Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Shiller on House Prices

by Bill McBride on 9/12/2012 12:39:00 PM

An interview with Professor Robert Shiller on NPR: The Housing Market: Have We Finally Hit Bottom? A brief excerpt:

Neil Conan, Host, NPR: And in the spring you were on the fence as those first reports came in giving three months of generally positive data. Do you think we're coming off the bottom?

Robert Shiller, economist, Yale University: Well, we definitely have positive data. The question is how strong is it, and will this fizzle - this rally fizzle or not? And I don't know the answer to that. But I point out that this is the fourth time we've had a rally since the crisis ended. It's coming in the summertime, right? Well, that's the normal time of strength in the market.

So if you look at the data, it doesn't jump out at you that we've reached the turning point. Now, we may have, but I think that seasonality seems to be getting stronger, and that's another contender.

CONAN: So how long do you think you would want to wait before you saw enough numbers to make a decision?

SHILLER: Well, I used to forecast home prices, and I thought a year - once you have a year - this is what I used to think, and whether it's still true, but ... But once you have a year of solid price increases, you are probably off to the races for some years. So yeah, but we're not into it that long yet.

CONAN: And there's other factors, because of all those foreclosures, because of all those mortgages underwater, a lot of people fear that there's a big backlog of housing stock that you're going to have to work through before you can start going again.

SHILLER: Right, there's a lot of people who are thinking, you know, if the prices would just come up a little bit, I'd sell.
Robert Shiller makes a few key points:
• There is a seasonal pattern for house prices, and the seasonality has been much stronger in recent years. The reason is foreclosures and short sales happen all year, but there is a seasonal pattern for conventional sales.  So distressed sales push down prices more than normal in the winter. Some of the recent increase in house prices was due to seasonal factors, and - as I noted last month - we should expect the NSA indexes to show month-over-month declines later this year. But the key will be to watch the year-over-year change.

• I've argued before that we will not really know if house prices have bottomed until at least a year after it happens (I think prices bottomed early this year). Robert Shiller makes the same argument: "once you have a year of solid price increases, you are probably off to the races for some years". I don't think prices will be "off to the races" because ...

• As Shiller notes, there are probably quite a few people waiting for a better market and somewhat higher prices: "there's a lot of people who are thinking, you know, if the prices would just come up a little bit, I'd sell". That is one reason why prices will probably not be "off to the races". Also there are still quite a few distressed sales in the pipeline - and that will keep prices from rising quickly.

Here is the radio interview:


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