Warren Buffett comments on the Housing Sector in his Annual Shareholders letter

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Our largest operation in this sector is Clayton Homes, the country’s leading producer of modular and manufactured homes. Clayton was not always number one: A decade ago the three leading manufacturers were Fleetwood, Champion and Oakwood, which together accounted for 44% of the output of the industry. All have since gone bankrupt. Total industry output, meanwhile, has fallen from 382,000 units in 1999 to 60,000 units in 2009.

The industry is in shambles for two reasons, the first of which must be lived with if the U.S. economy is to recover. This reason concerns U.S. housing starts (including apartment units). In 2009, starts were 554,000, by far the lowest number in the 50 years for which we have data. Paradoxically, this is good news.

People thought it was good news a few years back when housing starts – the supply side of the picture – were running about two million annually. But household formations – the demand side – only amounted to about 1.2 million. After a few years of such imbalances, the country unsurprisingly ended up with far too many houses.

There were three ways to cure this overhang: (1) blow up a lot of houses, a tactic similar to the destruction of autos that occurred with the “cash-for-clunkers” program; (2) speed up household formations by, say, encouraging teenagers to cohabitate, a program not likely to suffer from a lack of volunteers or; (3) reduce new housing starts to a number far below the rate of household formations.

Our country has wisely selected the third option, which means that within a year or so residential housing problems should largely be behind us, the exceptions being only high-value houses and those in certain localities where overbuilding was particularly egregious. Prices will remain far below “bubble” levels, of course, but for every seller (or lender) hurt by this there will be a buyer who benefits. Indeed, many families that couldn’t afford to buy an appropriate home a few years ago now find it well within their means because the bubble burst.

Ponder that first set of numbers for a moment. Ten years ago total manufactured homes industry output was more than 600% higher than it was last year. Can you say overbuilt? Read the rest--KSH.

Filed under: * Economics, PoliticsEconomyCorporations/Corporate LifeHousing/Real Estate MarketThe Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--

2 Comments
Posted February 27, 2010 at 10:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Wow, no wonder this guy is so admired.  I’d never read one of these big annual reports before, not being a Berkshire investor (just don’t have the cash).  But Buffet is incredibly winsome, in his no-nonsense, logical, and often humorous way.  A 19 page business report, filled with lots of numbers and arcane facts about companies I’d never heard of, but it’s actually a pleasure to read.  Amazing.

Why can[‘t we get people like him to run the US government??

David Handy+

February 27, 2:08 pm | [comment link]
2. BrianInDioSpfd wrote:

Why can[‘t we get people like him to run the US government??

They are having too much fun doing something productive.

February 27, 3:22 pm | [comment link]
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