Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Existing Home Sales: Another Solid Report

by Bill McBride on 1/22/2013 12:14:00 PM

Here is how Reuters reported on existing home sales: Existing Home Sales Unexpectedly Fall 1 Percent

U.S. home resales unexpectedly fell in December as fewer people put their properties on the market, although not by enough to derail the boost housing will likely provide to the economy this year.
There is so much wrong with that sentence. First, for those reading the correct site, the forecast was for 4.97 million sales on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis, and inventory decling to 1.87 million. The NAR reported sales of 4.94 million and inventory of 1.82 million. Hard to call that "unexpected" (although sales were below the less accurate "consensus" forecast).

But far more important is that flat or even declining existing home sales is the wrong place to look for a "housing recovery". As the number of distressed sales decline, the number of total sales might decline too - but the number of conventional sales is increasing! An increase in conventional sales would be good news, not bad news.  Although I have limited confidence in the NAR survey, the NAR reported:
Distressed homes - foreclosures and short sales - accounted for 24 percent of December sales ... below the 32 percent share in December 2011.
Using the NAR surveys and sales reports would suggest 3.75 million conventional sales in December 2012 (SAAR), up 26% from 2.98 conventional sales in December 2011. That is a significant increase.

Also fewer distressed sales probably means more housing starts and new home sales - and that is the key for housing providing a "boost" to the economy in 2013.

Finally, when we look at the existing home sales report, the key number is inventory. And inventory is at the lowest level since January 2001, and months-of-supply fell to 4.4 months - the lowest since May 2005.

For those looking at the correct numbers, this was the expected report - and it was solid.

Important note: The NAR reports active listings, and although there is some variability across the country in what is considered active, most "contingent short sales" are not included. "Contingent short sales" are strange listings since the listings were frequently NEVER on the market (they were listed as contingent), and they hang around for a long time - they are probably more closely related to shadow inventory than active inventory. However when we compare inventory to 2005, we need to remember there were no "short sale contingent" listings in 2005. In the areas I track, the number of "short sale contingent" listings is also down sharply year-over-year.

Existing Home Inventory monthly Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows inventory by month since 2004. In 2005 (dark blue columns), inventory kept rising all year - and that was a clear sign that the housing bubble was ending.

This year (dark red for 2012) inventory is at the lowest level for the month of December since 2000, and inventory is sharply below the level in December 2005 (not counting contingent sales).   The months-of-supply has fallen to 4.4 months.  Since months-of-supply uses Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA) inventory, and Seasonally Adjusted (SA) sales, I expect months-of-supply to start increasing in February.

The following graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA).

Existing Home Sales NSASales NSA in December (red column) are  above 2007 through 2011. Sales are well below the bubble years of 2005 and 2006.

Earlier:
Existing Home Sales in December: 4.94 million SAAR, 4.4 months of supply
Existing Home Sales graphs

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