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My Bloomberg View Column: Housing Data Is Old and Moldy

July 31, 2014 | 11:32 am | | Charts |

BVlogo

After being pummeled with confusing sound bits after the release of Monday’s Pending Home SalesIndex by the NAR and the S&P/Case Shiller Index, I thought it was time to set the record straight on the applicability of this research.

This is my second column for Bloomberg View: Housing Data Is Old and Moldy


My Bloomberg View RSS feed.

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Bloomberg Surveillance TV – Guest Host 6-25-14

June 25, 2014 | 8:30 am | | TV, Videos |


UPDATE: above clip just added – expanded conversation.

Got to guest host an hour (6am to 7am) of Bloomberg Television’s Surveillance with Tom Keene, Scarlett Fu and Adam Johnson to talk housing. The above is just a couple of minutes of the hour (yes, you’re spared). We spoke about Case Shiller, New Home Sales, biting in World Cup Soccer, my fireman son using a GoPro in fires and LeBron/Carmelo’s real worth among other things. Like I said, we did talk housing.

Adam brought up a great point – while the economy is always characterized as 70% consumer driven, 16% of that is actually health care spending so the overall number is really 54%.

Very smart conversations (the topic of biting included). Always fun to join them.

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Pending Home Sales Fall Short of Year Ago Sales Surge

May 29, 2014 | 4:29 pm | Charts |

2014-april-phsi-05-29-2014
[click to expand]

The NAR released their Pending Home Sale Index today for April which aggregates signed contract data for the month. It is generally 2 months closer to the “meeting of the minds” between buyer and seller than their existing home sale report, that is based on closed sales (and 4 months faster than Case Shiller).

Pending Home Sales Index is not “forward looking”
In my chart above, and if you know me, I hate seasonal adjustments (SA) in housing data so this chart uses NAR’s reported numbers without adjustments. NAR always frames this release series as “forward looking” when it really is “less backward looking” because it is based on contracts, not closed sales. The end of May report reflects April contracts, half of which were probably signed in Late March. With a 2 month spread between contract and closing dates, this report is the most recent US housing market snapshot but nothing about it is actually “forward looking.”

With all the weather talk and mixed housing market messaging over the last month, this release brought us a broad range of interpretation, from “plunging” to “edging higher.”

Well, which is it? Or could it be both? Yes it can. We just need context.

According to Housingwire (uses SA numbers): Pending home sales plunge 9.2% in April So much for that post-winter, pent-up demand

Pending home sales for the month of April plummeted 9.2% compared to April 2013, the National Association of Realtors reported Thursday.

Contracts signed to buy existing homes increased 0.4% in April compared to March 2014, but that’s coming off three months of flat sales blamed on cold weather.

The expectation had been for at least a 2% gain month-over-month.

According to Diana Olick at CNBC (uses SA numbers), Pending home sales up just 0.4% in April, missing expectations

Warmer weather and higher expectations failed to cause a meaningful surge in home sales.

Signed contracts to buy existing homes increased just 0.4 percent in April, according to a monthly report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The expectation had been for at least a 2 percent gain sequentially.

The Realtors’ so-called pending home sales index is now 9.2 percent lower than April of 2013.

What’s going on?

If you look at the above chart you can see that last year’s pending home sales were surging up until May 2013, their highest level in 3 years (since the federal homeowner tax credit program as part of the stimulus). The surge in contracts in the first half of 2013 was born out of consumer fears that rates were going to rise. In addition, all the pent-up demand accumulated during the two year period preceding the US election and fiscal cliff deadline was released into the market. Many fence-sitters became decision-makers.

This winter’s harsh weather could have delayed buyers and we should be seeing this uptick in activity by now. We probably are seeing it but it no match for the year ago surge in activity but now the market is being characterized as weak or weakening. The problem with that description is it assumes that 2013 was a normal trend of an improving market. Well it wasn’t.

So yes, sales are down from the 2013 sales surge anomaly and the weather time-shifting buyers forward further into spring this year was no match for it. In fact, I suspect the next month will show the same type of “weakness” and the PHSI results probably can’t show real improvement at least until June.

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[Leverage] Calculating Your Home Investment Return Realistically

March 16, 2014 | 9:00 am | Infographics |

leverageinfographic
[click to expand]

I think many, if not most people calculate the return on their home as an investment as this CNN/Money calculator does. After seeing this, I whipped up a theoretical infographic illustrating how the use of leverage in a home purchase factors in to your return. It’s super simplistic, not factoring in opportunity cost, use and enjoyment, tax deductions, improvements and other factors because I wanted to show the power of leverage.

Forget about price indices like Case Shiller or similar. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a home price index paired up against a stock price index as a way to determine which investment is better. Apples and oranges.

Measure your ROI using what you invested (down payment) and what your home equity expanded (or contracted) to.

The CNN/Money rate of return calculator is really only a measurement of home price appreciation compared to the same period for stocks and bonds as an opportunity cost – comparing different asset types side by side – yet that’s not how the majority of homebuyers interact with their home as an investment.

It’s most often about leverage.

UPDATE
An appraisal colleague and friend of mine pointed out that in my original version, I incorrectly used the word “profit” within the infographic rather than what I was actually talking about: “equity” ie return on investment (ROI) – how much the original down payment gained over time. The numbers all remained unchanged.

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Manhattan Diverged From NYC At US Housing Boom Peak

February 14, 2013 | 10:54 am | | Charts |


[click to expand]

As the above chart illustrates, the aggregate median housing price in New York City, based on co-op, condo and 1-3 family property sales, with and without Manhattan sales go their separate ways circa mid-2006, at the Case-Shiller Home Price Index peak of the national housing market. This also makes the decline in the New York Case Shiller HPI all that more maddening (because it’s not Manhattan, or co-ops or condos or new development and includes Long Island, Fairfield, Westchester, Northern New Jersey and a county in Pennsylvania).

The market share for new development sales in Manhattan peaked in 2Q 06 at 57.9%. The 4Q12 market share was 12.5% but fear not, more new development is coming per The Real Deal.

During the boom through today, the shift in the mix towards Manhattan luxury property, largely from the combination of new development activity as well as vigorous Wall Street and international demand has expanded the difference between Manhattan and the rest of New York City. In other words, the gain in median sales price for NYC was caused by a shift in the mix toward higher end properties.

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Housing Data as Pop Culture

February 14, 2013 | 7:00 am | | Charts |


[click to open article]

A recent post in CNN/Money featured Andy Warhol’s 1984 “U.S. Unemployment Rate. No Campbell Soup Cans but it feels strange to associate his art with economic data from the 1980s. It somehow works for me. One of the coolest property inspections I made was through “The Factory” years ago.

In 2007 the “Stand-up Economist” Yorman Bauman led the way with this much watched video on the difference between macro and micro economists. “Microeconomists are wrong about specific things while macroeconomists are wrong about things in general.” HI-larious.

And recently the TV game show “Teen Jeopardy” had 5 questions about the “Federal Reserve.”

Christie’s sales rep said:

“Economic data has become popular culture. While we used to think of it as being some kind of verified information only for people who are really knowledgeable about the economy, it’s popular culture now. You can talk to a taxi driver about it.”

I completely agree. Gangnam Style and GDP now go hand in hand.

We devour housing data ie the recently released Real Deal Data Book (I’ve got a lot of charts and tables in there!)

Throw in the heavy downloads of our report series for Douglas Elliman, NAR Research, CoreLogic, Case Shiller, RealtyTrac, etc. it’s clear to me that housing data is an obsession and embedded in popular culture (thank goodness).

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[Knight Frank] Global Reports That Look Forward and Backward : Europe As Denominator

December 13, 2012 | 9:35 am | | Reports |


[click to open report]

Where we’ve been

Knight Frank’s Global House Price Index is published quarterly and tracks the performance of mainstream national housing markets around the world. They use Case Shiller results for the US market.

Europe at bottom:

With the Eurozone now in its second recession in three years buyer confidence is at an all-time low and it is no coincidence that all the bottom 12 rankings are occupied by European countries this quarter.

