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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Housing: No "Troubling Divergence" between Completions and Sales

by Calculated Risk on 2/19/2013 07:49:00 PM

Business Insider had an article on housing today: A Troubling Divergence In The US Housing Market

One of the few concerns about U.S. housing recovery is that building has been outpacing the sales of new homes. As such, there are fears that new home construction is only adding to the inventory of new homes ...

This chart from TD Securities shows just why some experts are worried.
The article included the following chart from TD Securities:

TD Securities comparing completions and new home sales Click on graph for larger image.

This chart compares cumulative housing completions and new home sales over the last 12 months. This is apparently the "troubling divergence".

However this is total completions (including apartments) and total completions is always higher than new home sales!

The second graph is a repeat of the above graph with the addition of single family completions over the last 12 months.

New Home Sales and Housing Starts by IntentJust removing multi-family units reduces the "troubling divergence".

But some single family homes are built by owner (with or without a contractor) and are not built for sale. Plus a few single family homes are built to rent. So this comparison is also incorrect.

Here is a repeat of a post from last November: We can't directly compare single family housing starts to new home sales. For an explanation, see from the Census Bureau: Comparing New Home Sales and New Residential Construction
We are often asked why the numbers of new single-family housing units started and completed each month are larger than the number of new homes sold. This is because all new single-family houses are measured as part of the New Residential Construction series (starts and completions), but only those that are built for sale are included in the New Residential Sales series.
However it is possible to compare "Single Family Starts, Built for Sale" to New Home sales on a quarterly basis.

The quarterly report released in November showed there were 104,000 single family starts, built for sale, in Q3 2012, and that was above the 96,000 new homes sold for the same quarter, so inventory increased a little (Using Not Seasonally Adjusted data for both starts and sales). Note: The Q4 report will be released tomorrow.

This graph shows the NSA quarterly intent for four start categories since 1975: single family built for sale, owner built (includes contractor built for owner), starts built for rent, and condos built for sale.

New Home Sales and Housing Starts by Intent Click on graph for larger image.

Single family starts built for sale were up about 33% compared to Q3 2011. This is still very low, and only back to 2008 levels.

Owner built starts were unchanged from Q3 2011. And condos built for sale are just above the record low.

The 'units built for rent' has increased significantly and is up about 33% year-over-year.

The next graph shows quarterly single family starts, built for sale and new home sales (NSA).

New Home Sales and Housing Starts In 2005, and most of 2006, starts were higher than sales, and inventories of new homes increased. The difference on this graph is pretty small, but the builders were starting about 30,000 more homes per quarter than they were selling (speculative building), and the inventory of new homes soared to record levels. Inventory of under construction and completed new home sales peaked at 477,000 in Q3 2006.

In 2008 and 2009, the home builders started far fewer homes than they sold as they worked off the excess inventory that they had built up in 2005 and 2006.

Now it looks like builders are starting a few more homes than they are selling, and the inventory of under construction and completed new home sales increased slightly to 122,000 in Q3 (this is still near record lows).

Note: new home sales are reported when contracts are signed, so it is appropriate to compare sales to starts (as opposed to completions). This is not perfect because of the handling of cancellations, but it does suggest the builders are keeping inventories under control, and also suggests that the year-over-year increase in housing starts is directly related to an increase in demand and not renewed speculative building.