Monday, February 06, 2012

Housing: The Two Bottoms

by Bill McBride on 2/06/2012 02:47:00 PM

After my post this morning, The Housing Bottom is Here I was asked to update two graphs from 2009.

It is worth repeating: There are usually two bottoms for housing, the first for new home sales, housing starts and residential investment. The second bottom will be for house prices.

For the first bottom, we have several possible measures - the following graph shows three of the most commonly used: Starts, New Home Sales, and Residential Investment (RI) as a percent of GDP.

Starts, new home sales, residential Investment Click on graph for larger image.

The arrows point to some of the earlier peaks and troughs for these three measures.

The purpose of this graph is to show that these three indicators generally reach peaks and troughs together. Note that Residential Investment is quarterly and single-family starts and new home sales are monthly.

For the current housing bust, the bottom was spread over a few years from 2009 into 2011.

We could use any of these three measures to determine the first bottom, and then use the other two to confirm the bottom. But this says nothing about prices.

Residential Investment and House prices The second graph compares RI as a percent of GDP with the real Case-Shiller National house price index through Q3 2011. Prices continued to fall in Q4 and probably into 2012 too.

Although the Case-Shiller data only goes back to 1987, look at what happened following the early '90s housing bust. RI as a percent of GDP bottomed in Q1 1991, but real house prices didn't bottom until Q4 1996 - more than 5 years later!

Something similar will most likely happen again. But note this is REAL prices (adjusted for inflation). If the current price pattern follows the previous bust, real prices will gradually decline for a few years - however most homeowners care about nominal prices, and there is a good chance nominal Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA) national prices will bottom in March - and then start moving mostly sideways.

No one has a crystal ball, and I provided the reasons for this forecast in the previous post.

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