Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Comment on the Pending Home Sales Index

by Bill McBride on 1/30/2014 12:09:00 PM

From the NAR: December Pending Home Sales Fall

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, fell 8.7 percent to 92.4 in December from a downwardly revised 101.2 in November, and is 8.8 percent below December 2012 when it was 101.3. The data reflect contracts but not closings, and are at the lowest level since October 2011, when the index was 92.2.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said several factors are working against buyers. “Unusually disruptive weather across large stretches of the country in December forced people indoors and prevented some buyers from looking at homes or making offers,” he said. “Home prices rising faster than income is also giving pause to some potential buyers, while at the same time a lack of inventory means insufficient choice. Although it could take several months for us to get a clearer read on market momentum, job growth and pent-up demand are positive factors.”
...
The PHSI in the Northeast dropped 10.3 percent to 74.1 in December, and is 5.5 percent below a year ago. In the Midwest the index declined 6.8 percent to 93.6 in December, and is 6.9 percent lower than December 2012. Pending home sales in the South fell 8.8 percent to an index of 104.9 in December, and are 6.9 percent below a year ago. The index in the West, which is most impacted by constrained inventory, dropped 9.8 percent in December to 85.7, and is 16.0 percent below December 2012.

Total existing-home sales this year should hold close to 5.1 million, essentially the same as 2013, but inventory remains limited in much of the country.
emphasis added
A few comments:
• Mr. Yun blamed some of the decline on the weather (the weather was unusually bad in December), but the index was down sharply in the South too (probably not weather), and in the West (partially related to low inventories).

• My view is there were several reasons for the decline in this index: weather in some areas, fewer distressed sales, less investor buying, fewer "pending" short sales, and low inventories.  I think fewer distressed sales, fewer "pending" short sales, and less investor buying are all signs of a healthier market - even if overall sales decline.

• Mr Yun is forecasting 5.1 million existing home sales in 2014, about the same as in 2013. I'll take the under on that forecast, and I think it would be a positive sign if sales were under 5 million in 2014 as long as distressed sales continue to decline and conventional sales increase.

 • Of course, for housing, what really matters for the economy and employment is new home sales (not existing), and housing starts. 

Note: Contract signings usually lead sales by about 45 to 60 days, so this would usually be for closed sales in January and February.

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