The REcap - April 2020

Real estate stocks recovered in April, capturing gains seen in the broader market. Real estate company market performance is still worse than it was pre-pandemic. But things are surprisingly okay. News from major portals on continued demand is more promising than many expected. But listings are declining. Shelter-in-place and challenges coordinating new listings are likely weighing on the market.


Key takeaways:

  • Real estate stocks improved in April but did not offset March losses. Brokerages gained 24.7% after 33.2% losses in March; portals improved 19.3% after losing 32.2% in March. These gains were better than the S&P, but the losses in March were also much deeper.
  • The real estate market is not as dire as many would have expected (yet). Redfin announced that demand was only down 15% from pre-pandemic levels. Prices were up 1% year-over-year.
  • Home listings do appear to be under pressure. This may be the main challenge for the housing market in the next few months. New listings fell 44.1% in April according to Realtor.com.
  • Mortgage rates dropped to their lowest level in the history of the MBA survey.  But it’s hard for borrowers to get approved. Banks are creating higher credit and downpayment hurdles. That said, refinances are going strong. Better.com has seen a 200% increase in refinancing and is actively hiring.
  • Many real estate companies report earnings in May. This means  that data next month will be more comprehensive.

Market context

Despite continued uncertainty from COVID-19, the markets improved in April. A lot of this was recovery from a bad March.


April S&P 500 Performance: The S&P recovered from it’s March decline, ending the month up 17.9%. In March, the S&P declined 16.4% due to concerns over the economy and COVID-19. 

Why it matters: Despite record unemployment and no clear end to COVID-19, improvements in the market spread to real estate stocks.

April 30-year Mortgage Survey Results: 30-year interest rates fell even further to historic lows of 3.23%. Why it matters: Interest rates remain at historic lows. It’s more attractive for buyers to get a mortgage because low interest rates mean lower interest fees. But we’re seeing most of this impact in refinancing activity to convert current interest rates to lower interest rates. Better.com reported a 200% increase in refinancing. While rates are low, many banks are creating higher hurdles for borrowers in order to mitigate risk.

February Case Shiller Index Results: In February, home prices increased almost .4% month-over-month and almost 4% year-over-year. This continues the increases we’ve seen year-to-date. But it does not yet include data from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Data next month will likely be more telling. Why it matters: It probably doesn’t. The pandemic and economic concerns are not built into February data. But early indications on March and April sales prices seem to show that prices are holding up. But listing volume and transactions are declining.


Annualized existing home sales: Annualized existing home sales fell significantly from ~5.8M in February to ~5.3M in March. While troubling on a month-over-month basis, it’s an improvement year-over-year by about 100,000. Why it matters: We’re seeing very early indications of declines, but this is mostly the result of closed contracts from January and February. Things are still better year-over-year which means we’ll have to wait and see how deep the damage is in April and May. Two key challenges will be the reduced number of listings on the market, and the hurdles buyers are facing to qualify for mortgages.

Brokerages

Brokerages did see improvements in April. But they failed to offset the massive losses in March.  There was some positive commentary on the real estate market being better than it could have been. Though there also wasn’t much new other than continued hiring freezes and layoffs. Continued furloughs, layoffs, and shelter-in-place policies seem bad for real estate. However,  the markets seem willing to suspend disbelief or have already priced in most of the expected pain into stock prices.

Realogy

Stock price: $4.34 | Up 44.2%

Enterprise value: $4.4B | Up $153M

What happened? Realogy clawed back some of it’s whopping ~68% declines in March. Other than broader improvements in the market, there wasn’t much to point to for the gains.

  • Realogy announced a lawsuit aimed at Madison Dearborn Partners for not completing its acquisition of Cartus Relocation Services Business. The market reacted somewhat positively to that news.

Redfin

Stock price: $21.13 | Up 37%

Enterprise value: $2.0B | Up $644M

What happened? Redfin recovered a large portion of its March 43% declines. Most notably, Redfin announced cost control measures to furlough its agents alongside staff cuts aimed to weather the market challenges.

  • Early in the month Redfin furloughed over 40% of its agents and announced plans to cut 7% of its staff. Redfin’s stock rose slightly on the news. Overall, it seems like the market largely expected these types of cuts and already priced these in.
  • Redfin did announce a speedy recovery based on its data. Home buying demand was only down only 15% from pre-pandemic levels. Prices were still up 1% year-over-year.
  • Redfin announced that demand for virtual tours increased 30% in early April. Relative to other brokerages with less tech infrastructure, this may be a source of strength for Redfin.
  • David Lissy was announced as Redfin’s new board chairman.

eXp Realty

Stock price: $9.18 | Up 8.5%

Enterprise value: $566M | Up $47M

What happened? eXp posted solid improvements but didn’t gain as much as the broader market. The market did not respond much to the company’s continued agent growth. But it also didn't punish the company for headcount reductions.

  • eXp provided preliminary agent count numbers for Q1, showing an increase to 28,449 agents from 25,400 agents at the end of the year.
  • The company also announced headcount cuts of up to 15% aimed at reducing costs during the challenging market conditions. There was virtually no market response, showing that most of this was already priced into the stock.

Re/Max

Stock price: $26.29 | Up 19.9%

Enterprise value: $281M | Up $83.9M

What happened? Like other real estate brokerage companies, Re/Max saw some steady improvement that helped offset much of the roughly 25% decline it saw last month.

  • Re/Max announced declining agent growth leading up to the pandemic. It also offered several measures to help support franchisees including a waiver or deferral of fees.
  • Similar to other real estate brokerage companies, Re/Max also implemented some cost cutting measures around hiring and compenaiton.
  • The market did not respond significantly to either announcement, implying many of these factors were already built into expectations.

Vector Group (Douglas Elliman owner)

Stock price: $10.70 | Up 13.6%

Enterprise value: $2.87B | Up $190M

What happened? Vector Group clawed back almost 14% against its losses of 19% last month. There wasn’t meaningful company-related news for the month.

  • *For reference, Douglas Elliman is ~40% of Vector Group’s revenues.

Portals

Similar to brokerages, portals saw some recovery month-over-month but did not completely offset declines seen in March.

Zillow Group

Stock price: $43.54 | Up 28.2%

Enterprise value: $9.4B | Up $1.9B

What happened? Zillow posted solid gains, but failed to counter the 39% declines from March. That said, after Zillow’s strong 20.5% gains in February, it’s only down about 5% from the start of the year.

  • There wasn’t much company-specific news from Zillow that drove the stock price in April.

News Corp (Realtor.com owner)

Stock price: $9.91 | Up 10.4%

Enterprise value: $8.6B | Up $609M

What happened? News Corp had a strong month, but not nearly good enough to offset a 25.7% loss in March.

  • Most notably, Realtor.com announced a significant decline in April listings. This wasn’t necessarily an impact on News Corp’s stock but was some negative industry data after Redfin offered some promise regarding demand.
  • *For reference, Realtor.com and its direct parent, Move, account for roughly 40% of News Corp’s revenues.

This post was last updated on: 
May 4, 2020
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