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posted on 28 March 2016

February 2016 Pending Home Sales Index Improves.

Written by Steven Hansen

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) seasonally adjusted pending home sales index improved - to the highest index reading since last July. Our analysis of pending home sales agrees, and we are forecasting relatively good March home sales. The quote of the day from this NAR release:

... the one silver lining from last month's noticeable slump in existing-home sales was that price appreciation lessened to 4.4 percent, which is still above wage growth but certainly more favorable than the 8.1 percent annual increase in January....

Pending home sales are based on contract signings, and existing home sales are based on the execution of the contract (contract closing).

The NAR reported:

  • Pending home sales index was up 3.5 % month-over-month and up 0.7 % year-over-year.
  • The market was expecting month-over-month growth of 0.5 % to 2.0 % (consensus 1.5 %) versus the growth of 3.5 % reported.

Econintersect's evaluation using unadjusted data:

  • the index growth was up 6.5 % month-over-month and up 5.1 % year-over-year.
  • The current trends (using 3 month rolling averages) insignificantly improved and remains in expansion.
  • Extrapolating the pending home sales unadjusted data to project March 2016 existing home sales, this would be a 5.1 % expansion year-over-year for existing home sales.

Unadjusted 3 Month Rolling Average of Year-over-Year Growth for Pending Home Sales (blue line) and Existing Home Sales (red line)

z pending2.png

From Lawrence Yun , NAR chief economist:

.... pending sales made promising strides in February, rising to the highest index reading since last July (109.8). After some volatility this winter, the latest data is encouraging in that a decent number of buyers signed contracts last month, lured by mortgage rates dipping to their lowest levels in nearly a year1 and a modest, seasonal uptick in inventory. Looking ahead, the key for sustained momentum and more sales than last spring is a continuous stream of new listings quickly replacing what's being scooped up by a growing pool of buyers. Without adequate supply, sales will likely plateau.

The one silver lining from last month's noticeable slump in existing-home sales was that price appreciation lessened to 4.4 percent, which is still above wage growth but certainly more favorable than the 8.1 percent annual increase in January.

Any further moderation in prices would be a welcome development this spring. Particularly in the West, where it appears a segment of would-be buyers are becoming wary of high asking prices and stiff competition.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) pending home sales index offers a window into predicting existing home sales. The actual home sale might appear in the month the contract was signed (cash buyers can close quickly), or in the following two months.

Econintersect forecasts unadjusted existing home sales by offsetting the pending home sales index one month. This forecast suggests unadjusted existing home sales of 425,000 in March 2016.

Using Pending Home Sales to Predict Existing Homes Sales - Unadjusted Existing Home Sales (blue line) & Predictive Forecast Using Pending Home Sales Index (red line)

z pending1.PNG

Using this methodology, 290,000 existing home unadjusted sales were forecast for February 2016 versus the actual reported number of 314,000 (which is subject to further revision).

Unadjusted Year-over-Year Change in Existing Home Sales Volumes (blue line), 3 month rolling average (red line)

z existing1.PNG

Keeping things real - home sales volumes are only 2/3rds of previous levels.

Caveats on the Use of Pending Home Sales Index

According to the NAR:

NAR's Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) is released during the first week of each month. It is designed to be a leading indicator of housing activity.

The index measures housing contract activity. It is based on signed real estate contracts for existing single-family homes, condos and co-ops. A signed contract is not counted as a sale until the transaction closes. Modeling for the PHSI looks at the monthly relationship between existing-home sale contracts and transaction closings over the last four years.

…… When a seller accepts a sales contract on a property, it is recorded into a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) as a "pending home sale." The majority of pending home sales become home sale transactions, typically one to two months later.

NAR now collects pending home sales data from MLSs and large brokers. Altogether, we receive data from over 100 MLSs & 60 large brokers, giving us a large sample size covering 50% of the EHS sample. This is equal to 20 percent of all transactions.

In other words, Pending Home Sales is an extrapolation of a sample equal to 20% of the whole. Econintersect uses Pending Home Index to forecast future existing home sales.

Econintersect reset the forecasting of existing home sales using the pending home sales index coincident with November 2011 Pending home sales analysis (see here) - as the NAR in November revised the historical existing home sales data.

The Econintersect forecasting methodology is influenced by the speed at which closings occur. When they slow down in a particular period - this method overestimates. The number of cash buyers are speeding up the process (cash buyers analysis here). A quick cash home sale process could begin and end in the same month. On the other hand, contracts for short sales can sometimes take months to close. Interpreting the pending home sales data is complicated by weighing offsetting effects in the current abnormal market.

Please note that Econintersect uses unadjusted data in its analysis.

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).

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