The Coming Housing Boom: Millennials in Exile

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Much has been written about the factors original to the American generation of adults currently age 21-39. Many of these factors―student loans, marriage later in life, child bearing later in life, the prior era housing bust and fears that we'd become a renter nation―have dominated investors’ attention. We would like to include one more factor(s) into the mix as we give you an update on the coming boom. Millennials, more than any prior generational group, live in exile. We believe this exile living and hesitancy to put down roots has contributed to the slowness of the coming boom and will contribute to its size and duration.

First, an update on housing was provided by Leslie Norton of Barron's in an interview with top housing analyst, Ivy Zelman in the June 5th issue:

Barron’s: “April new home sales soared 17%. Where are we in the housing recovery?”

Zelman: “Four years in. The first increase was in 2012. There are multiple years ahead. We are still 35% below a normalized level of starts, and that’s for a single-family. Every cycle is different. This cycle will be elongated, and the slope of the recovery is flatter than what we thought the trajectory would look like when we called the bottom in 2012. Builders have been slower to see the growth. There’s a shortage of shelter. We’re pretty indifferent whether shelter should be owned or rented. We’re just saying there isn’t enough. The U.S. is at a 30-year low of inventory available for sale. We are predicting double-digit housing-starts growth this year, next year, and in 2018.”

We would argue that many Millennials have removed themselves from their hometown and their college town via their employment and the lateness of marriage. This contributes directly to Ivy's "elongation." We find it easy to estimate that the current new homebuilding pace of 629,000 units in 2016 will grow to a 1.5 million unit run-rate within five years. This would truly be a boom and could carry the U.S. economy along with it.

Numerous studies show that folks under thirty years of age change jobs much more often than prior generations. The average age to marry has risen above 28 years old, with men at 29 in the mix. BCA Research has taught us that American women who have three children are likely to bear more of them in their thirties than in their twenties. The census bureau just reported a drop-off in teenage pregnancies and a lower rate of birth for women in their twenties. This was offset by sizable growth in pregnancies between 30 and 45 (Janet Jackson not withstanding).

Twelve years ago, the average child was born to a below-average income family. Five years ago, it moved to average. We are quickly moving to child bearing being dominated by above-average income households as many college-educated, two-income couples marry and have babies. You might call it the ‘Kate Middleton and Prince William generation.’

Have there been any historical situations we could reference which are analogous to the present time? In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah in chapter 29, God uses the prophet Jeremiah to tell the people of Israel what to do during their time of exile in Babylon under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar:

4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

The Israelites were hesitant to put down roots in a foreign land, especially one they didn't prefer. Today's millennial group enjoys the heavily populated and expensive cities in which they are recruited, while single, and they have been slow to have children and "build houses." They have also not been as interested in the welfare of their cities, since they are "exiled" there.

We are very excited about the business upside of 86 million Americans taking an interest in the welfare of the city or town they live in. The primary way you learn what is going on in your city is via professional journalists who report for local newspapers and local network-affiliate TV stations. Well-written and well-spoken words are scarce and the list of public companies that provide the information are few and are well defended from competition.

Tegna (TGNA) is the largest owner of CBS and NBC affiliate stations and owns and They reach approximately one third of U.S. households and local television content is among Facebook's most popular posts. It trades for 9.9-times First Call 2016 estimated profits, pays a dividend around 2.5% and produces very substantial free cash flow.

Gannett is the largest owner of local newspapers in the U.S. They have a strategy providing a template to their digital/print papers in cities across the U.S. to put local community news into words and use the mega-brand, USA Today, to inexpensively provide national and international news. The stock trades at 10.1-times First Call 2016 estimated profits, 7.2-times free cash flow and yields well over 4.2% in dividends.

Why is putting down roots so important? The American economy is driven by weddings, babies, cars that fit car seats and home buying/remodeling and furnishing. We believe that the current fears of a slower economy are the last gasp of a post-financial meltdown era and are about to be replaced by exiles in the U.S. building homes and having families. This will produce much higher economic growth, spawn higher interest rates and benefit companies with a direct and/or indirect connection to an America, which will be much different in ten years.

Warm Regards,
William Smead

The information contained in this missive represents Smead Capital Management's opinions, and should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice and are subject to change. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Bill Smead, CIO and CEO, wrote this article. It should not be assumed that investing in any securities mentioned above will or will not be profitable. Portfolio composition is subject to change at any time and references to specific securities, industries and sectors in this letter are not recommendations to purchase or sell any particular security. Current and future portfolio holdings are subject to risk. In preparing this document, SCM has relied upon and assumed, without independent verification, the accuracy and completeness of all information available from public sources. A list of all recommendations made by Smead Capital Management within the past twelve-month period is available upon request.

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