The top performers:

But it’s not all bad news. Six markets recorded double-digit annual price growth in the year to September; Brazil, Hong Kong, Turkey, Russia, Colombia and Austria.

Where we’re going


[click to open report]

I help provide their Manhattan and Miami insights and they liked the way I characterize the state of luxury housing as a “safe-haven” and the “new international currency.” Here are the top line observations in their Q4 12 Prime Global Forecast:

• In 2013, we expect prime residential prices across the 14 cities included in our forecast to rise by 2.5% on average, with Moscow, Miami and Dubai being the strongest performers.
• A sharp slowdown in the global economy is the highest risk for the world’s prime residential markets closely followed by government cooling measures.
• However, the current economic uncertainty is also considered a key driver of demand in prime cities as HNWIs seek the shelter of ‘safe-haven’ investments.
• Supply, or the lack of it, will be a key determinant of price performance in cities such as New York, Moscow and Miami in 2013.
• We envisage that government-imposed regulatory measures will keep a lid on price growth in Asia in 2013 but the west-east shift in the economic balance of power suggests more promising prospects in the medium term.



Q3 12 Global House Price Index [Knight Frank]
Q4 12 Prime Global Forecast [Knight Frank]

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NAR Membership Flows With Housing Market

December 6, 2012 | 11:07 am | Charts |


[click to expand]

Membership is very close to falling below the 1M threshold (1,005,838) for the first time since 2003.

The rise and fall of NAR membership with the S&P/Case Shiller Home Price Index is a logical trend in a commission driven profession with a low barrier to entry – although one would think membership would correlate better with number of sales rather than prices (Case Shiller or CSI is a price index i.e., not based on sales).

The public strongly and incorrectly relates the health of housing with prices rather than sales. Sales activity leads price direction by about a year and membership lags prices so the membership correlation to price probably reflects the time it takes people to jump into the profession when things seem to improve – the chart suggests 1-2 years. You can see the membership lag prices during the boom, at peak and when the market crashed.

In the period like now where the market is transitioning from bad to good, the sharp agents have the opportunity to do very well with less competition from those who were only in it for the quick buck.

The appraisal profession likely shows a similar pattern but perhaps would be more closely aligned with refi applications. On my “to do” list.

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[NewYork Fed] Excellent Mapping of Housing’s Recovery Process in Region

December 4, 2012 | 9:00 am | | Charts |


[click to expand]

The Federal Reserve has been relying more on CoreLogic housing data these days, rather than Case Shiller or NAR and I’m down with that. The New York Fed has put the CoreLogic data for New York, Connecticut and New Jersey to good use in a very easy to use interactive County format that I highly recommend you check out. They even present a two-fer: all sales, without distressed sales.

My only criticism of the presentation (and it’s really me just being petty) is the orientation to market peak in 2006 as the benchmark. I see the 2006 peak as an artificial level we should not be in a hurry to return to since it reflected all that was bad with the credit/housing boom.

But I digress…

The top chart shows that Manhattan and Brooklyn after removing distressed sales, have “recovered” using the Fed’s methodology. In fact all 5 boroughs are out-performing the US housing market.

Manhattan is clearly one of the top performing locations in the region or at least it is ahead of the region. The map below shows the counties (green) that are now equal to 2007 price levels. Not many in close proximity to Manhattan are doing as well.


[click to expand]



Housing Market Recovery in the Region [Federal Reserve Bank of New York]

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Get Down With It: Falling Mortgage Rates Are Not Creating Housing Sales

November 27, 2012 | 11:16 am | | Charts |

Inspired by my analysis of yesterday’s WSJ article, I thought I’d explore the effectiveness of low mortgage rates in getting the housing market going. I matched year-to-date sales volume where a mortgage was used and mortgage rates broken out by conforming and jumbo mortgage volume.

Mortgage volume has been falling (off an artificial high I might add) since 2005, while rates have continued to fall to new record lows, yet transaction volume has not recovered. I contend that low rates can now do no more to help housing than they already have.

