Housing market is still one of the brightest spots of the US
New York (CNN Business)The housing market could continue to prop up the US economy in 2020 even if concerns about Iran and trade talks with China dampen confidence for American businesses.
A healthy job market and low mortgage rates have made homes more affordable for many consumers, although values crept steadily higher throughout 2019.
In October, housing prices rose 3.3% annually, according to the most recent S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller US National Home Price NSA Index, which came out last month. Phoenix, Tampa and Charlotte posted particularly strong gains.
And homebuilder Lennar reported solid fourth quarter earnings Wednesday, citing healthy demand across the country.
In a conference call with analysts, Lennar executive chairman Stuart Miller said that results were good despite "the constant noise from the current election cycle" and "global tensions."
"The indicators that we see from our customers reflect confidence in the stability of the economy and in the job market," Miller added. "The housing market is strong."
Shares of Lennar (LEN) rose about 1% on the news Wednesday. The stock enjoyed a 40% gain in 2019. That's in line with the increase for the S&P Homebuilders ETF (XHB) -- a fund that owns big builders, home improvement retailers Home Depot (HD) and Lowe's (LOW) and suppliers like Owens Corning (OC) and Whirlpool (WHR).
KB Home, (KBH) another builder whose stock soared nearly 75% last year, will report its latest results after Thursday's closing bell. Analysts are expecting a 19% jump in sales and 34% surge in earnings per share.
Three interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve last year have underpinned some of the housing market's recent strength as well, said Michael Bapis, a managing director for Vios Advisors at Rockefeller Capital Management.
Rates unlikely to spike higher anytime soon
According to Freddie Mac, the average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage is now 3.72%. That's down from 4.51% at the same time a year ago.
"Low rates have helped the housing recovery. Unemployment is low and you are starting to see more wage growth. So housing may still have more room to grow," Bapis said.
The combination of cheap mortgages, a healthy consumer and booming demand for new homes is a recipe for continued success this year.
"Home builder confidence rose to a new high in December, while new home sales hit the highest level since 2007," Brad McMillan, chief investment officer at Commonwealth Financial Network, said in a report this week. "Housing is a significant indicator of consumer willingness to spend, and this recovery is a positive indicator for 2020."
The housing boom should be good news for financial service stocks as well, said Chris Gaffney, president of world markets at TIAA Bank. Gaffney told CNN Business that lenders should benefit from low interest rates and resilient consumers that will continue to need mortgages.
That could lead to greater consumer confidence and overall spending as long as home sales and home prices keep climbing.
"Housing is important for consumer psychology since homes make up the bulk of most people's wealth, not stocks," said Scott Clemons, chief investment strategist with Brown Brothers Harriman. "Housing can continue to be a tailwind for the economy."