Construction output growth rebounds at the start of 2015, screams the latest news release from the UK Construction Purchasing Managers Index, based on research by Markit in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS).
Markit describes itself as a leading global diversified provider of financial information services, and journalists seeking a story as well as others seeking a handle on the state of the economy in general keenly watch the UK Construction Purchasing Managers Index, along with other Markit output.
The report highlights that January data shows growth of business activity, which rose from a 17-month low in December. However, job creation in the UK construction sector slipped to its weakest for 13 months.
We shouldnt consider such data fixes in isolation. Within the industry, construction firms assessment of the business outlook is the second lowest since October 2013, the report asserts. Nevertheless, at 59.1 in January, up from 57.6 in December, the seasonally adjusted Markit/CIPS UK Construction Purchasing Managers Index suggests a robust and accelerated expansion of overall business activity at the start of 2015, the report reckons.
Buy (or bye, bye) builders?
So, should we take this as a sign to buy, or get back into the housebuilders? Or should we quit while thegoing is good and sell into sector strength?
Last year, I sold all my own shares in the housebuilding firms after a great run. With the latest share-price surges in the sector, that could end up being a mistake. However, with housebuilding firms operating in one of the most cyclical sectors, I was worried that valuation compression might drag on shareholder returns even as profits rise.
The market worked out cyclicality long ago and tends to adjust for it. That means P/E ratings of firms such as Bovis Homes Group (LSE: BVS), Bellway (LSE: BWY) and Berkley Group Holdings (LSE: BKG) tend to fall as year-on-year profits rise in anticipation of peak earnings the top of the cycle. Paradoxically, low P/E ratings and high dividend yields can be markers for a cyclical top rather than a good-value entry point for the shares of highly cyclical firms. That said, we cant deny that these firms shares still seem to be rising, with many predicting more to come. All Im saying is be careful if you enter the sector now, as cyclicality can mess things up especially when the share price is far from its most recent cyclical bottom, as now.
Not a long-term hold
I reckon its best to trade the cyclicals, such as housebuilding firms, on a short-term basis to try to catch the up-leg of the economic and trading cycles. When I see Bovis Homes Groups forward P/E rating at just over eight, Bellways at just under nine and Berkley Group Holdings at nine or so, as now, the alarm bells ring. All three companies pay generous dividends, justified by their gargantuan earnings, too it all seems to add up to a potential value-investing honey trap.
One of the biggest parts of earning consistent gains on the stock market is to avoid capital loss. Im concerned that the big share-price gains we see now with housebuilders could reverse, even as earnings grow.
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