Lumber Prices May Burn Real Estate Bears

The effect of lumber prices on real estate is undeniable. As such, lumber prices can be used as a forward-looking indicator for the housing sector. Right now, lumber is carving out a potential inverse head-and shoulders bounce that may burn real estate bears.

What do lumber prices have to do with real estate?

A whole lot more than most investors think.

In fact, the correlation between lumber and real estate is one of the least known, but most accurate forward-looking real estate indicators.

I know this sounds a bit obscure, but you can’t argue with the charts. The long-term correlation chart between lumber and the PHLX Housing Sector Index is available here. Is the Housing and Real Estate Recovery here to Stay?

The key point to keep in mind is that lumber prices lead real estate prices by about 14 months.

With that in mind, let’s look at the lumber chart.

  • Lumber formed a potential head-and shoulders bottom with the (green) neckline around 340.
  • Lumber pushed above the HS neckline and the red trend line resistance.
  • Measured HS target is around 395
  • As long as trade remains above 340, the HS target remains active

Such a rally (assuming it materializes) should be felt in the housing market about 14 months later.

Of course a relapse below 340 would hint at a failed HS breakout and further weakness, which should translate into softer home prices … 14 months later.

Some of you may still wonder if lumber prices are really a ‘legit’ indicator.

Almost exactly a year ago (August 27), we published a lumber chart with a 14-month outlook via this article: How to Turn the Lagging S&P/Case-Shiller Home Index into a Leading Indicator

With the benefit of hindsight, we can now check if lumbers message a year ago proved correct.

Below is the original August 27 chart. The green graph represents lumber prices set forward by 14 months. The blue graph reflects the actual performance of the PHLX Housing Sector.

Major ‘pops and drops’ in lumber prices (such as in 2013) tend to show up muted in the real estate market – which is what happened again over the past 14 months – but directionally real estate continues to follow the beat of lumber.

Simon Maierhofer is the publisher of the Profit Radar ReportThe Profit Radar Report presents complex market analysis (S&P 500, Dow Jones, gold, silver, euro and bonds) in an easy format. Technical analysis, sentiment indicators, seasonal patterns and common sense are all wrapped up into two or more easy-to-read weekly updates. All Profit Radar Report recommendations resulted in a 59.51% net gain in 2013.

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Weekly ETF SPY: Lumber Prices and Lumber Related ETFs

At first glance you probably won’t be interested in lumber and lumber prices. But, you should know that lumber prices have a good track record of foretelling what’s next for the real estate market. According to lumber prices, the real estate market is in for a roller coaster ride.

Back in October 2012, March 2013, and May 2013 we used lumber prices as a leading indicator for real estate prices (article listed below):

How to Turn the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index into a Forward-Looking Indicator

Leading Indicator Projects Still Higher Real Estate Prices

Is the Housing and Real Estate Recovery Here to Stay?

Using lumber as a forward-looking indicator for the real estate sector has proven quite accurate, so it makes sense to look at what lumber prices are up to now.

Earlier this year lumber futures soared to $411.50 for on-track mill delivery of 110,000 board feet of random length 8-foot to 20-foot 2×4 inch pieces.

March 14, 2013 marked a significant peak and prices have fallen as much as 32.8%.

As outlined by the above-mentioned articles, lumber prices precede real estate prices by 12 – 15 months. In other words, forwarding lumber prices by 12 – 15 months allows us to roughly gauge what’s next for real estate.

Based on this observation (click here for a side-by-side comparison of lumber and real estate prices), real estate prices have a rocky road ahead (see chart below).

What’s next for lumber prices?

The chart below shows that there was no bullish RSI divergence at the most recent low. This suggests that the current rally is a counter trend.

Resistance is provided by the red lines. Prices are already above the two lower lines so a deeper retracement of the recent decline is possible.

It appears that ultimately lower prices are ahead for lumber, which will eventually (with a 12 – 15 month lag) be bad news for real estate.

There are two lumber-related ETFs:

iShares S&P Global Timber & Forestry Index Fund (WOOD)
Guggenheim Timber Index ETF (CUT)

Neither CUT nor WOOD track the actual price of lumber, but follow indexes composed of timber companies or firms that are in the timber trade.

Is the Housing and Real Estate Recovery Here to Stay?

The S&P Case/Shiller Composite 20 Home Price Index just saw its sixth consecutive monthly increase (see chart below).

The index is a composite index of the home price index for 20 major metropolitan areas in the US. Many analysts look at the 6-month recovery (short red “tail”) and are ready to pronounce a permanent bottom for the housing and real estate market.

Obviously, this would be bullish for the iShares Dow Jones US Real Estate ETF (IYR), SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF (XHB), and the overall real estate sector. But does this recovery have legs?

An Odd but Effective Indicator

It’s said that the end justifies the means and that may be the case with the quirky forecasting tool I’m about to introduce. This indicator has to do with lumber prices.

Lumber is a key component for every house and seems to play a role as a leading indicator. It seems that lumber prices tend to rise about a year before the housing sector.

The chart below plots lumber futures against the PHLX Housing Sector (HGX – not an ETF). HGX includes companies like Pulte Group, Standard Pacific, KB Home, DR Horton, Fidelity National Financial, Weyerhaeuser, etc.). I have set the lumber price forward 1 year to capture lumber’s leading indicator role.

The red arrows show the correlation between major highs and lows. Based on the tilt of the red arrows it might be even more appropriate to increase the lead from 12 to 15 months. Regardless, up until mid-2009 the correlation worked like a charm.

Enjoy it While you Can

Since mid-2009 the gyrations of lumber prices have been more pronounced and less correlated compared to the housing sector. I’m not sure why (massive monetary manipulation by the Fed likely plays a role). Assuming that the directional analogy will continue (or resume), lumber prices suggest that the housing recovery will last into mid-2013.

As of late, lumber prices have fallen through trend line support (black line), which is a bearish development. It will take time to determine just how bearish, but lumber futures suggest more weakness in mid-2013.

A resumption of the housing slump about a year from now would certainly harmonize well with our overall forecast for the stock market.

Simon Maierhofer shares his market analysis and points out high probability, low risk buy/sell recommendations via the Profit Radar Report. Click here for a free trial to Simon’s Profit Radar Report.