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Posts Tagged ‘Case-Shiller’

[Bubbletheory] Lets Not Re-write History

May 10, 2010 | 12:00 am | |

I have been coming across what I believe to be somewhat weird rear view looks at the credit/housing bubble we just went through from some well respected voices. I’m thinking there is perhaps an academia disconnect from the front lines.


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Casey B. Mulligan is an economics professor at the University of Chicago writes “Was it really a bubble?

According to the bubble theory, for a while the market was overcome with exuberance, meaning that people were paying much more for housing than changes in incomes, demographics, technology and other basic factors would suggest.

But why would the blue line need to be where it is? Housing prices are stickier on the downside and the slope should not form a bell curve as the drawing suggests. It should be a lesser slope and drawn out over several years, shouldn’t it? And wasn’t that the whole point of the stimulus plan in reference to the first time home buyers’ and existing homeowner’s tax credit? It stimulated sales activity and as a result, artificially pushed sales price levels sideways.

Take a look at my colleague at Westwood Capital, Dan Alpert’s chart showing the exuberance of housing prices. You can slice it and dice anyway you want but THAT’s a bubble.


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And one of my favorite economist/writers Edward Glaeser writes “What Caused the Great Housing Maelstrom?

If the easy credit hypothesis is correct, then we can take comfort in the thought that we understand the great housing convulsion, and we can start pointing fingers at those institutions, like the Federal Reserve System, that play a role in determining interest rates.

He and his colleagues through their research seem to be saying that low interest rates and high lending approval rates don’t explain enough of the rise in housing prices.

In all due respect, I don’t know exactly how they proved their points empirically but this research seems to be a bit disconnected to what most of us observed on the ground during the boom itself.

For example, a five percent increase in loan-to-value ratios is associated with a 2.5 percent increase in prices, and loan-to-value ratios rose by less than five percent during the boom.

That seems like a very low ratio to me. As appraisers we could clearly see the pressure we were under to hit the number for the mortgage approval and that most people were placing 5%-10% down. I contend that credit was easier than anytime in modern history and that combined with interest rates kept on the floor from late 2001 to mid 2004 caused a frenzy of demand or as Professor Robert Shiller characterizes it as “Irrational Exuberance.”

This was a credit bubble and that housing was merely a way to keep score. Perhaps I am not following their logic but having lived through it and saw the lending environment first hand, its hard to imagine this whirlwind of the past 7 years was not a bubble of some kind.


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[S&P/Case Shiller] February 2010, Feels Like 2003

April 27, 2010 | 10:47 pm | |

[click to open report]

Last week S&P made the decision to de-emphasize seasonal adjustments given the chaos of the past several years. A good move towards better transparency.

The S&P/Case Shiller Index showed:

  • 0.6% increase year over year, first in about 3 years – caused by the tax credit.
  • 20-City Composite is down 32.6% since June/July 2006.
  • Month over month decline in 19 of the 20 cities in the index.
  • 0.9% decline from January to February 2010, 5th consecutive monthly decline.
  • As of February 2010, average home prices across the United States are at similar levels to where they were in late summer/early autumn of 2003.

After 5 consecutive months of m-o-m declines, the Case Shiller Index is feeling the influence of rising foreclosures and a possible housing double dip, despite the stimulus in sales activity from the multiple federal tax programs.


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[Seasonality Adjustments] are Confusing and Perhaps, Misleading

April 26, 2010 | 7:30 am |

CSIseasonalchart4-2010
[click to open announcement]

A few years ago, I was thinking about running another set of our market numbers for the NYC metro area as seasonally adjusted since that was prevalent in housing indexes such as NAR, Case Shiller, New Home Sales. However, when I spoke to several economists on how to set out to actually do this, I found there was no real standard and methodologies used were rarely disclosed. I opted not to pursue a conversion.

3-22-14jengaimage

NAR takes their monthly numbers, annualize them and then adjust for seasonality. Seems like stacking Jenga wood blocks. The smaller the base piece, the more volatile the blocks are at the top of the stack.

It felt like the reliability of the data could be diluted as a result. One of the things that happened in the NYC metro market in 2009 – seasonality ran amok post-financial crisis. Contract peak moved forward 90 days for the first time in the 25 years I’ve been tracking the market, from May-June to August-September which will then screw up year over year comparisons.

Apparently that was the feeling of S&P/Case Shiller because the wild swings in housing markets of the past several years skewed seasonality and was confusing the message.

Announcement: S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices and Seasonal Adjustment

I applaud them for making a change which will result in a greater clarity of their trend analysis. Remember, the CSI index wasn’t designed for its popular use as the standard for tracking the US housing market. It was designed to be an index for investors to trade housing related financial instruments. Investors (and consumers) always need greater clarity and its great that they took action.

In some recent reports the two series have given conflicting signals, with the seasonally-adjusted series rising month-over-month and the unadjusted series declining. After reviewing the data, the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index Committee believes that, for the present, the unadjusted series is a more reliable indicator and, thus, reports should focus on the year-over-year changes where seasonal shifts are not a factor. Additionally, if monthly changes are considered, the unadjusted series should be used.

Raw is better. I’m sure there are great applications of seasonality, but let’s keep the black box out of the housing market analysis.


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Appraisers and Foreclosure Sales Bring Havoc to Housing Markets

January 29, 2010 | 12:30 am | | Articles |

I authored the following article for RealtyTrac which appeared on the cover of their November 2009 subscriber newsletter called Foreclosure News Report. It features a column for guest experts called “My Take.”

When Rick Sharga invited to write the article, he provided the previous issue which featured a great article by Karl Case of the Case Shiller Index and I was sold.

I hope you enjoy it.



Appraisers and Foreclosure Sales Bring Havoc to Housing Markets
By Jonathan Miller
President/CEO of Miller Samuel Inc.
11-2009

In many ways, the quality of appraisals has fallen as precipitously as many US housing markets over the past year. Just as the need for reliable asset valuation for mortgage lending and disposition has become critical (fewer data points and more distressed assets) the appraisal profession seems less equipped to handle it and users of their services seem more disconnected than ever.

The appraisal watershed moment was May 1, 2009, when the controversial agreement between Fannie Mae and New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, known as the Home Valuation Code of Conduct, became effective and the long neglected and misunderstood appraisal profession finally moved to the front burner. Adopted by federal housing agencies, HVCC, or lovingly referred to by the appraiserati as “Havoc” and has created just that.

During the 2003 to 2007 credit boom, a measure of the disconnect between risk and reward became evident by the proliferation of mortgage brokers in the residential lending process. Wholesale lending boomed over this period, becoming two thirds of the source of loan business for residential mortgage origination. Mortgage brokers were able to select the appraisers for the mortgages that they sent to banks.

Despite the fact that there are reputable mortgage brokers, this relationship is a fundamental flaw in the lending process since the mortgage broker is only paid when and if the loan closes. The same lack of separation existed and still exists between rating agencies and investment banks that aggressively sought out AAA ratings for their mortgage securitization products. Rating agencies acceded to their client’s wishes in the name of generating more revenue.

As evidence of the systemic defect, appraisers who were magically able to appraise a property high enough to make the deal work despite the market value of that locale, thrived in this environment. Lenders were in “don’t ask, don’t tell” mode and they could package and sell off those mortgages to investors who didn’t seem to care about the value of the mortgage collateral either. Banks closed their appraisal review departments nationwide which had served to buffer appraisers from the bank sales functions because appraisal departments were viewed as cost centers.

The residential appraisal profession evolved into an army of “form-fillers” and “deal-enablers” as the insular protection of appraisal professionals was removed. Appraisers were subjected to enormous direct and indirect pressure from bank loan officers and mortgage brokers for results. “No play, no pay” became the silent engine driving large volumes of business to the newly empowered valuation force. The modern residential appraiser became known as the “ten-percenter” because many appraisals reported values of ten percent more than the sales price or borrower’s estimated value. They did this to give the lender more flexibility and were rewarded with more business.

HVCC now prevents mortgage brokers from ordering appraisals for mortgages where the lender plans on selling them to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac which is a decidedly positive move towards protecting the neutrality of the appraiser. Most benefits of removing the mortgage broker from the appraisal process are lost because HVCC has enabled an unregulated institution known as appraisal management companies to push large volumes of appraisals on those who bid the lowest and turn around the reports the quickest. Stories about of out of market appraisers doing 10-12 assignments in 24 hours are increasingly common. How much market analysis is physical possible with that sort of volume?

After severing relationships with local appraisers by closing in-house appraisal departments and becoming dependent on mortgage brokers for the appraisal, banks have turned to AMC’s for the majority of their appraisal order volume for mortgage lending.

