March existing home sales slump
And with that out of the way, let's take a look at what the March existing home sales figures looked like:
* Sales fell 2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.93 in March from 5.03 million in February. That was roughly in line with the forecast of 4.92 million home sales. Sales were down 19.3% from the year earlier reading of 6.11 million, but slightly above the cycle (and record) low of 4.89 million units in January.
* By region, it was a mixed bag. Sales rose 2.2% in the Northeast and 2.2% in the West, but fell 3.5% in the South and 6.5% in the Midwest. By property type, sales fell 2.7% in the single-family market but rose 3.6% in the condo arena.
* The supply of homes for sale climbed to 4.058 in March from 4.018 in February (previously reported as 4.034 million) and 3.806 million a year earlier. On a months supply at current sales pace basis, inventory rose to 9.9 months from 9.6 months in February and 7.5 a year earlier.
* Median home prices rose 2.6% to $200,700 in March from $195,600 in February. They fell 7.7% from $217,400 a year earlier, the seventh month of year-over-year declines in a row.
Housing market conditions remain unsettled. The minor improvement in sales we saw in February largely faded last month, and the inventory situation deteriorated slightly. If there's a bright side to the latest figures, it's that they aren't relentlessly negative like they were in 2007. We're seeing more of a sideways chop.
At the same time, there is scant evidence of a recovery. Tighter lending standards, increased competition from motivated sellers (think banks that have foreclosed property they want to move) and elevated levels of inventory should keep the pressure on home prices for the balance of this year at least.