February 2014 Existing Home Sales Are Far from Good
Written by Steven Hansen
The headlines for existing home sales say that sales growth fell in February month-over-month - and declined year-over-year. Our analysis agrees. The three month rolling averages are continuing to decline demonstrating how soft the data is.
- Sales growth decelerated 3.5% month-over-month, down 6.9% year-over-year – sales growth rate trend is decelerating using the 3 month moving average.
- Prices growth decelerated 1.0% month-over-month, Up 7.4% year-over-year – price growth rate trend is accelerating marginally using the 3 month moving average.
- The homes for sale inventory grew marginally this month, and is historically low for Februarys (but higher than inventory levels one year ago).
- Sales down 0.4% month-over-month, down 7.1% year-over-year.
- Prices up 9.1% year-over-year
- The market expected annualized sales volumes of 4.45 to 4.75 million (consensus 4.60) vs the 4.60 million reported.
November 2013 ended 28 straight months of improving year-over-year home sales volumes (unadjusted data) – and the data this month continued the data deterioration.
Unadjusted Year-over-Year Change in Existing Home Sales Volumes (blue line) – 3 Month Rolling Average (red line)
The graph below presents unadjusted home sales volumes.
Unadjusted Monthly Home Sales Volumes
Here are the headline words from the NAR analysts:
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said conditions in February were largely unchanged from January. “We had ongoing unusual weather disruptions across much of the country last month, with the continuing frictions of constrained inventory, restrictive mortgage lending standards and housing affordability less favorable than a year ago,” he said. “Some transactions are simply being delayed, so there should be some improvement in the months ahead. With an expected pickup in job creation, home sales should trend up modestly over the course of the year.”
NAR President Steve Brown, co-owner of Irongate, Inc., Realtors® in Dayton, Ohio, said student debt appears to be a factor in the weak level of first-time buyers. “The biggest problems for first-time buyers are tight credit and limited inventory in the lower price ranges,” he said. “However, 20 percent of buyers under the age of 33, the prime group of first-time buyers, delayed their purchase because of outstanding debt. In our recent consumer survey, 56 percent of younger buyers who took longer to save for a downpayment identified student debt as the biggest obstacle.”
Comparison of Home Price Indices – Case-Shiller 3 Month Average (blue line, left axis), CoreLogic (green line, left axis) and National Association of Realtors three month average (red line, right axis)
To remove the seasonality in home prices, here is a year-over-year graph which demonstrates a plateau in home price rate of growth.
Comparison of Home Price Indices on a Year-over-Year Basis – Case-Shiller 3 Month Average (blue bars), CoreLogic (yellow bars) and National Association of Realtors three month average (red bars)
Econintersect will do a more complete analysis of home prices when the Case-Shiller data is released. The graphs above on prices use a three month rolling average of the NAR data, and show a 7.6% year-over-year gain.
Even so, homes today are still affordable according to the NAR’s Housing Affordability Index – although this index continues to decline.
Unadjusted Home Affordability Index
This affordability index measures the degree to which a typical family can afford the monthly mortgage payments on a typical home.
Value of 100 means that a family with the median income has exactly enough income to qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced home. An index above 100 signifies that family earning the median income has more than enough income to qualify for a mortgage loan on a median-priced home, assuming a 20 percent down payment. For example, a composite housing affordability index (COMPHAI) of 120.0 means a family earning the median family income has 120% of the income necessary to qualify for a conventional loan covering 80 percent of a median-priced existing single-family home. An increase in the COMPHAI then shows that this family is more able to afford the median priced home.
The home price situation according to the NAR:
The median existing-home price for all housing types in February was $189,000, which is 9.1 percent above February 2013. Price gains have translated into an additional $4 trillion of housing wealth recovery over the past three years.
According to the NAR, all-cash sales accounted for 35% of sales this month.
First-time buyers accounted for 28 percent of purchases in February, up from 26 percent in January, but down from 30 percent in February 2013.
All-cash sales comprised 35 percent of transactions in February, up from 33 percent in January and 32 percent in February 2013. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 21 percent of homes in February, compared with 20 percent in January; they were 22 percent in February 2013. Seventy-three percent of investors paid cash in February.
Inventories improved marginally – and are higher than the levels one year ago.
Total housing inventory at the end of February rose 6.4 percent to 2.00 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 5.2-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 4.9 months in January. Unsold inventory is 5.3 percent above a year ago, when there was a 4.6-month supply.
Unadjusted Total Housing Inventory
Caveats on Use of NAR Existing Home Sales Data
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is a trade organization. Their analysis tends to understate the bad, and overstate the good. However, the raw (and unadjusted) data is released which allows a complete unbiased analysis. Econintersect analyzes only using the raw data. Also note the National Association of Realtors (NAR) new methodology now has moderate back revision to the data – so it is best to look at trends, and not get too excited about each month’s release.
The NAR re-benchmarked their data in their November 2011 existing home sales data release reducing their recent reported home sales volumes by an average of 15%. The NAR stated benchmarking will be an annual process, and the 2010 data will need to be benchmarked again next year.
Also released today were periodic benchmark revisions with downward adjustments to sales and inventory data since 2007, led by a decline in for-sale-by-owners. Although rebenchmarking resulted in lower adjustments to several years of home sales data, the month-to-month characterization of market conditions did not change. There are no changes to home prices or month’s supply.
Existing home sales is one area the government does not report data – and it is easy to assume that an organization whose purpose is to paint the housing industry in a good light would inflate their data. However, Econintersect is assuming in its analysis that the NAR numbers are correct.
The NAR’s home price data has been questioned by others also. However, Econintersectanalysis shows a very good home price correlation to Case-Shiller, CoreLogic’s HPI, and LPS, especially when three-month moving averages are used – as shown in the graph earlier in this article.
Econintersect determines the month-over-month change by subtracting the current month’s year-over-year change from the previous month’s year-over-year change. This is the best of the bad options available to determine month-over-month trends – as the preferred methodology would be to use multi-year data (but the New Normal effects and the Great Recession distort historical data).