Barron’s is at it again, making a third call for a Housing recovery since 2008, saying “After an ugly six-year decline, home prices are starting to look up. Why the rebound is for real.

The article has a number of problems with it, and I detail these below. But first, I want to get to a meta-journalistic error, and explain the fatal flaw of the article before it even begins: Using the same author who has made multiple Housing turnaround calls before — all too early, all wrong.

The mistake in doing that is the analysis begins with a chip on its shoulder: The writer is not looking objectively at the data, but rather, has something to prove. Human nature is such that we all want to be vindicated, to be proven right — hence, all objectivity is lost. This is clearly reflected in the errors and omissions within the article.

Thus, not only was the July 14, 2008 Barron’s cover story by the same writer — Bottom’s Up: This Real-Estate Rout May Be Short-Lived — terribly wrong, but it sets up the flaws in the following two pieces. Beyond the basics of Human psychology, we see this revealed by the latest article’s headline: “Happy at Last.”

Beyond the author’s desire to be right (rather than accurate), this latest article has three major flaws/omissions:

1) Foreclosure abatements have ended (never mentioned);

2) The impact of Zero percent Fed interest rates on mortgage rates (also omitted);

3) Home Builders stock prices are confused with home prices.

Also omitted from this list are several other factors: Weak job creation, flat wages, low household formation. But let’s just discuss these three for today. The article begins with a discussion of home prices, but leaves out the actual, causes (items 1 and 2 above), along with the seasonal elements. Let’s get into the details of these.

Barron’s mentions the drop in distressed home sales as a percentage of total units sold, but astonishingly, leaves out the reason for this: The voluntary foreclosure abatements that took place during the robosigning settlement discussions. The foreclosure machinery was idled for over a year while the resolution of this mass Banking felony was worked out. Its not that the RRE market has improved, rather, its that foreclosures were frozen due to government action. With that now resolved, foreclosures have begun moving higher again. They still appear lower on a year-over-year basis, but only if you ignore the context.  The timing of this process is imprecise, but it is not unreasonable to expect significantly more distressed sales showing up before year’s end.

The current result of the abatements is simple: There are 25% less distressed sales than usual. They sell at 20-30% less than an identical home down the block. Distressed sales fell from 38% to 28% of existing home sales. The missing distressed sales account for a significant percentage of home price increases. To discuss distressed home sale and omit this context is, IMO, simply inexcusable.

Noticeably omitted from this discussion is the single most important element driving home sales: Zero percent interest rates, and their impact on Mortgage costs/purchasing power. It is even more astonishing that an article about a home price recovery can omit any mention of the Fed and Ben Bernanke. Mark Hanson has looked at this, and he notes that the Fed’s QE/Twist programs have driven mortgage rates appreciably lower, now down to 3.625% from over 5.0% when the Fed started theirshort term bond purchases. Anyone who uses a mortgage — ~70% of all buyers — have been gifted a 15% increase in purchasing power for a house on the same monthly payment. Despite this huge increase in buying power, home prices are up less than half of this. (Incidentally, I think Hanson is too bearish).

ZIRP and nearly free money are unsustainable conditions, and while we have been told rates will remain low til 2013, they cannot stay at zero forever. What happens to home prices when rates eventually start to rise? I imagine a short term spurt as some buyers rush to take advantage of rates before they increase. After that, the free lunch is over. The support that the Fed has been affording housing (and the banks still festooned with dubious mortgages) flips from a tail wind to a major headwind.

Finally, the Home builder’s issue. The elements that drive their stock prices are very different than what drives home prices. The builders have written-downs over-priced land purchases; They have already taken their lumps on their foolish funding of bad buyers. And, they have moved aggressively into the construction of multi-family and rental units — perhaps the hottest sector in residential real estate. We saw the same erroneous logic during the initial phase of the RE crash, from 2006-09 — every uptick in Homebuilder was met with a cheer from the Housing turnaround crew. They were wrong then, and they are most likely wrong now.

