Sunday, May 31, 2009

Housing Market Update

This is a HUGE subject and I probably can't do it justice in one blog entry. But here goes.

Sales of new one-family houses in April 2009 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 352,000, according to estimates released jointly last week by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 0.3 percent (±14.5%)* above the revised March rate of 351,000, but is 34.0 percent (±11.0%) below the April 2008 estimate of 533,000.

The median sales price of new houses sold in April 2009 was $209,700; the average sales price was $254,000. The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of April was 297,000. This represents a supply of 10.1 months at the current sales rate.

Below are some viewpoints from some housing pundits regarding this latest report:
  • The new home sales numbers seem to confirm what the single-family housing starts and permits numbers imply — that the market for new single-family homes is flattening — indeed, that it may have hit bottom in January — and that the recovery will be a slow one. Despite improving numbers, we are not ready to say that the market has hit bottom. These numbers are estimates with large standard deviations. Because the margin of errors is big, the footnote in the press release warns, “It takes four months to establish a trend for new homes sold.” We still project that this market will start expanding in the second half of this year. –Patrick Newport, IHS Global Insight

  • As opposed to the resale volumes, which increased by 2.9% month-to-month in April, new home sales remain sluggish. Plunging prices, record-low mortgage rates and an $8000 tax credit for first time buyers did not help much to push up hew housing demand. We believe, new home sales is probably a better reflection of the underlying demand than the existing home sales which have been highly boosted by the increasing foreclosure numbers recently. Nevertheless, new home inventories kept declining in April which sent the months’ supply in new homes to 2.3 month below a record of 12.4 months reached in January. In addition, the home prices kept falling and were 14.9% below last April’s levels. Even though we see builders are becoming more optimistic about the future of the housing industry and there is some stabilization in housing demand, surging foreclosures, rising mortgage rates and high unemployment rates will weigh heavily on new home sales and will prevent a sharp rebound in the housing market in the near future. –Yelena Shulyatyeva, BNP Paribas

  • New homes are now sitting on the market for a median 10.9 months before selling, and completed homes still comprise an extraordinarily high share of total homes for sale. While sales have stabilized within a fairly narrow range over recent months, there is little to suggest that the sales rate will post a meaningful and sustained increase any time soon. Despite the Fed’s efforts, mortgage rates are heading higher, while the ongoing erosion in the labor market and tougher mortgage lending standards will continue to act as drags on sales. It is true that the first-time buyer tax credit is stimulating sales, but this will not be sufficient to sustain a meaningful increase in new home sales. –Richard F. Moody, Forward Capital

  • Even with some normalization of unsold inventory of newly constructed homes, it’s unlikely that the real estate market can support any significant pick-up in homebuilding activity in the foreseeable future. That’s because foreclosure activity is still increasing and these properties are flooding the market. –David Greenlaw, Morgan Stanley

  • The report was a bit of a mixed bag, as the weaker than expected gains in new home sales will likely be offset by the improvement in the inventory data. –Millan L. B. Mulraine, TD Securities

  • This is a bit disappointing, given the hefty increase in homebuilder sentiment in the past couple of months. The relatively late Easter might have restrained activity, we suppose, but we cannot be sure. Either way, we still think the combination of very low mortgage rates and falling inventory will entice people back into the market in greater numbers over the next few months. –Ian Shepherdson, High Frequency Economics

  • Looking ahead, reports from homebuilders indicate that activity picked up in April and then a bit further in May, led by first-time homebuyers attracted by steep price declines at the bottom end of the market. The same appears to be true of existing homes, where first-timers are being tempted by deeply discounted properties coming out of foreclosure. Therefore, while sales rates may well have bottomed, it seems clear that gains in activity will remain concentrated in lower priced homes. However, supply will remain enormous, particularly with increased competition coming from distressed sales of existing homes. This suggests that prices will continue to edge lower at the bottom end of the market even as demand for these homes picks up a bit –Joshua Shapiro, MFR Inc.

  • Although new single-family sales were a little below expectations in April, we judge the data to be consistent with a bottoming out in new housing construction activity as also suggested by single-family housing starts and permits and the NAHB’s housing market index. Perhaps the most constructive indicator is the decline in the number of homes for sale in April, both in absolute terms and in relation to sales (though the months’ supply remains elevated). The latest mortgage delinquency data for the first quarter remind us that there are still very significant problems in the housing market. –RDQ Economics
Here are a few charts that depict the current housing situation:
Lower prices and historically low borrowing costs have increased affordability. The average 30-year mortgage rate was 4.81% in April, down from 5.00% in March and 5.92% in April 2008, Freddie Mac data show.

The housing industry hopes demand is stirred by the $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers included in the Obama administration's economic stimulus package. However, tighter mortgage lending standards and rising unemployment are working against sellers. The unemployment rate in April climbed to 8.9% from 8.5% during March.

Regionally last month, new-home sales were flat in the Midwest and the Northeast. Sales fell 3.8% in the West and climbed 1.9% in the South.The market is bedeviled, however, by foreclosures. Buyers are gobbling distressed property, priced cheaply, and passing up on new homes. This restrains construction, hurting builders as well as the kinds of commerce that feed off new subdivisions and might otherwise emerge -- in the form of shopping malls, for instance.

Last Wednesday, the National Association of Realtors reported existing-home sales increased 2.9% to a 4.68 million annual rate. About 45% of the 4.68 million were foreclosures and short sales. The median home price dropped 15.4% to $170,200 from $201,300 in April 2008.

About half of the new foreclosures were in four states: California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada, according to the report. Measuring both old and new defaults, 11 percent of all mortgages in Florida were in foreclosure at the end of the first quarter, the highest in the U.S. In Nevada, it was 7.8 percent, in Arizona, it was 5.6 percent, and in California, it was 5.2 percent. New Jersey’s foreclosure inventory was 4.3 percent, New York was 3 percent, and Massachusetts was 2.8 percent.

It is important to note (once again) that the monthly data is statistical noise at 0.3% with a ±14.5% margin of error; the annual fall of 34% is statistically significant.

The usual headlines got it wrong:

Bloomberg: New-Home Sales in U.S. Climbed 0.3%

Marketwatch: Home sales up a paltry 0.3%

Reuters: US new home sales rose 0.3 percent in April

Associated Press: April new home sales inch upward

WSJ: New-Home Sales Rise as Prices Tumble

The bottom line... we cannot accurately state (in a statistically significant manner) that home sales went up in April 2009. But, we do know confidently that sales fell (between 23% and 45%) year over year.

But the real question is...have we reached bottom yet in the housing market???


1 comment:

Charles said...

We may very well have hit bottom.... the question is; what kind of bottom? Will future graphs look like a "V" ? Impossible. How about a "U"? Very doubtful. We're beginning to make the bottom portion of the proverbial and disliked "L". The final question is; how long will the housing market be flat? Will the graph resemble an "L", or more like an "L" that has fallen down, something like this: \_______ ?