NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Warren Buffett said in this year's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) annual letter that he was wrong before he was right about calling a bottoming in the housing market - "dead wrong" -- but now he will be right, finally, in saying the corner is turning, or about to be turned in the housing market.
In other words, parsing Buffett's words on housing is a fool's errand for an investor.
Take building materials company USG (USG), a stock shunned by most of Wall Street but loved by Buffett, who owns more than 17 million shares. USG is a building materials company that fits perfectly in the theme that a rising housing tide will lift the Berkshire Hathaway boat, as it has a heavy investment in housing, from building construction plays to carpet and furniture makers, home builders and mortgage providers.
On Wednesday, USG announced better than expected sales through the first two months of the year, thanks to a pricing increase in its gypsum wallboard market, driving margins higher for the first quarter. Through February, the company's net sales totaled $516.9 million, up 16% from the year-ago period.Shares of USG hit a new 52-week high of $19.44 in intraday action on Wednesday, and the stock has gained nearly 70% already this year. It recently changed hands at $19.13, up nearly 12% on the day. Permits for U.S. home building neared a four-year high in February. Multi-family housing permits continue to go higher and even the embattled single-family home permit number is up 9 out of the past 12 months. Existing home sales, though, disappointed on Wednesday, though some market pundits said disappointed "not by much." Others point to the ambivalent data showing that whether existing home sales disappointed by a little or a lot, they remain near a long-term average. Home prices haven't rebounded, but they have stabilized somewhat, and so the market pundits still say that all in all, it's time to call a bottom in housing, including Warren Buffett. Here's what the Oracle of Omaha had to say in his recent annual letter: "Last year, I told you that 'a housing recovery will probably begin within a year or so.' I was dead wrong...Housing will come back - you can be sure of that. Over time, the number of housing units necessarily matches the number of households (after allowing for a normal level of vacancies). For a period of years prior to 2008, however, America added more housing units than households."
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