure on mortgage rates, which are straining potential homebuyers in the face of affordability challenges.”
Although nonfarm payrolls increased by 187,000 in August, the unemployment rate was 3.8%, up surprisingly from 3.5% in July. If unemployment keeps rising, it could lead to missed mortgage payments and foreclosures. With skyrocketing mortgage rates, high housing prices, and the possibility of a recession between now and July 2024 at 59%, a housing market crash is highly likely.
In the event of a housing crash, defensive stocks such as Walmart Inc. (WMT), American Water Works Company, Inc. (AWK), and Eagle Materials Inc. (EXP) will likely help cushion one’s portfolio. The products and services these companies provide are always in demand, irrespective of the economic cycles.
Let’s discuss these stocks in detail.
WMT engages in the operation of retail, wholesale, and other units worldwide. The company operates through three segments: Walmart U.S., Walmart International, and Sam's Club.
WMT’s revenue grew at a CAGR of 5.2% over the past three years. Its EBITDA grew at a CAGR of 3.3% over the past three years. In addition, its EBIT grew at a CAGR of 4.6% in the same time frame.
In terms of the trailing-12-month Return on Common Equity, WMT’s 17.87% is 58.5% higher than the 11.28% industry average. Its 5.50% trailing-12-month Return on Total Assets is 28.1% higher than the 4.30% industry average. Likewise, its 2.51x trailing-12-month asset turnover ratio is 176.2% higher than the industry average of 0.91x.
WMT’s total revenues for the second quarter ended July 31, 2023, increased 5.9% year-over-year to $161.63 billion. The company’s adjusted operating income rose 8.1% over the prior-year quarter to $7.41 billion.
In addition, its consolidated net income attributable to WMT increased 53.3% over the prior-year quarter to $7.89 billion. Also, its adjusted EPS came in at $1.84, representing an increase of 4% year-over-year.
Analysts expect WMT’s EPS and revenue for the quarter ending October 31, 2023, to increase 0.7% and 4.5% year-over-year to $1.51 and $158.22 billion, respectively. It surpassed the Street EPS estimates in each of the trailing four quarters. Over the past year, the stock has gained 19.2% to close the last trading session at $164.52.
AWK provides water and wastewater services. It offers water and wastewater services to approximately 1,600 communities in 14 states, serving approximately 3.4 million active customers. The company serves residential customers; commercial customers, including food and beverage providers, commercial property developers and proprietors, and energy suppliers; fire service and private fire customers; etc.
AWK’s revenue grew at a CAGR of 3.1% over the past three years. Its net income grew at a CAGR of 11.9% over the past three years. In addition, its EPS grew at a CAGR of 10.9% in the same time frame.
In terms of the trailing-12-month gross profit margin, AWK’s 58.97% is 51.7% higher than the 38.86% industry average. Its 22.08% trailing-12-month net income margin is 133.6% higher than the 9.46% industry average. Likewise, its 10.35% trailing-12-month Return on Common Equity is 19% higher than the industry average of 8.70%.
For the fiscal second quarter ended June 30, 2023, AWK’s operating revenues increased 17.1% year-over-year to $1.10 billion. Its operating income rose 32.1% year-over-year to $432 million. The company’s net income attributable to common shareholders increased 28.4% over the prior year quarter to $280 million. Also, its EPS came in at $1.44, representing an increase of 20% year-over-year.
For the quarter ending September 30, 2023, AWK’s EPS and revenue are expected to increase 0.2% and 7.3% year-over-year to $1.63 and $1.16 billion, respectively. It surpassed the Street EPS estimates in three of the trailing four quarters. Over the past six months, the stock has gained 2.9% to close the last trading session at $137.56.
EXP manufactures and sells heavy construction materials and light building materials. It operates in four segments: Cement, Concrete and Aggregates, Gypsum Wallboard, and Recycled Paperboard. The company engages in the mining of limestone for the manufacture, production, distribution, and sale of Portland cement; grinding and sale of slag; and mining of gypsum for the manufacture and sale of gypsum wallboards.
On May 3, 2023, EXP announced the completion of the acquisition of Martin Marietta’s cement import and distribution business in Northern California, including a cement terminal in Stockton, California. The acquisition bodes well for the company as it will help extend and strengthen its distribution reach across its heartland U.S. cement manufacturing system.
EXP’s President and CEO, Michael Haack, said, “Our Nevada Cement operations have long-standing customer relationships in Northern California, and this acquisition will uniquely position us to better serve these and new customers with complementary imported product.”
“Our entire cement system is currently ‘sold out’, and this acquisition will enable us to more actively participate in the strong US demand environment. Our experience as a cement importer elsewhere in the US is a transferrable expertise at Eagle, and we expect a smooth ownership transition,” he added.
EXP’s EBIT grew at a CAGR of 24.4% over the past three years. Its net income grew at a CAGR of 56% over the past three years. In addition, its levered FCF grew at a CAGR of 54.7% in the same time frame.
In terms of the trailing-12-month net income margin, EXP’s 21.82% is 230.7% higher than the 6.60% industry average. Its 13.32% trailing-12-month levered FCF margin is 269.3% higher than the 3.61% industry average. Likewise, its 34.36% trailing-12-month EBITDA margin is 98.7% higher than the industry average of 17.29%.
EXP’s revenue for the first quarter ended June 30, 2023, increased 7.1% year-over-year to $601.52 million. The company’s adjusted net earnings rose 17.2% over the prior-year quarter to $126.15 million. Its adjusted EPS came in at $3.55, representing an increase of 25.9% year-over-year. Also, its adjusted EBITDA increased 16.4% year-over-year to $214.29 million.
Street expects EXP’s EPS and revenue for the quarter ending September 30, 2023, to increase 13.5% and 4.9% year-over-year to $4.24 and $634.84 million, respectively. Over the past year, the stock has gained 48.4% to close the last trading session at $180.19.