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Housing Starts Shunted on Commodity Prices; Big Q1 for Big Box Retail

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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

This morning, ahead of the open for regular trading, Housing Starts and Building Permits reported their April figures. In them, we see a big drop from expectations, especially on the starts side:

Housing Starts dropped 9.5% month over month to 1.57 million units, well below the 1.70 million anticipated. This is the lowest starts number since the 1.4 million reported for February. The March figure of 1.74 million, on the other hand, was the best since 2006.

Building Permits — a proxy for future starts — came just about in-line: 1.76 million versus 1.77 million. The previous month’s revision came down to 1.76 million from 1.77 million originally reported. For a bit of perspective, this is down from the high watermark pandemic-era figure in January: 1.89 million units — also the best since 2006.

What’s stopping progress in the homebuilding industry are supply chain issues and very high commodity prices. Even workforce issues exist: homebuilders are not finding enough workers to build new houses at their expected rate. We all know about the record lumber prices; we’re now seeing builders delaying starts because of them.

The biggest problem beneath the headline comes from single-family homes, which are down 13.4% to 1.087 million. As single-family housing is a much better-performing source of homebuilding compared to multi-family (which is not performing as badly), this is where we see a main crimp in industry strength.

Much was expected from this group, as well; a year ago, homebuilding overall had ground to an absolute halt. Question is: when will these issues begin to dissipate?

Walmart (WMT - Free Report) shares are +3.4% in the pre-market after a big beat on its January Q1 bottom line: $1.69 per share versus $1.22 expected, and a nice surge from the $1.18 per share reported a year ago. Revenues of $131.34 billion beat the Zacks consensus by almost 3%. The company has only missed earnings estimates three times in the past five years, and today’s beat surpasses the trailing 4-quarter average beat of 10%.

Home Depot (HD - Free Report) also reported fiscal Q1 numbers well ahead of expectations: $3.86 per share versus $3.04 estimated, far beyond the $2.08 per share in the year-ago quarter. Sales grew 32.7% to $37.5 billion in the quarter, easily bettering the $34.88 billion. Impressively, Home Depot had increased inventories 28% in the quarter, and it still wasn’t enough to keep up with sales. Halcyon days for the home improvement giant, indeed.

Macy’s (M - Free Report) swung to positive earnings versus the Zacks consensus this morning — +39 cents per share versus a loss of 41 cents expected — on revenues of $4.71 billion, which grew 62.5% year over year. The long-suffering department store has also upped its full-year 2021 guidance: to $1.71-2.02 on the bottom line versus the anticipated 77 cents per share, on between $21.73-22.23 billion in revenues, taking out the earlier estimate of $20.982 billion.

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