Housing 'Big Question Mark' for Economy: William Ackman

Activist investor William Ackman sees a U.S. economy that will "massively outperform expectations" once the housing market improves.

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Housing "is really the big question mark," Ackman, managing partner at hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management, told CNBC Thursday.

"You have housing prices down 30 percent to 50 percent, you have interest rates down 30 percent to 40 percent from where they were, call it five years ago. So the effective cost for owning a home is the lowest it’s been ever" and cheaper than renting an apartment, Ackman said.

But people aren't buying homes because they are afraid of losing their jobs, he added. "Once unemploymentstabilizes, which I think we are headed in the right direction, all of a sudden people will feel comfortable buying a home."

Ackman's company owns 7,000 acres of residential land in Las Vegas, which he called "probably the worst market in the country." But even here he is "starting to see some glimmers of interest on the part of home builders who are putting down deposits to buy land again, which is great."

Pershing Square also has a stake in Fortune Brands Home and Security , which Fortune Brands spun off under pressure from Ackman. This company has generated "one-third of the cash flow it would if the [housing] market recovered. So we’ll participate as the market recovers, I think," said Ackman.

He called housing "a great investment," he said, echoing Warren Buffett'srecent comments on the value of owning as many single-family homes as possible and renting them out.

He believes mortgage lender Fannie Mae could "stabilize" the housing market if it would keep its foreclosed properties rather than sell them, "fix them up and rent them and become a residential REIT that owns homes."