Appraisal management companies are the middlemen in the process, collecting the same or higher fee for an appraisal assignment and finding appraisers who will work for wages as low as half the prevailing market rate who need to complete assignments in one-fifth the typical turnaround time. You can see how this leads to the reduction in reliability.

The appraisal profession therefore remains an important component in the systemic breakdown of the mortgage lending process and is part of the reason why we are seeing 300,000 foreclosures per month.

The National Association of Realtors and The National Association of Home Builders were among the first organizations to notice the growing problem of “low appraisals”. The dramatic deterioration in appraisal quality swung the valuation bias from high to low. The low valuation bias does not refer to declining housing market conditions. Despite mortgage lending being an important part of their business, many banks aren’t thrilled to provide mortgages in declining housing markets with rising unemployment and looming losses in commercial real estate, auto loans, credit cards and others. Low valuations have essentially been encouraged by rewarding those very appraisers with more assignments. Think of the low bias in valuation as informal risk management. The caliber and condition of the appraisal environment had deteriorated so rapidly to the point where it may now be slowing the recovery of the housing market.

One of the criticisms of appraisers today is that they are using comparable sales commonly referred to as “comps” that include foreclosure sales. Are these sales an arm’s length transaction between a fully informed buyer and seller is problematic at best. While this is a valid concern, the problem often pertains to the actual or perceived condition of the foreclosure sales and their respective marketing times.

Often foreclosure properties are inferior in condition to non-foreclosure properties because of the financial distress of the prior owner. The property was likely in disrepair leading up to foreclosure and may contain hidden defects. Banks are managing the properties that they hold but only as a minimum by keeping them from deteriorating in condition.

In many cases, foreclosure sales are marketed more quickly than competing sales. The lender is not interested in being a landlord and wants to recoup the mortgage amount as soon as possible. Often referred to as quicksale value, foreclosure listings can be priced to sell faster than normal marketing times, typically in 60 to 90 days.

The idea that foreclosure sales are priced lower than non-foreclosure properties is usually confused with the disparity in condition and marketing times and those reasons therefore are thought to invalidate them for use as comps by appraisers.

Foreclosure sales can be used as comps but the issue is really more about how those comps are adjusted for their differing amenities.

If two listings in the same neighborhood are essentially identical in physical characteristics like square footage, style, number of bedrooms, and one is a foreclosure property, then the foreclosure listing price will often set the market for that type of property. In many cases, the lower price that foreclosure sales establish are a function of difference in condition or the fact that the bank wishes to sell faster than market conditions will normally allow.

A foreclosure listing competes with non-foreclosure sales and can impact the values of surrounding homes. This becomes a powerful factor in influencing housing trends. If large portion of a neighborhood is comprised of recent closed foreclosure sales and active foreclosure listings, then guess what? That’s the market.

Throw in a form-filler mentality enabled by HVCC and differences such as condition, marketing time, market concentration and trends are often not considered in the appraisal, resulting in inaccurate valuations. As a market phenomenon, the lower caliber of appraisers has unfairly restricted the flow of sales activity, impeding the housing recovery nationwide.

In response to the HVCC backlash, the House Financial Services Committee added an amendment to the Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act HR 3126 on October 21st which among other things, wants all federal agencies to start accepting appraisals ordered through mortgage brokers in order to save the consumer money.

If this amendment is adopted by the US House of Representatives and US Senate and becomes law, its deja vu all over again. The Appraisal Institute, in their rightful obsession with getting rid of HVCC, has erred in viewing such an amendment as a victory for consumers. One of the reasons HVCC was established was in response to the problems created by the relationship between appraisers and mortgage brokers. Unfortunately, by solving one problem, it created other problems and returning to the ways of old is a giant step backwards.

We are in the midst of the greatest credit crunch since the Great Depression and yet few seem to understand the importance of neutral valuation of collateral so banks can make informed lending decisions. Appraisers need to be competent enough to make informed decisions about whether foreclosures sales are properly used comps. For the time being, many are not.


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[S&P/Case Shiller] November 2009 Data Sends Mixed Messages

January 28, 2010 | 10:06 am |


[click to open report]

“While we continue to see broad improvement in home prices as measured by the annual rate, the latest data show a far more mixed picture when you look at other details.” says David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor’s.

Good news, bad news = mixed message

  • 10 months of improved readings in the annual statistics, beginning in early 2009
  • third consecutive month these statistics have registered single digit declines, after 20 consecutive months of double digit declines.

“While we continue to see broad improvement in home prices as measured by the annual rate, the latest data show a far more mixed picture when you look at other details.”

