Monday, March 28, 2011

The housing bubble according to Shadow Stats

As a follow-up to last week's post on the subject, here are U.S. housing prices discounted by the "untrustworthy" U.S. government measure of inflation (the CPI-U-Research Series, to be specific). Note the fairly obvious housing bubble that begins to form in 1998.

I have reproduced Shadow Stats' proprietary annual inflation numbers. Here's what historical housing prices look like when discounted by the Shadow Stats SGS Alternate measure of inflation:

When housing prices outpace inflation, real (i.e. inflation-adjusted) home prices rise. When inflation outpaces housing prices, real home prices fall. Shadow Stats claims some pretty high inflation numbers, so it's hard for housing prices to keep up—even in good times. That's why we see the long-term decline in real housing prices shown in the second graph.

Now you can believe there was a housing bubble, or you can believe that Shadow Stats is trustworthy, but if you believe both you're delusional. Personally, I believe there was a housing bubble and Shadow Stats is full of B.S.


  1. There was a Wall Street Journal article last month (I can't seem to find it right now) that relied on Moody's Analytics and Mark Zandi that did a very nice job of discussing historical home prices in various regions. Zandi's analysis is quite different from what James' take is with respect to current prices.

    And for Lemmy; I don't believe interest rates are relied upon. There was discussion of a salary multiple and rent/price ratio's. For those who are interested, Zandi discusses (in the last paragraph) why certain regions, including DC, may not return to historical levels.

  2. The very long term salary/price ratio (since the inception of the GSEs and the 30 year mortgage) has been a very stable limiting indicator, and rent/price is a faster-responding leading indicator (rents only rise when there is housing demand, reflecting increased economic activity, but is still constrained to the same underlying salary restriction).

    I think the only reason the DC MSA "we've already passed the bottom" crowd is even remotely correct is that Uncle Sugar (I'm looking at you private contractors - especially defense) has been totally recession proof. Lobbying is another recession proof industry. Even with the ultra-righty whackjobs with their libertarian fantasies of abolishing abortion and eliminating the entire discretionary budget, no substantial reduction in gov't largess will occur, so the wage "inflation" is baked in.

    I found the series the WaPo did on the census numbers fascinating - you've got (white) urban professionals displacing "chocolate city" - this will have the effect of driving down the violent crime rates (already is) and improving the school performance numbers (thus helping retain families of YUPpies). If the 'gentrification' has reached critical mass, then expect people fleeing their cars to keep the underlying demographic shift (the one that has six-figure salaries vying for tiny 19th century rowhouses) to continue.

    Vincent Gray might just be the last hurrah of Barry-esque city "governance".

  3. "libertarian fantasies of abolishing abortion"

    There's nothing libertarian about abolishing abortion. Libertarians generally oppose government telling people what they can and cannot do. There's an old libertarian bumper sticker that said "I am pro-choice on everything."

  4. Yo, ShadowStats are morons, and the more you display this bizarre anxiety attack about them, the more you look like them. Rx: Move on.

  5. Case shiller results out. Yet again, DC is up on a MOM basis, and a YOY basis. Its different here is confirmed once again...

  6. I won't argue with Case Shiller, but anecdotally things look as if they are still declining, especially for condos.

  7. "Nonpartisan said...And now it is time to Watch-and-Learn again - beginning August 2010, you will see a RAPID decline in home prices resume - there will be no immunozone.

    Bring it on. 05/15/2010 07:37 AM"


  8. Jonathan A ClarkMarch 29, 2011 3:22 PM

    MontP, thanks again for considered and reasonable comment.

    I see conflicting influences mixed into the DC housing price stew. On the favorable side, demographics including folks with a few bucks moving back into the city to avoid long commutes, driven by what is a dramatically improved governance environment (at least during Williams/Fenty). On the unfavorable side, there may be some questions about the governance issue (will Gray allow livability and good governance gains to slip?) in addition to the prospect of negative impacts on area employment from a reduced federal budget (particularly [defense] contractors). Furthermore, it seems they keep on building; and I wonder when the supply of condos will finally be so great that their prices come down (and mercifully bring to an end some of the ridiculous row house condo conversions I've seen).

    On balance, I'm somewhat bearish. I think lots of folks are a bit stuck and instead of selling their homes or even living in them, they're renting them out to pay the mortgage. I'm just not sure this is sustainable.

    I've been looking at the numbers Partisan posted to try and get someone to make a prediction about the future of the Case Schiller home price index for the area. First, why should only bears have to make a prediction? Second, I think the blog should host a forecasting competition. We'll project the next 12 months and then get together to toast the closest guess.

