NAROFF ECONOMIC ADVISORS, Inc.
Joel L. Naroff
President and Chief Economist
INDICATOR: August New Home Sales
KEY DATA: Sales: 295,000 unit annualized (down 2.3%): Median Prices (8 ’10-8 ’11): -7.7%
IN A NUTSHELL: “Builders are not building, supply is falling, distressed homes are too cheaply priced and it is difficult to get a mortgage and people are surprised that housing sales are going nowhere?”
WHAT IT MEANS: It would be nice if housing sales pick up but it didn’t happen in August, at least for new homes. Exiting house sales did improve and that is indeed the issue for builders. With so many distressed houses on the market selling for such low costs, frequently below replacement cost, it is extremely difficult for developers to compete. To do that, they have to down sell and that is what is happening. Forty seven percent of the newly built homes sold went for less than $200,000. The sales decline in August was propelled by a sharp cut back in the Northeast and West and a more moderate decline in the South. The Midwest posted a solid increase. Prices are falling but that probably reflects the need to build smaller, less luxurious and less costly homes in order to match the homes that are on the market.
MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: The new home market is in the dumps and there is little reason to think it can right itself anytime soon. The problems are huge: Distressed houses are selling for prices that are at times impossible to match, appraisals are difficult because comparables are often distressed houses, many households don’t have much or equity any left in their homes so they cannot trade up or down to a new house and financial institutions are cautious in their lending, partly due to regulatory issues. We are going to have to get used to a slowly improving market at best. That does not bode well for the economy or jobs as this sector generates so many new positions. Indeed, the housing and credit issues seen here are a clear indicator of why this recovery always was going to be and for a while will continue to be disappointing. Anyone who says we can have a strong recovery without housing is missing the point. But we can have a recovery anyway; it’s just that it will not live up to hopes or expectations. Since it is doubtful the overhang of distressed houses will be alleviated anytime soon and housing construction will not soar until that happens, we need to get used to what the economy is capable of and that, unfortunately, is only moderate growth.
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