  • Four of the markets – Charlotte, Las Vegas, Seattle and Tampa – posted new low index levels as measured by the past four years.
  • Only five of the markets saw price increases in November versus October.

The report also shows that prices are equivalent to late 2003.

What I didn’t understand was the following:

We are in a seasonally weak period for home prices, so the seasonally- adjusted data are generally more positive, with 14 of the markets and both composites showing improved prices in November.

This sounds to me like the seasonal adjustments are skewing the data more positively than it should?

When I read the report, it seems like the message is no more mixed than it was in the prior 2 months. With rising foreclosures expected in 2010, perhaps the report commentary is banking on a more significant impact later this year but the data doesn’t yet show it.


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[Altos Research/Real IQ] November 2009: Listing Prices Down In 25 of 26 markets

December 8, 2009 | 11:00 pm |

Altos Research and Real IQ released their Real-Time Housing Market Update report which provides a monthly snapshot of the 10-City Composite Index. It is along the same lines (no pun intended) as the S&P/Case Shiller index to which they state their index is closely correlated to. The report summarizes metrics associated with active residential property listings to present the only real-time view of the housing market.

Michael Simonsen, the CEO & Co-Founder Altos Research has been a guest on my podcast and I hold both he and his firm in high regard.

In November, both listing prices and listing inventory generally declined.

Some of the key findings:

  • The Altos Research 10-City Composite Price was down by 0.4% in November and 0.8% during the most recent three-month period.
  • The Composite effectively bottomed out in January at $470,017 and climbed throughout the first half of the year to $509,030 in July before returning to a gradual downward trend. Prices are likely to continue showing modest declines throughout the seasonally weak fall and winter months of 2009.
  • Asking prices increased in just one of 26 markets – Miami. The previously strong California markets all showed price declines during November.

The report suggests weak price trends over the winter, similar to the warnings shared by Case-Shiller and NAR.

Note: This was my first blog post done at 34,000 feet.


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[Looks Fishy] Case-Shiller 20-City Home Price Index Is Spoiling

December 4, 2009 | 12:47 am | |


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My often quoted colleague and friend Dan Alpert at Westwood Capital had a great take on the recently released Case Shiller Index that he shared with me.

Dan looked at the number of cities within the 20-city index in 2009 that had month over month positive or negative changes in price.

The lines form, well, a large fish. A lot has been made of the index “going positive” as a sign housing has bottomed. By June, nearly all cities in the index were showing positive price trends. Since then there has been a growing trend of more cities going negative.

Besides the chart showing a large bird-like beak next month, the fish is starting to spoil. As Dan summarizes:

Res ipsa loquitor


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[Seasonalized?, Annualized?] Pending Home Sales Index Up 8th Consecutive Month

November 2, 2009 | 7:00 pm | |

The National Association of Realtors released its pending home sale index results from September and the results were good as expected:

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking* indicator based on contracts signed in September, rose 6.1 percent to 110.1 from a reading of 103.8 in August, and is 21.2 percent higher than September 2008 when it stood at 90.9. The gain from a year ago is the largest annual increase on record, and the index is at the highest level since December 2006 when it was 112.8.

*Note: only forward looking in the context of closed sales.

Yun describes the actual contract activity as less than August but if adjusted for seasonality and annualize, its way up. Extrapolating like this makes me uncomfortable – yes its better news, but not with a solid foundation. Especially the inference that this is a continuing trend.

The uptick in activity was explained as a last minute rush to take advantage of the first time buyer’s tax credit. While its beginning to look like the tax credit will be renewed with income limits expanded, I suspect sales would fall sharply if it wasn’t. Stimulus is designed to prime the pump but it doesn’t feel like prime yet, especially over the next month or two when Case Shiller goes negative.


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[St. Louis Fed] Home Prices: A Case for Cautious Optimism?

November 2, 2009 | 6:27 pm | |

The St. Louis Fed, in their Economic Synopses publication contained a research piece called Home Prices: A Case for Cautious Optimism (Hat tip: Joe Weisenthal over at BusinessInsider) that does a great job lining up 3 housing related indexes and makes the case that we aren’t through yet despite positive month over month trends of the past 6 months.

The title for this Fed research piece is simply wrong. It should be re-named: Home Prices: Not Much of a Case for Cautious Optimism.

The chart shows the Case Shiller Home Price Index, FHFA Home Price Index and NAR Housing Affordability Index of Median Household Income presented in alignment.

