Different Way to Play Housing: Manufactured $CVCO $SKY

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I did a recent post on Sun Communities, a manufactured housing and RV park manager. I liked the core business and outlook, but returns on capital seemed too low and the the REIT structure made them over reliant on capital markets for growth. I could be wrong on that name, but I think I found where I’d prefer to play: manufactured housing stocks. And there are two stocks in the space: Cavco (CVCO) and Skyline Champion (SKY). The Oracle of Omaha owns the other, biggest player in the space, Clayton Homes.

Why Manufactured Housing?

Bottom line: Manufactured housing has improved considerably over the past 30 years (both from a product perspective and an industry perspective). With home prices moving higher with tight supply vs. demand, I think we will see considerable demand for something more affordable for years to come. I also think these stocks are “off the radar” for most people. COVID also masked a very large build in backlog.

Why is Housing in a Shortage?¬†Following the last downturn, where we clearly overbuilt housing supply, we went too far in the other direction. We’ve been underbuilding arguably since 2010 when the housing market started to bottom.

If you look at the long-term average of construction starts (pictured below), its around 1.5-1.6MM average starts per year. We just got back to that level 11 years after the bottom. So we just got to long term averages. In 2012-2013, we were still building in line with the lows of 1980’s and 1990’s recessions (I’ll add that the average mortgage rate in the 80s was in the teens percent range… not below 4%).

Another simple way I think about it is, if there are 120MM households in the US and that grows 1% per year, we need at least 1.2MM new housing developments each year, and that is before any teardowns or second homes.

In reality, household formations over the past 10 years have been held back. We all remember the stories of millennials moving back in with mom and dad. Well, that is a deferred housing formation. And that is finally starting to unwind as millennials age, get married, and have higher savings.

Another way to look at it is from “months supply of inventory.” Months supply of single-family homes hit a new all time low recently at 1.9 months. This means at the current sales pace, all of the housing inventory available for sale would be sold in less than 2 months – a new record low.

Tight supply + strong demand = increased prices. Econ 101. And that is bearing out. CoreLogic reported home prices increased 10% Y/Y in January 2021. Low interest rates also haven’t hurt to spur demand…

Could housing cycle down again? Yes. Absolutely. In 2018, when rates were rising, people paused their purchases. You can kind of see the surge in months supply of inventory on that last chart in 2018. However, that just deferred demand.

I encourage you to scan your local market for “entry level” homes. There just aren’t any available. Part of that is also because of investors scooping up rental homes, too. We also now have 3 publicly traded REITs that play in the single-family home market that didn’t exist prior to the financial crisis.

All of this tells me that housing will remain unaffordable to a large swath of the population.

Enter: Manufactured Housing

In areas I look at real estate, the $150k entry-level home doesn’t exist anymore. At least, not within an hour’s drive. Heck, even $250k is becoming more scarce.

SKY had an interesting stat from 2018 that noted, 80% of homes sold below $150k are now manufactured homes. The average price SKY sold homes at was ~$63k, so there is a huge disparity between entry-level single family home and buying manufactured housing.

We also can’t forget that ~37% of American’s earn less than $50k per year. One out of four Americans make less than $35k per year. And that’s the market for manufactured housing.

Statistic: Percentage distribution of household income in the U.S. in 2019 | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

Some Quick History

This might be a good time to explain some history on manufactured housing. In short, MH saw a mini-preview of the Great Financial Crisis in the 1990s. Both consumers AND retailers were able to get ultra-easy financing. When you think about that in relation to supply / demand, it basically meant demand from consumers was artificially propped up AND retailers were able to stockpile inventory cheaply.¬† This eventually caused the industry to implode and it still hasn’t recovered from a shipments perspective.

Recovery to these levels isn’t my thesis though. It is pretty hard to argue shipments will go back to bubble levels.

The share of manufactured housing as % of housing starts has been pretty constant though over the past 15 years, which I think could improve some in an affordability crisis. I think it could also exceed recent levels because of this. I also think starts will continue to be above long-term averages.

So we may not get to 222k shipments as highlighted in the chart above, but we could come somewhere in between.

As with any downturn, this led to consolidation. Berkshire is the behemoth, followed by Skyline (which merged with Champion) and Cavco. The latter two still roll up any players that come for sale, but its pretty well consolidated at this point.

As pictured at the beginning of this post, the inventory available has really improved. And they come in all shapes and sizes…..

I Like the Business Model

The business is vertically integrated. A SKY or CAVCO typically manufacture the home, but also operate the retail side as well (though there are individual retailers, too).

Need financing? Cavco and Clayton have retail financing arms, too (and they are GSE approved). Both Fannie and Freddie offer financing support, which is relatively new and I personally view as a game-changer. There was a recent WSJ article on this as well. Now consumers can get access to cheap financing with as little as 3-5% down – very helpful to a consumer who may not have a high degree of net worth. I’ll circle back to the limits of this, though (permitting).

How do they transport the homes? They operate trucking businesses, too.

Anyway, I think the manufacturing side of these homes is interesting. Homebuilding is actually moving more and more to these sorts of “off-site construction” given labor constraints and a desire to speed up build times.

Why Permitting is an Issue

A benefit to Sun Communities is a detriment to Cavco and Skyline. Manufactured housing suffers from “NIMBY” or not in my back yard. So permitting for new communities that allow these types of housing is tough and this has clearly been a governor on growth. That is essentially why Sun has to acquire for growth versus anything organic.

However, with improved aesthetics and a broader realization that housing is unaffordable, we could see some changes here on the margin.

Cavco and Skyline are very similar, so I’ll just show CAVCO highlight below. While EBITDA margins are relatively low, capex is too. So for each dollar of EBITDA earned, they actually convert a decent amount of that into unlevered FCF (excl-taxes, excl-interest). It seems pretty clear to me that the company can scale up earnings without needing to invest too much.

For example, Cavco acquired some commercial real estate in 2020. Otherwise capex would have been $8-$10MM. Said another way, they increased EBITDA from 2016 by $42MM, but recurring capex only went up by $4MM…

Backlogs are Big

In March 2020, Cavco had a backlog of ~$124 million. Today… its $472 million. But if you looked at 2020’s results, it doesn’t look like Cavco really benefitted too much. LTM sales are up 1%. But the reason has been manufacturing disruption. So the results are really more on the come.

Skyline is in a similar place: Their backlog before the pandemic hit was $128MM… now its nearly 4x that.¬†


Admittedly, Cavco and Skyline don’t screen as cheap stocks. Each trade around 15.5x March ’22 EBITDA and 25x FCF based on consensus estimates. Number one, I think the higher multiples are warranted as these businesses can generate good FCF and they also are essentially debt-free (kind of like WD40). I also think growth will be above average for years to come.

I also think consensus is way too low.

Again, these are manufacturing businesses with backlogs that are up 4x from pre-COVID and we really haven’t seen that roll through yet. Therefore, consensus estimating sales up 12-15% for CY2021 seems way too low to me. While labor and raw material increases could squeeze margins, if capacity utilization on the plants are running flat out, that fixed cost leverage will improve EBITDA considerably.

Time will tell. I like both Cavco and Skyline and am just playing it via a basket.

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