Thursday, October 25, 2007

Housing: Hope springs eternal

Today we learned that new home sales rose 4.8% in September. As was to be expected, many folks see this as a sign that housing is turning the corner. Needless to say, this is more a dead cat bounce than a true rebound. As this graph shows, similar monthly bounces have been registered in the recent past during the course of a dreadful secular collapse.

As Barry Ritholtz points out, the rise is not statistically significant and that compared to year ago levels, new home sales in September were 23% below the year-ago level.

Of course, we should also keep in mind that existing home sales --which make up the bulk of the residential market--fell 8% in September and are 19% below the year-ago level.

As for prices, both the new home and existing home sale median prices are not reliable indicators, as they're not seasonally adjusted and are affected by changes in the type of housing unit sold. Also, builders have so far resorted to incentives like free plasma TV's and the like to promote sales rather than price cuts. Clearly, the stickiness of prices has made sales volumes bear the brunt of the downturn.