Tuesday, January 31, 2012

S&P/Case-Shiller HPI down in November

The November numbers for the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index are out. The 20-city index is down 3.7% year-over-year and down 1.3% month-over-month:
Home prices posted a steep, month-over-month drop in November, falling 1.3%, according to the latest S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city report. Prices fell in 19 of the 20 cities the index covers.

Prices are down 3.7% from a year ago, and off 32.8% since they peaked in the summer of 2006. The index is currently only 0.6% above its March, 2011 low.

"Despite continued low interest rates and better real GDP growth in the fourth quarter, home prices continue to fall," said David Blitzer, spokesman for S&P.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

December housing starts down 4.1% month-over-month; up 8% year-over-year

Housing starts fell in December compared with November. (FYI, housing starts numbers are usually seasonally adjusted.) However, they are up about 8% year-over-year. Keep in mind that we've had abnormally good weather this winter, which is great for home building.
It wasn’t exactly a banner December for the home-building industry.

The nation’s builders started construction on 4.1% fewer homes compared with a month earlier. Construction decreased to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 657,000 in December, the Commerce Department said Thursday.

But the news wasn’t all gloomy. The main reason for the monthly decline was a more than 20% drop in construction of multifamily homes with at least two units, a part of the market that tends to swing around a lot.

Other data were more positive. Analysts often pay more attention to the single-family sector, which made up more than 70% of housing starts in December. Single-family construction was actually up 4.4% from a month earlier and reached the highest level since April 2010 – a time when builders were ramping up construction in response to a government tax credit for first-time home buyers.

The housing sector is gradually, tentatively, slowly healing after a collapse in prices that started 5 1/2 years ago. There have been some encouraging signs of late, and builders have been growing more optimistic.

But it’s clear that there’s a long way to go. Since 1959, there have been about 1.5 million new homes started per year, on average. Last year, construction was started on only 607,000 homes – the best year since 2008, but still the third-worst year since the government began keeping records.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The clueless Fed

The release of Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting transcripts from 2006 show how little America's top economic minds understand how leveraged asset bubbles harm the economy:
As the housing bubble entered its waning hours in 2006, top Federal Reserve officials marveled at the desperate antics of home builders seeking to lure buyers.

The officials laughed about the cars that builders were offering as signing bonuses, and about efforts to make empty homes look occupied. They joked about one builder who said that inventory was “rising through the roof.”

But the officials, meeting every six weeks to discuss the health of the nation’s economy, gave little credence to the possibility that the faltering housing market would weigh on the broader economy, according to transcripts that the Fed released Thursday. Instead they continued to tell one another throughout 2006 that the greatest danger was inflation — the possibility that the economy would grow too fast.

“We think the fundamentals of the expansion going forward still look good,” Timothy F. Geithner, then president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, told his colleagues when they gathered in Washington in December 2006. ...

The transcripts of the 2006 meetings, released after a standard five-year delay, clearly show some of the nation’s pre-eminent economic minds did not fully understand the basic mechanics of the economy that they were charged with shepherding. The problem was not a lack of information; it was a lack of comprehension, born in part of their deep confidence in economic forecasting models that turned out to be broken.

“It’s embarrassing for the Fed,” said Justin Wolfers, an economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “You see an awareness that the housing market is starting to crumble, and you see a lack of awareness of the connection between the housing market and financial markets.”

“It’s also embarrassing for economics,” he continued. “My strong guess is that if we had a transcript of any other economist, there would be at least as much fodder.” ...

The committee consists of the governors of the Federal Reserve and the presidents of the 12 regional banks.

“The speed of the falloff in housing activity and the deceleration in house prices continue to surprise us,” Janet Yellen, then president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said in September.

One builder she spoke with, she said, “toured some new subdivisions on the outskirts of Boise and discovered that the houses, most of which are unoccupied, are now being dressed up to look occupied — with curtains, things in the driveway, and so forth — so as not to discourage potential buyers.” ...

But the Fed’s chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, appears as the most consistent voice of warning that problems in the housing market could have broader consequences.

The general consensus on the board, summarized by Mr. Geithner, was that problems in the housing market had few broader ramifications. “We just don’t see troubling signs yet of collateral damage, and we are not expecting much,” he said at the September meeting.

Mr. Bernanke initially agreed, telling colleagues at his first meeting as chairman, in March, “I think we are unlikely to see growth being derailed by the housing market.”

As the year rolled along, however, Mr. Bernanke increasingly took the view that his colleagues were too sanguine.

”I don’t have quite as much confidence as some people around the table that there will be no spillover effect,” he said. ...

One fundamental reason for this blindness was that Fed officials did not understand how deeply intertwined the housing sector and financial markets had become. They also were convinced that financial innovations, by distributing the risk of losses more broadly, had increased the strength and resilience of the system as a whole.
So, for all the criticism you might give Ben Bernanke, apparently he's the least incompetent of the bunch.

I'll admit I didn't know that the housing bubble would cause a financial crisis. The best I can say for myself is that I expected a failure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but also expected more diversified financial institutions to be OK.

However, I expect people with Ph.D.s in economics to know a lot more about this stuff than I do. (After all, I'm a software developer, not an economist.) I especially expect it of economists who are supposedly so good at what they do that they get appointed to a post at the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Friday, January 13, 2012

DC-area homes of the 2012 presidential candidates

A bunch of websites are posting photos of the 2012 presidential candidates' homes, probably sparked by this Zillow Blog post. Here are the homes the candidates have in the DC area:

Newt Gingrich
7410 Windy Hill Ct, McLean, VA 22102
Value: $1,284,400

Rick Santorum
10607 Creamcup Ln, Great Falls, VA 22066
Value: $1,305,100

Jon Huntsman
2121 Leroy Pl NW, Washington, DC 20008
Value: $3,303,100

Immediately prior to his purchase of the home, it was used as the residence for contenders on the Bravo reality TV show "Top Chef: Season 7".

Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20500
Value: $261,632,300

The deadbeat hasn't paid rent in three years! Zillow.com gets the zip code wrong. It's 20500, not 20006.

Ron Paul
I don't know were Ron Paul lives in the DC area, but he's trying to sell his Texas home over the internet for $63,500 more than Zillow thinks it's worth.

Monday, January 02, 2012

S&P/Case-Shiller Index falls yet again

I was on Christmas vacation last week. Here's some housing news that was released while I was gone:
Home prices fell for the sixth straight month in October, down 1.2% compared with September and 3.4% a year ago, according to the latest S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city index.

The decline was disappointing in light of several other recent reports, which painted a more positive picture of the housing market. ...

tight lending standards and a glut of foreclosures continue to weigh on the housing market, said Pat Newport, a housing market analyst for IHS Global Insight.

With so many homes for sale at distressed prices, the home price numbers come as no surprise, he said.

"The numbers are pretty bad and will get even worse over the next two years," he said.

The 20-city index has dropped every month since April. Since the housing bust began in mid-2006, homes have lost nearly 33% of their value.
CNN Money isn't clear about this, but they are referring specifically to the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city seasonally-adjusted index.

The Wall Street Journal has a nice little graphic showing the year-over-year home price change measured by different sources: