Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Misleading House Price Data

by Bill McBride on 6/23/2009 02:31:00 PM

From FHFA Director James B. Lockhart, June 23, 2009:

“Although monthly data are volatile, we may be starting to see signs of stabilization in prices for houses funded by conventional conforming loans, as the HPI is only down 0.3 percent for the first four months of the year.”
From the National Association of Realtors, June 23, 2009:
The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $173,000 in May, down 16.8 percent from a year earlier. Distressed properties, which declined to 33 percent of all sales in May from 45 percent in April, continue to downwardly distort the median price because they generally sell at a discount relative to traditional homes.
Which is it? The answer is both are flawed.

James Hagerty at the WSJ has a good analysis: FHFA Data May Signal False Bottom in Housing
The Realtors’ data cover a broader range of the market than does the FHFA index. ... But the Realtors’ median price is skewed by changes in the mix of homes sold each month. ...

The FHFA index, like the S&P Case-Shiller index, is based on repeat sales of the same homes and so avoids the distortions of a shifting mix in sales. But the Case-Shiller index includes more foreclosure-related transactions and gives more weight to higher-priced homes than to lower-priced ones. Thus, when sales of higher-end homes increase, the Case-Shiller index is likely to look much worse, even as the Realtors’ median price will look better.
As the sales of mid-to-high end houses pick up (sales at the high end have slowed to a trickle in many areas), the median price might rise even as prices continue to fall because of change in the mix - and this will confuse some observers.

And the FHFA index is based on GSE loans, and as the most recent data showed, a higher percentage of the problem loans were non-GSE private label loans. Also, the FHFA misses many larger loans in general, and high end prices have held up better so far - but that will change when people realize there are few move-up buyers!

The following graphic (repeat) is from the Harvard Report on Housing 2009. Note: this data is informative, but use caution when using the Harvard analysis (see: Harvard on Housing 2005)

Seriously Delinquent Mortgages Click on image for larger graph in new window.

This shows that the worst mortgages were the private label securities (as an example mortgages originated by New Century, and securitized by Bear Stearns).

The Freddie and Fannie portfolios accounted for 56% of all mortgages in Dec 2008, but only 20% of the seriously delinquent loans. So the FHFA index is based on some of the better performing loans. Case-Shiller (to be released next Tuesday) includes these other loans.