January 2014 Existing Home Sales Bad

NAR Blames Weather, Inventory, Flood Insurance, Tight Credit, Prices, Interest Rates ……

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The headlines for existing home sales say that sales growth fell in January month-over-month – and declined year-over-year. Our analysis agrees. The three month rolling averages are still declining demonstrating how soft the data is.

Econintersect Analysis:

  • Sales growth decelerated 6.9% month-over-month, down 3.4% year-over-year – sales growth rate trend is decelerating using the 3 month moving average.
  • Prices growth accelerated 1.8% month-over-month, Up 8.8% year-over-year – price growth rate trend is decelerating marginally using the 3 month moving average.
  • The homes for sale inventory grew marginally this month, and is historically low for Januarys (but higher than inventory levels one year ago).

NAR reported:

  • Sales down 5.1% month-over-month, down 5.1% year-over-year (no typo – month-over-month and year-over-year is the same percentage).
  • Prices up 10.7% year-over-year
  • The market expected annualized sales volumes of 4.48 to 4.85 million (consensus 4.65) vs the 4.62 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)

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The graph below presents unadjusted home sales volumes.

Unadjusted Monthly Home Sales Volumes

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Here are the headline words from the NAR analysts:

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said unusual weather is playing a role. “Disruptive and prolonged winter weather patterns across the country are impacting a wide range of economic activity, and housing is no exception,” he said. “Some housing activity will be delayed until spring. At the same time, we can’t ignore the ongoing headwinds of tight credit, limited inventory, higher prices and higher mortgage interest rates. These issues will hinder home sales activity until the positive factors of job growth and new supply from higher housing starts begin to make an impact.”

NAR President Steve Brown said that in addition to disruptive weather, higher flood insurance rates are impacting the market in areas designated as flood zones, which account for roughly 8 to 9 percent of sales. “Thirty percent of transactions in flood zones were cancelled or delayed in January as a result of sharply higher flood insurance rates,” he said. “Since going into effect on October 1, 2013, about 40,000 home sales were either delayed or canceled because of increases and confusion over significantly higher flood insurance rates. The volume could accelerate as the market picks up this spring.

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)

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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)

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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 7.5% 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 January was $188,900, up 10.7 percent from January 2013. Distressed homes – foreclosures and short sales – accounted for 15 percent of January sales, compared with 14 percent in December and 24 percent in January 2013.

According to the NAR, all-cash sales accounted for 33% of sales this month.

First-time buyers accounted for 26 percent of purchases in January, down from 27 percent in December and 30 percent in January 2013. This is the lowest market share for first-time buyers since NAR began monthly measurement in October 2008; normally, they should be closer to 40 percent.

All-cash sales comprised 33 percent of transactions in January, up from 32 percent in December and 28 percent in January 2013. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 20 percent of homes in January, compared with 21 percent in December and 19 percent in January 2013. Seven out of 10 investors paid cash in January.

Inventories improved marginally – and are higher than the levels one year ago.

Total housing inventory at the end of January rose 2.2 percent to 1.90 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 4.9-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 4.6 months in December. Unsold inventory is 7.3 percent above a year ago, when there was a 4.4-month supply. A supply of 6.0 to 6.5 months represents a rough balance between buyers and sellers.

Unadjusted Total Housing Inventory

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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, Econintersect analysis 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).

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