Cheap mortgages, rising wages, benign land prices and the government's Help to Buy have buoyed housebuilder shares. The question going forward is whether the good times are set to continue or if slower house price inflation and persistent supply side (cost) inflation will spoil the party.
- The market in existing housing remains in the doldrums as homeowners sit on their hands, not willing to commit to bigger mortgages, thanks to affordability concerns and possibly economic uncertainty due to Brexit. By contrast, sales of new homes are still buoyant, with the government’s Help to Buy scheme the main driver; some major housebuilders make half of their sales to buyers using Help to Buy.
- Rising labour costs have the potential to dent housebuilders’ profit margins, although sterling’s recovery has helped trim the cost of imports. Increased output could help maintain bottom lines if margins fall but planning constraints are problematic. Overall, the rate of profit growth is expected to slow.
- Years of undersupply in the housing market, which has its root in a dearth of social housing construction since Right to Buy in the 1980s, mean that housebuilders could theoretically keep increasing output each year without resolving the supply/demand imbalance for the foreseeable future. The worst danger the sector could face is not a revival in small housebuilders increasing supply. Rather, a recessionary scenario where prospective buyers sit on their hands (as they did in 2007-9 when the housing shortage was already well established), would be most detrimental.