Analyst Upgrades Housing Stocks -- the Big Chase Marches On (KBH, LEN, TOL, WY, XHB, ITB)

By now you are likely well aware that the housing crisis is not just over. The housing market is undersupplied and many markets are experiencing huge booms in their pricing. Many economists preach that housing has to be strong for the much broader U.S. economy to be strong. If so, then Raymond James is signaling that housing (and therefore the broader economy) is going to get a boost again in 2013.

Today’s research upgrade was before the report on February housing starts showed an increase of 0.8% for the month. Housing starts tie directly into the home builders because its is a measurement of new construction projects.

Raymond James raised its ratings to Outperform from Market Perform on K.B. Home (NYSE: KBH), Lennar Corp. (NYSE: LEN) and Toll Brothers Inc. (NYSE: TOL). The firm also raised estimates due to strong housing market pricing trends around the nation. Even Weyerhaeuser Co. (NYSE: WY) was raised to Outperform from Market Perform for its timber gains coming down the road.

We would at least caution investors and traders that today’s upgrade is not just with many of these approaching or at 52-week highs. Most of these are at highs not seen since before the recession took hold. Lennar did not hit a high, and it is now only up six cents at $41.64. Toll Brothers is up 1.4% to $34.64 and is about 10% under its 52-week high, while K.B. Home is up more than 3% at $21.10m and shares reached a new high of $21.44 today.

The Commerce Department on Tuesday morning reported that single-family starts were up by 0.5% to a rate of 618,000 units, and that is the highest reading back to mid-2008. The total housing starts, including multifamily starts, was a rate of 917,000 annually. The number of permits is another indication of housing starts to continue rising, as this was up 4.6% to an annualized reading of 946,000 in February.

The move has shares of SPDR S&P Homebuilders (NYSEMKT: XHB) up 0.4% at $29.90, but the exchange traded fund hit a 52-week high of $30.13 this morning. Actually, go ahead and make that a five-year high! The iShares Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction (NYSEMKT: ITB) also reached a 52-week high of $24.35 this morning.

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