    Back to the numbers, I have charted the index along with the number of transactions, or "sales pair counts" as C/S refer to them. The chart shows that the price index and sales pair counts move together from about 1991 to 2006, but after that the sales pair counts fall much faster than the price index. So while the price index has fallen back to 2004 levels, the number of sales pair counts (12 month average) has fallen back to 1999 levels! In terms of difference from peak, the sales index maxed out at 251 in May of 2006 and is now at 184, a 27% drop. The number of sales pair counts (trailing 12 month average) however, maxed out at 12,271 in August 2005 and is now at 4503, a 63% drop.

    I don't know if sales pair counts is a robust indicator for transactions, but if so that brings home how much the housing market has slowed--I can't imagine what it must have been like around here when nearly 3 times the number of transactions were flying off the shelves!

  9. JAC - no need for just the bears to predict. A year back, I went on record as predicting us trading in a CS range of 170-190 for "a few years". Not rocketing to new highs like the bulls of yore, nor hitting or breaking thru the March 09 lows of 165 that some of our screeching resident bears think is inevitable. So far so good for my predictions.

    Incidentally, the only reason I call them out is some of them are so filled with bombast. They tell us with a clarion like certainty that there "will" be another "crushing leg down". There "will" be? If you are so certain you "know" or claim to know whats going to happen, you should have no problem putting finger to keyboard to tell us -- to have us "watch and learn" as the uberarrogant Nonpartisan used to put it.

    Secondly, what the hell is a "crushing leg down"? Some write that to mean a 5% move. For others, it is a 50% move. Thus, by putting it into quantifyable, easy to access measures (i.e. DC Case Shiller) we can all verify if this particular prophet of doom is a good one, or if he is another delusional fool that this board seems to attract like flies.

    I can already tell that you are a reasonable person. You appropriately hedge your guesses as there are a number of factors, both positive and negative pulling on the market, none of them certain. Secondly, if you were to actually make a prediction (of both amount and time), given your trackrecord of reasonable comments, I doubt anyone here would judge you too harshly.

    Thats not the case though for our delusional permabears. It amazes me that here we are, 2+ years after the bottom has been hit, and they are STILL writing as if they believe another cataclysmic price drop is just around the corner. Predictably, all I need to do is call them out with my "CS will hit ____ by _____" and they suddenly all run for the hills.

    That said, im curious as to what your predictions are for this area. If you wish to put them in the easily quantifyable CS index, be my guest. I would love to hear from others who are reasonable and bearish at the same time. If you do not, no hard feelings either. Cheers.

  10. Median House Price in FX County is 357K. Median Household income is about 105K. The rule of thumb was always 2.5 to 3X income = how much house (mortgage) you can afford. It appears that, with an appropriate down payment, the median is affordable to the median. This is without looking to traditional (non-bubble) underwriting ratio's of 28/36 - which qualify median wage earner's for alot more house. It's debatable which measure of "affordability" should be used.

    These are today's real numbers. I see nothing to support any argument that homes in FX are over-priced.

    As far as the future, I see us bouncing around the current price ranges for the next few years. I clearly don't predict a "v" recovery OR a drop of more than 5-10%. If the economic data continues to be as bright for FX (and NoVa), I expect prices to continue to trend up.

    I believe that we will have another up cycle where we surpass 2005/6 prices but that this will not occur before mid-decade (2016?) and another peak will be reached in 2020.

    Rents will be quite strong for the next few years as supply attempts to catch up with demand.

  11. The price increase in the latest case-shiller numbers for dc is so small. We will be heading down again home lovers. It won't be a violent dip but a slow moving train down to levels a little higher than 2009 levels. The tide is turning and those of you who thought a permanent floor was established are so, so wrong!

  12. "Down to levels a little higher than 2009 levels"

    Sure sounds like the author is stating that 2009 WAS a bottom (?).

  13. "It won't be a violent dip but a slow moving train down to levels a little higher than 2009 levels."

    Translation, Greg confirms that early 2009 was indeed the bottom

  14. I know so many people here in the DC area whose homes are 100k less than what they purchased them for and you have these real estate agents on here celebrating a 2009 bottom. It's laughable in one sense but sad in another. I wonder how many of them could look in the mirror and feel good about who they are. These are some of the same agents who told purchasers home values never go down. Real estae PIGS!

  15. "The price increase in the latest case-shiller numbers for dc is so small."

