August 2012 New Home Sales A Little Soft

Written by John Lounsbury and Steven Hansen

New home sales data for August 2012 is a little soft.

  • New home sales are growing at double digits year-over-year;
  • This sector is still clearly in recovery (it has a long way to go to be “in expansion”);
  • The August data shows that the rate of growth is now flat for most of 2012 – meaning the rate of growth year-over-year is now nearly constant at 25%.

Econintersect Analysis:

  • sales down 1.9% month-over-month
  • year-over-year sales up 24.0% (3 month average up 25.0%).

Let us start with perspective – new home sales are less than 1/4 of the peak values seen in 2005 – and are running at levels last seen in the 1970’s (non seasonally adjusted data). But still, since mid-2011 new home sales have been growing year-over-year.

US Census Headlines:

  • sales down 0.3% month-over-month
  • year-over-year sales up 27.7%
  • market expected annualized sales of 380k to 390K (actual was 373K – seasonally adjusted)

Seasonally Adjusted New Homes for Sale

As the data is noisy (large monthly variations). The graph below suggests that new home sales volumes have bottomed (and are now growing) over the last 12 months.

Year-over-Year Change – Unadjusted New Home Sales Volumes (blue line) with zero growth line emphasized (red line)

The headlines of the data release:

Sales of new single-family houses in August 2012 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 373,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  This is 0.3 percent (±9.3%)* below the revised July rate of 374,000, but is 27.7 percent (±18.8%) above the August 2011 estimate of 292,000.

Unadjusted New Home Sales Monthly Volumes In Thousands

The median sales price of new houses sold in August 2012 was $256,900; the average sales price was $295,300.  The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of August was 141,000.  This represents a supply of 4.5 months at the current sales rate.

Unadjusted Medium New Home Sales Price

Caveats on Use of New Home Sales Data

This data is compiled by sampling, and historically has little revision. This data is based on contracts signed – not actual properties conveyed.

As in most US Census reports, Econintersect does not agree with the seasonal adjustment methodology used and provides an alternate analysis. The issue is that the exceptionally large recession and subsequent economic roller coaster has caused data distortions that become exaggerated when the seasonal adjustment methodology uses several years of data. Further, Econintersect believes there may be a New Normal seasonality and using data prior to the end of the recession for seasonal analysis could provide the wrong conclusion.

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).

With new home sales at 25% of past rates, whatever your interpretation of the new home sales data is not significant enough to matter. Also the data is distorted by the first home buyer’s stimulus which required contract signing before 30 April 2010 – causing a data bubble and subsequent trough. In spite of Econintersect‘s reservations about the efficacy of seasonal adjustment at the present time, it is interesting to look at the deep history of the seasonally adjusted data.

The broad bottoming process for new home sales in 2010 may not be confirmed or denied for another year or more. The critical factor will be whether the one-year positive trend can continue as year-over-year comparisons will no longer be against the very low sales after the collapse of the tax credit stimulus micro-bubble.

The seasonally adjusted new home sales rate is the lowest it has been for 50 years and has been at that level for almost two years. At the beginning of 1963 the U.S. population was around 188 million. With annual new home sales averaging around 550,000 per year in 1963, the extreme depression in the new home market is evident. In 1963 the rate of new home sales was about 290,000 per 100 million of population. In 2011 the number is about 100,000 per 100 million.

It is more informative to look at these changes over the nearly fifty-year history. The following graph shows new home sales normalized to population from from St, Louis Fed:

Seasonally Adjusted New Home Sales Ratio to Population

The same data is plotted below to include the average for the entire period and two moving averages (graph updated through October 2011):

The bottom line is that the new home market is in an extreme depression and the apparent bottoming process has been dragging on for two years, if in fact the bottom has been reached. Recent review of the Fed 2011 stress tests for banks has a new recession scenario that would see home prices decline another 20% from here. It is unlikely that the attempts to complete a bottom here could hold under those conditions. Econintersect analysis of recession indicators is still not seeing the start of new U.S. recession, however. We can only hope that outlook continues.

Related Articles

All real estate posts

One reply on “August 2012 New Home Sales A Little Soft”

Comments are closed.