Interest Rate Roundup

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New home sales rise as prices plunge

We just got the latest data on home sales and pricing, and it was a mixed bag. New home sales rose 5.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 313,000 in September from 296,000 in August. That topped forecasts, and it leaves sales at the highest level since April. Sales rose in two of four regions (the West and South), and fell in the other two (the Northeast and Midwest).

But the median price of a home fell off the table, dropping 3.1% on the month, the third straight decline. Prices were also down 10.4% from a year ago, the biggest monthly drop in more than two years. At $204,400, median prices haven't been this low since last October. The raw number of homes for sale remained at a multi-decade low of 163,000, while the "months supply at current sales pace" indicator of inventory dipped to 6.2 from 6.6.

We continue to get mixed data on housing, with sales stabilizing at relatively low levels but home prices coming under significant pressure. It seems the only way to generate volume in an era of falling consumer confidence, tighter lending standards, and stiff competition from distressed inventory is to slash prices. And that's precisely what new home builders appear to be doing.

We have managed to cut new home inventory to the bone. So once the supply of used homes falls significantly, builders will be in a stronger pricing position. But that's a process that will take a couple of years, rather than months. If you're a home builder, you have to stay lean and mean if you want to survive.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Existing home sales slump in September

We just got a look at September existing home sales figures. Total sales fell 3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.91 million from 5.06 million in August. That was right in line with the estimates of economists polled by Bloomberg. Single-family sales dropped 3.6%, while condo sales rose 1.8%.

The "months supply at current sales pace" indicator of inventory inched up to 8.5 from 8.4, while the raw number of homes for sale dipped 2% to 3.48 million. Meanwhile, the median price of an existing home fell sharply to $165,400 from $171,200 a month earlier. That was down 3.5% from a year ago.

September was another lackluster month for the housing sector, with used home sales falling slightly and home prices slipping a bit. Tighter lending standards and ongoing weakness in the labor market are combining to cap demand, while an ongoing influx of foreclosed properties is keeping the supply of homes for sale from declining sharply. The result is continued pressure on home pricing, and a stagnant buying climate.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Housing starts rise as multifamily perks up

The September housing starts figures were just released and they popped by a surprising 15%. The 658,000 seasonally adjusted annual rate of starts was well ahead the median forecast of 590,000 and the highest since April 2010. We saw broad-based regional strength as well, led by the West with a gain of 18.1%.

However, the strength was mostly in the multifamily sector, where starts surged 51.3%. The less-volatile single-family market was more subdued, with a gain of only 1.7%. On the building permits front, we saw a slide in both the multifamily (-14.5%) and single-family (-0.2%) sectors. That left permits at a five-month low, portending a slowdown in future construction. The West led with a 9% decline in permits.

Construction of multifamily properties like apartments, condos, and town homes perked up in September, helping push housing starts to the highest level in 17 months. However, permitting activity slipped and the less-volatile single-family market remains subdued. So once again, we're left with a mixed bag of news on the housing front. It will take a more vigorous rebound in the labor market, an improvement in consumer confidence, and a loosening of lending standards to really rev up the housing market's engine again. Unfortunately, those forces don't appear to be coming together.

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