    Yep a mere 3.6% YOY, which is EXACTLY what you look for in a healthy market. What are you expecting 10% to 20% annual growth like we had during the bubble?


  17. I'm not an agent and I am not here "celebrating" a bottom. I'm looking at things objectively and trying to see what the bears are seeing. I just don't see it.

  18. I know so many people here in the DC area whose homes are 100K more than what they purchased them for and you have these doomers on here warning of a 2009 false bottom. Its laughable in one sense but sad in another. I wonder how many of them could look in the mirror and feel good about who they are. These are some of the same doomers who told purchasers 2009 was NOWHERE NEAR THE BOTTOM. Doomer IDIOTS!

  19. I found the lyrics to this song and read along. Very appropriate.

  20. Yes, thats it boys. When you cant argue with the data, rage I say...RAGE aginst the messenger!!! Subtle messages in iron maiden lyrics are OK, but come on boys, if you cant dispute the data (which you clearly cant) then go after me bigtime...tell me im stupid...tell me im a realtard (tm)...give me the what for!!!

    If you cant tell by now, I have some clearly trollish tendencies. As such, there is nothing, I repeat nothing that delights me so as knowing that I have gotten so deep under ones skin that they go after me personally. My most satisfying day here was when the guy I was tormenting got so frustrated he wanted to meet me in some parking lot to kick my ass. Ahh memories!!!

    I was beginning to worry that I would have no one to play with anymore. It looks increasingly likely that I have tormented my 2 favorite toys, Noz and NonPartisan with the data so much that they have run away for good. This saddened me tremendously.

    Thankfully, in the last few posts it now looks like there is new supply of doomers -- a new bumper crop of toys for me to play with! I will do my best to bring you along slowly - nurture you into a full blown puppet that I can conjure up at the mere mention of your names. We shall see how I do...

    Incidentally, thanks for brightening my outlook for the future of this site. 2011 is going to be an awesome year!!!

  21. I think that down the road many will look back to late '08 thru '09 as a "woulda, coulda, shoulda" moment. With what has happened, a large number of people were forced to the sidelines during the boom-time and are now very reluctant to buy with the continued uncertainty. They may well end up being correct. As they say "you take your chances...".

    I happen to believe that purchasing now has only the historical risk - job loss, etc. If a drop of 5-10% is not tolerable, then renting seems the prudent choice.

  22. Wow. The way you've described yourself tends to lead one to conclude that you don't have much of a life. Now you'll ascribe this comment to some "doomer" mentality when in fact it is an impartial assessment made by a rational individual. You sound like you need to get out more.

  23. NH - Kinda. As I have noted many times in the past, here at work, im incredibly bored, hence the reason I am active here (especially around the time of the CS release).

    Outside work, I have actually quite an active social life, and never talk about this stuff. In fact its possible you and I are friends in real life...think about that for a second :)

    As to whether or not you are a "doomer" its tough to say. If you are someone who logged in before under a different screen name (i.e. eddy, greg, saxon) I think its likely you are a doomer. However, based on your post above, I have nothing to indicate you are anything more than someone who finds my online persona quite distasteful.

  24. Mortgage rates will rise putting further pressure on home prices so be patient and watch values decrease because it's all about affordability.

  25. The "interest rates will kill the market" statement seems to be the last ditch argument for the DC Bears. I don't think that happened in the early 80's.

    When rates rise people tend to move to the various financing alternates such as buy-downs, arms, wrap-arounds, owner-takebacks, etc.

    You may be correct that there is some correlation to sales activity but I've yet to see data showing any significant price affects.

    Perhaps I am incorrect about the 80's and you can enlighten me - but I doubt we will see a replication of those increases and this would make any 80's data overstated.

    You should also consider historical affordability levels. Either rates matter or they don't. You guys can't have it both ways.

  26. If you're bored it means that you're at a dead end and just killing time. You have a finite amount of time in this world, and you're killing it. Think about that for a second.

    As for us being friends; I'm time zones away from you. We've never met. I trust that my "spidey sense" would tingle if I ever met you, and I'd steer clear of you as a result. Think about that for a second.

    Are you sedentary by any chance?

  27. Perhaps all true NH. Perhaps I am a little man with a pathetic little life. Perhaps I blog here to seek attention. Perhaps I even made up this "Name Here" persona to put on a little dog & pony show - have a fictitious conversation with myself to entertain the lurkers out there. We just will never know will me.

    The one thing we do know is that the Case Shiller index in DC is now over 11% above its 2009 bottom. The next thread up will have at least 2 of us projecting where prices go over the next two years. Care to join in?