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LAND RUSH So far has home building recovered from the stygian depths of 2009 that prices are rising even for unimproved dirt without gold underneath. Skipping to the bottom line, Grant's is bullish on Mother Earth: for instance, on land suitable for development in Southern California, along the Gulf Coast and on the outskirts of Albuquerque, N.M. And we are bullish on the long fallow equity of a couple of listed land businesses, Amrep Corp. and Tejon Ranch (AXR and TRC, respectively, on the New York Stock Exchange). One forgets how great was the collapse in home building. "When the bubble burst," colleague Evan Lorenz points out, "construction activity fell to lows not seen since the Census Bureau began tracking the market in 1959. In previous busts, housing starts fell below the annualized rate of one million for a few months before rebounding to the long-term average of 1.5 million. In April 2009, starts fell to a series low of 478,000, about half the level recorded in a typical downturn. Huzzas greeted news that builders had started 894,000 houses at an annual rate in October, up by 42% from the year before and surpassing expectations of 840,000 starts at an annual rate. Modest, indeed, are the hopes of the bulls." Then, again, modesty becomes the housing bulls. Nov. 16 brought news, or rather a reminder, of how dependent the market remains on federal subsidies. The Federal Housing Agency admits it has but $30.3 billion in cash reserves to meet $46.6 ...

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