The housing market has been leading the economic recovery, but have housing stocks hit the ceiling? They're jumping today after a very bullish report on housing starts: New construction projects last month topped the 1 million annual rate for the time since before the financial crisis began in 2008.
That's lifted shares of leading homebuilders by two to four percent today, adding to the huge gains over the past year.
KB Homes (KBH), Pulte (PHA) and Hovnanian (HOV) have all doubled in price over the past year. Lennar (LEN) is up 44 percent, D.R. Horton (DHI) is up 47 percent and Toll Brothers (TOL) 33 percent.
Those gains have prompted several other builders to go public this year. Taylor Morrison Home (TMHC), Tri Pointe, and William Lyon Home have all moved higher since their IPOs.
And even though there's plenty of optimism that housing will continue to lead the broader economic recovery, there's some concern that these stocks may slow down. Homebuilder stocks can no longer be considered cheap. So some analysts see alternate routes for investors looking to play the housing boom.
One way is through home-improvement retailers, which benefit from sales of both new and existing homes. Other plays include lumber, furniture and appliance companies.
It's also worth noting that today's report on home construction showed that starts of single-family homes actually declined in March. It was the more volatile multi-family sector that led the advance.
But there may be some stock market opportunities in REITs – real estate investment trusts – which focus on apartments. Among the biggest ones are Post Properties, Essex Property Trust and Associated Estates.
They make money from collecting monthly rents. And these stocks generally trade below the value of the properties they own.
Even some builders known for single-family homes are moving into the multi-family segment. Lennar announced in January that it plans to enter the apartment rental market.
Apartment rents have been rising for the past few years, and apartment vacancies are still at or near their lowest levels since 2001.
–Produced by Drew Trachtenberg
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