Just how large is this inventory glut?
How do these figures compare with history? Let's take a look ...
* Census data on new home inventory goes back to 1963. Prior to the latest down cycle, the highest inventory level recorded was 432,000 units in August 1973. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, it was customary to have about 300,000 to 320,000 homes for sale, with peaks (in 1989 and 1995) of around 370,000.
This time around, supply has come down somewhat from the July 2006 peak of 573,000 units. But it's clear that we still have a major inventory glut -- something on the order of 150,000-200,000 units.
* So what about the existing home market? That 4.2 million inventory reading is quite literally off the charts. My data for combined SFH+co-op+condo inventory only goes back to early 1999. Between that year and 2004, inventory typically ran in the 2 million - 2.5 million unit range. In other words, we are potentially oversupplied to the tune of 1.7 million to 2.2 million units.
If you just look at the single-family only data (3.59 million units in April 2007), it's the same story -- a historical inventory glut. This measure typically ranged from around 1.5 million units to 2.3 million units throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.
What will help whittle down this supply mountain? Higher demand, perhaps spurred by a renewed easing in the mortgage lending environment (unlikely), lower interest rates (also unlikely, at least for now) or ... lower prices. Guess which I'm going with?