Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New Home Sales: Don't read too much into January Sales Rate

by Calculated Risk on 2/26/2014 01:27:00 PM

Earlier: New Home Sales at 468,000 Annual Rate in January, Highest since 2008

Even though the Census Bureau reported that new home sales rebounded in January from the low December rate (and the December sales rate was revised up), January and December are seasonally weak months - and there is a large margin of error to the initial release - so I wouldn't read too much into one month of data.  Also reported sales were only up 2% year-over-year (not much).

In 2013, January was reported as the strongest sales rate of the year - so maybe the seasonal factor is off a little.  So even though this was a decent start to 2014 (highest sales rate since 2008), the key months are ahead of us.

Note: Based on estimates of household formation and demographics, I expect sales to increase to 750 to 800 thousand over the next several years - substantially higher than the 468 thousand sales rate in January.   So I expect the housing recovery to continue.

And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting over four years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales.  Now I'm looking for the gap to close over the next few years.

Distressing GapClick on graph for larger image.

The "distressing gap" graph shows existing home sales (left axis) and new home sales (right axis) through January 2014. This graph starts in 1994, but the relationship has been fairly steady back to the '60s.

Following the housing bubble and bust, the "distressing gap" appeared mostly because of distressed sales. The flood of distressed sales kept existing home sales elevated, and depressed new home sales since builders weren't able to compete with the low prices of all the foreclosed properties.

I expect existing home sales to decline some (distressed sales will slowly decline and be partially offset by more conventional sales).  And I expect this gap to close - mostly from an increase in new home sales.

Distressing GapAnother way to look at this is a ratio of existing to new home sales.

This ratio was fairly stable from 1994 through 2006, and then the flood of distressed sales kept the number of existing home sales elevated and depressed new home sales. (Note: This ratio was fairly stable back to the early '70s, but I only have annual data for the earlier years).

In general the ratio has been trending down - and is currently at the lowest level since November 2008.  I expect this ratio to continue to trend down over the next several years as the number of distressed sales declines and new home sales increase. 

Note: Existing home sales are counted when transactions are closed, and new home sales are counted when contracts are signed. So the timing of sales is different.