Here’s the problem with affordability as a measurement – it considers income, housing prices and interest rates but not the tightness of credit, which is THE story at the moment. The affordability index is significantly optimistic right now because of this gaping void over credit.

Its great to have lower prices for all those buyers only if they can get a mortgage to take advantage of the opportunity. Mortgage underwriting is very tight right now and therefore we are looking at a 3 legged kitchen table that originally had 4 legs.


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[S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices] August 2009 up 1.2% M-O-M, May Go Negative in September

October 28, 2009 | 9:50 am | |

The August 2009 S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices report showed continued month over month improvement while the decline from the prior year same period continues to ease. Reporting on this report has been decidedly positive over the past 6 months, cited by many as evidence that housing has bottomed. The report shows that prices are at 2003 levels, which is consistent with my personal experiences with the systemic breakdown of the mortgage process. Back in 2003, the pressure came on the appraisal industry full bore to keep the pipeline full as underwriting restrictions became seemingly non-existent.

Here’s the press release.

My friend Barry Ritholtz over at Big Picture does a very interesting analysis on the high end of the market showing that it now only represents 10% of sales over $500k, a staggeringly small percentage. Barry and I are speaking on a panel today at The Realty Alliance.

Since CSI index is value weighted, the shift in the mix and surge in lower priced foreclosures will likely turn CSI negative in the near future, as early as next month.

In fact, the CSI press release suggest this and feels like our expectations are being managed a tad:

Once again, however, we do want to remind people of the upcoming expiration of the Federal First-Time Buyer’s Tax Credit in November and anticipated higher unemployment rates through year-end. Both may have a dampening effect on home prices.

Since residential housing indices trail the current market by about 4-5 months from “meeting of the minds” to actual reporting of the index (contract date => closing date => recording date => index reporting date) the people that work with this data already have a fairly strong impression of where the index will be next year and even the subsequent month.

If we can’t take the indices at face value when they show a decline, then perhaps the same ought to be true when the indices go positive? The take away here is there is no single barometer of the state of housing.

Here’s the 20-city index breakdown.

As I like to say: “The trend is your friend until it ends.”


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[NAR] Pending Home Sales Up 6.4%, 7 M-O-M Increases

October 1, 2009 | 1:03 pm | |

Contract activity another way to track housing trends although it’s reliability is fraught with risk since it is a much smaller data set and therefore subject to skew, especially on a local level. However, on a national level (as far as that goes) it is the only index of this kind we have.

From Reuters/NYT:

Pending sales of existing U.S. homes rose sharply in August, for a seventh consecutive month of gains, reaching the highest since March 2007, data from a real estate trade group showed on Thursday.

And the NAR press release:

Pending home sales have increased for seven straight months, the longest in the series of the index which began in 2001, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contracts signed in August, rose 6.4 percent to 103.8 from a reading of 97.6 in July, and is 12.4 percent above August 2008 when it was 92.4. The index is at the highest level since March 2007 when it was 104.5.

[Recommendation to NAR] – contracts are not “forward looking” but rather they are “current looking.” Housing futures indexes like Case Shiller are designed to be “forward looking.” PHSI is forward looking as far as it relates to closed sales but not as a way to predict the future market trend in real terms.

Here are the raw PHSI data points.

Seven months of m-o-m seasonally adjusted contract sales activity is certainly encouraging, especially because it is an index of sales rather than prices. Honestly, in light of what is happening on the foreclosure front, I am not sure what this run of good news actually infers. br clear=”all”>

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[Case Shiller 20 City Index] July 2009 Down 13.3% Y-O-Y, Up 1.2% M-O-M

September 29, 2009 | 12:03 pm | |


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Here’s the summary:

The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home-price index, a closely watched gauge of U.S. home prices, rose 1.6% in July from June in the third straight monthly increase, but prices remain below year-earlier levels.

For the sixteenth straight month, no area in the 20-city index posted a year-over-year price gain. That put nationwide prices at levels seen in 2003.

“These figures continue to support an indication of stabilization in national real estate values,” said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at Standard & Poor’s. “But we do need to be cautious in coming months to assess whether the housing market will weather the expiration of the Federal First-Time Buyer’s Tax Credit in November, anticipated higher unemployment rates and a possible increase in foreclosures.”

Whether or not we see a renewal in tax credits, its hard to imagine a housing market recovery with another year of increasing foreclosures. Perhaps the worst is over, but I would think the best we can hope for in the near term is stability.


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