The outlook for the U.S housing market remains strong as continued job growth and wage increases have resulted in solid demand for homes.
Mortgage rates have not been affected since the Federal Reserve started increasing short-term interest rates in December 2015, keeping housing payments affordable for homeowners.
But some banks have expressed a bearish viewpoint on the stocks of homebuilders. Barclays cut ratings on homebuilder stocks Lennar (LEN) , PulteGroup (PHM) and TRI Pointe Group (TPH) to "equal-weight" from "overweight," while downgrading Toll Brothers (TOL) to "underweight" from "equal-weight."
"Our builder target prices are unchanged and show 7% average downside," Barclays wrote in a research report. "We view building product/distribution stocks as having a more attractive risk/reward."
The bank contends that expectations have run up ahead of themselves, and even though demand remains robust, decelerating indicators such as buyer traffic shows limited upside. Barclays offered some assurances for the industry, stating that the housing backdrop remains favorable with low inventory levels against encouraging household formations. But constraints such as land and labor pressures will prolong the sector's recovery.
Mizuho Securities analyst Haendel St. Juste downgraded both KB Home (KBH) and PulteGroup (PHM) to "underperform" from "neutral" based on concerns that full valuations will make it harder for the homebuilders to outperform, Barron's reported.
St. Juste put a $21 price target on KB Home despite "substantial improvement in gross margins." There's more optimism than there should be and lagging orders paired with a low community count mean limited upside, St. Juste wrote.
Pulte received a $22 price target, but the lack of expected margin growth and negative absorption rates suggest Pulte's current valuation is "unjustified," according to St. Juste.
St. Juste's two buy-rated stocks in the homebuilder sector are Lennar Corp and Toll Brothers Inc..
The key driver affecting the demand for homes is employment and with the addition of 200,000 new jobs every month, a "solid demand" of potential new home buyers is being created, said Torsten Slok, chief international economist for Deutsche Bank Securities.
"Housing demand should continue to be solid going forward," he said. "Despite the recent slowdown in some housing indicators, we still think the housing outlook is solid. If job growth begins to slow, then the first sector I would worry about would be housing."
The decline in affordability in some part of the U.S. has less of an impact than other economic factors, Slok said.