Friday, December 31, 2010

Question #1 for 2011: House Prices

by Bill McBride on 12/31/2010 04:20:00 PM

Two weeks ago I posted some questions for next year: Ten Economic Questions for 2011. I'm working through the questions and trying to add some predictions, or at least some thoughts for each question before the end of year.

1) House Prices: How much further will house prices fall on the national repeat sales indexes (Case-Shiller, CoreLogic)? Will house prices bottom in 2011?

There is no perfect gauge of "normal" house prices. Changes in house prices depend on local supply and demand. Heck, there is no perfect measure of house prices!

That said, probably the three most useful measures of house prices are 1) real house prices, 2) the house price-to-rent ratio, and 3) the house price-to-median household income ratio. These are just general guides.

Real House Prices

The following graph shows the Case-Shiller Composite 20 index, and the CoreLogic House Price Index in real terms (adjusted for inflation using CPI less shelter).

Real House PricesClick on graph for larger image in graph gallery.

In real terms, both indexes are back to early 2001 prices. Also both indexes are at post-bubble lows.

As I've noted before, I don't expect real prices to fall to '98 levels. In many areas - if the population is increasing - house prices increase slightly faster than inflation over time, so there is an upward slope in real prices.

If real prices fall to 100 on this index (seems possible) that implies about a 10% decline in real prices. However what everyone wants to know is the change in nominal prices (not inflation adjusted). If real prices eventually fall 10%, that doesn't mean nominal prices will fall that far. House prices tend to be sticky downwards, except in areas with a large number of foreclosures. That is key a reason why prices have been falling for years, instead of adjusting immediately.

Price-to-Rent

In October 2004, Fed economist John Krainer and researcher Chishen Wei wrote a Fed letter on price to rent ratios: House Prices and Fundamental Value. Kainer and Wei presented a price-to-rent ratio using the OFHEO house price index and the Owners' Equivalent Rent (OER) from the BLS.

Price-to-Rent Ratio Here is a similar graph through October 2010 using the Case-Shiller Composite 20 and CoreLogic House Price Index.

This graph shows the price to rent ratio (January 1998 = 1.0).

I'd expect this ratio to decline another 10% to 20%. That could happen with falling house prices or rents increasing (recent reports suggest rents are now increasing).

Price to Household Income

House Prices to Median Household Income The third graph shows the Case Shiller National price index (quarterly) and the median household income (from the Census Bureau, 2010 estimated).

Once again this ratio is still a little high, and I'd expect this ratio might decline another 10%. That could be a combination of falling house prices and an increase in the median household income.

This isn't like in 2005 when prices were way out of the normal range by these measures, but it does appear prices are still a little too high.

House Prices and Supply

House Prices and Months-of-SupplyThe final graph (repeat) shows existing home months-of-supply (left axis), and the annualized change in the Case-Shiller composite 20 house price index (right axis, inverted).

House prices are through October using the composite 20 index. Months-of-supply is through November.

We need to continue to watch inventory and months-of-supply closely for hints about house prices. Right now house prices are falling at about a 10% annual rate.

Note: there have been periods with high months-of-supply and rising house prices (see: Lawler: Again on Existing Home Months’ Supply: What’s “Normal?” ) so this is just a guide.

My guess:
I think national house prices - as measured by these repeat sales indexes - will decline another 5% to 10% from the October levels. I think it is likely that nominal house prices will bottom in 2011, but that real house prices (and the price-to-income ratio) will decline for another two to three years.

Ten Questions:
Question #1 for 2011: House Prices
Question #2 for 2011: Residential Investment
Question #3 for 2011: Delinquencies and Distressed house sales
Question #4 for 2011: U.S. Economic Growth
Question #5 for 2011: Employment
Question #6 for 2011: Unemployment Rate
Question #7 for 2011: State and Local Governments
Question #8 for 2011: Europe and the Euro
Question #9 for 2011: Inflation
Question #10 for 2011: Monetary Policy

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