Even the NAR has run out of reasons and is now focusing on bad appraisals as holding the market back (I agree appraisal quality post Dodd-Frank is terrible and is impacting the market to a limited extent – and I secretly wish appraiser held that much sway over the market).

I’m no bear, but the uptick Case Shiller’s report today (remembering that Case Shiller reflects the housing market 5-7 months ago) still shows slowing momentum and all 2012 year-over-year comparisons in the various national reports are skewed higher from an anemic 2011.

Five years of falling mortgage rates have only served to provide stability in volume. The monetary and fiscal conversation ought to be on ways to incentivize banks to ease credit – falling rates only makes them more risk averse.

Of course a significant drop in unemployment would likely solve the tight credit problem fairly quickly.

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NAR and Florida Realtors to Create Repeat Sales Index: Why?

September 4, 2012 | 6:00 am | |

Last week the Florida’s state Realtor association announced they are developing a repeat sales index for tracking the state’s housing market. NAR is doing the same thing on a national level. My first thought was, huh?

The new Florida Realtors Real Estate Price Index will use data from the Florida Department of Revenue to chart home prices for the state and metro areas during the last 17 years.

Why create yet another housing index?

NAR has been sharply critical of the repeat sales methodology for years – and now to suddenly create one because it works better? Damaging logic and once again undermining NAR’s credibility and branding.

The motivation for the creation of a new index seems to be the popularity of the Case Shiller Home Price Index which has been a thorn in NAR’s side since it was introduced a number of years ago. Ironically, NAR enabled Case Shiller to thrive from NAR’s own inability to become a neutral trusted advisor of the exclusive housing data they publish. The culture at NAR Research enabled the two most recent chief economists Lereah and Yun to consistently interpret the numbers with an almost cartoonish glowing angle that has caused severe damage to the NAR brand.

In other words, Realtors and their associations have long ago missed the opportunity to be a reliable provider of real estate stats, but that’s really ok. After all, the association is a trade group and any stats they produce are, by definition, tainted even if they aren’t. Case in point: NAR just revised their Existing Home Sales stats after data provider CORElogic discovered there was a significant error and pressured them to do a revision. NAR had double counted about 2M sales since 2007.

What is a repeat-sales index?

A repeat sales index measures the difference in price from sales that recently sold and their prior sale. New development is omitted because those units have never sold before – a huge characteristic of the Florida housing market. Of course if the property was gut renovated, doubled in size, torn down and rebuilt, a repeat sales index does not know this. A repeat sales index is also subject to the same skew in housing type that a hedonic (i.e. Existing Home Sales) index is and is therefore adjusted using varying formulaic methodologies.

A repeat sales index does not reflect true seasons in housing. Yes there is a nominal difference between their seasonally adjusted and non-seasonally adjusted trends, but it does not show the spring rush and winter doldrums as they actually occur. There seems to be a need by economists to show a steady line rather than a seasonal visual a consumer would better understand.

Whats wrong with the Case Shiller Index?

I’ve been quite critical of the Case Shiller Index since I began this blog in 2005 namely because:

  • it is 5-7 months behind the market;
  • it excludes co-ops, condos and new development.

I do admire Robert Shiller and Karl Case as pioneers in this field but the CS index was NEVER intended to be a consumer tool used to measure housing. It was meant to be the basis for allowing Wall Street to hedge the housing market. A logical goal indeed, but CS was conceived before it was feasible to “game it” i.e. many economists and analytics firms can now accurately project the results of the index in advance. Not a good thing for investors who want to bet on it which explains why such limited trading actually occurs.

There are a lot of housing indices these days. There are also many new data companies that can do analytics a lot better than Realtors can because they only do analytics for a living. Without neutral commentary, how do more housing indices by NAR or Florida’s association make the picture any clearer to the consumer (and Realtors)? Instead I think the Florida association should be focusing on ways to help their members be more successful.



Case Shiller Index [Standard & Poor’s]
Existing Home Sales [NAR]
Florida Association of Realtors [Home Page]

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[Interview] Robert Dorsey, Chief Data and Analytics Officer, FNC Co-Founder

November 18, 2010 | 11:03 pm | Podcasts |

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