I could speak to the decline in inventory, but let me point out what Jonathan Miller of Miller Samuel has explained: A big part of the reason for the inventory decline is low home equity. “Sellers are buyers after they sell, but if they don’t have enough equity for the next purchase, then they sit.” Hence, the decrease in inventory is due to a negative factor — suck sellers. It is not the positive that it appears to be.

One last aside, I have to mention this astounding WTF line in the article: “Some keen observers of the real-estate market, such as Moody’s Analytics’ Mark Zandi . . .”  Really? Zandi is a very nice guy, but with no disrespect, I do not think there is a single US economist who has been less right about Housing than Zandi. His annual housing bottom calls placed him in our pantheon of PWBC — they have been nothing short of horrific. Anyone who thinks Zandi is a keen observer of real estate is, well, likely to have called a bottom in Real Estate 2008. And 2009, and again in 2012.

The nicest thing I can say about Housing is that after an enormous amount of government & Fed action, it has stabilized. The rate of decline has fallen, but it is driven not by market forces, but unnatural ones.

As the expression goes, a broken clock is right twice a day. If Barron’s keeps putting articles on its cover calling for a recovery in Housing, they will eventually get it right.

Just not this week . . .




Happy at Last
Barron’s September 8, 2012  

Category: Data Analysis, Financial Press, Real Estate, Really, really bad calls

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

40 Responses to “Barron’s Cover Calls Housing Bottom (Yet Again)”

  1. PeterR says:

    Quote: “If Barron’s keeps putting articles on its cover calling for a recovery in Housing, they will eventually get it right.”

    Funny Barry that you might have a bias of some sort going on here, but is your implicit assumption (that there MUST be a housing recovery some day) 100% justified?

    Suppose there is never a housing recovery (at least not until after the House of Cards falls down and “Goes Boom?”)

    Could a Black Swan event of untold proportions so permanently delay a housing recovery that is is in essence a “never” event for this lifetime?

    “Can’t happen?”


  2. Jim67545 says:

    Some people only will settle for a new home. Perhaps boomers downsizing want low maintenance associated with everything new. Some folks will buy new and have the wherewithall to do it anytime regardless of the economic conditions. Others will pull the trigger when circumstances seem ripe. We’re seeing some of this pent-up demand express itself. But new construction associated with new family formation seems to be going to multifamily and rentals. The mystique of homeownership seems greatly dimmed.

    For your reading pleasure (?):

  3. ConscienceofaConservative says:

    What credibility does Barron’s have at this point. They put two people on pedestals and suggest they are skeptics and have credible opinions totally omitting past track records or conflicts of interest. Yun works for a trade group who has an interest in promoting housing, worse is he’s never been bearish nor can he be.

  4. A says:

    Now if they would just conclude we’ve hit a market bottom, we could all plan our exit strategies.

  5. macrotrader603 says:

    Homebuilder stocks and REITs bottomed a few years ago and have been huge winners since then. Many still breaking out to new highs. I don’t speculate with physical houses, just through the stock market, which gave buy signals long ago.

    I don’t have any opinions I just follow the charts.

    The naysayers can keep fading the facts-I’ll keep making money.


    BR: We are discussing Housing, not stocks, not REITs.

  6. [...] Big Picture notes that Barron’s is calling a housing bottom.  That’s never [...]

  7. SivBum says:

    Whatever the argument, bottom line is home prices have been up since this spring and macro said, home builder share prices are up the roof.


    BR: No, that is the starting point, not the bottom line, not the context, not anything that gives you any insight as to potential future price actions.

  8. eurostoxx says:

    in Miami, house prices bottomed more than a year and half ago and are now up 30% in the desirable places. ZIRP has only a small amount to do with it, since many were cash buyers.

    Barry I dont know why you are so against the bottom in RE. Its happening in many areas. SoCal and NYC are a few other examples.

    Perhaps it more local now, but once the foreclosures stop in the nice areas, prices have a air pocket and are rising really quick.

    CR blog has been all over it

  9. eurostoxx

    When I see something misreported, I am compelled to clarify. This is the same approach that led to a 2005 warning that home prices were at least 35% too high nationally, due to a bubble in credit.

    Lots of Miami — and Vancouver, Seattle, NY amongst others — have seen big home purchases (all cash) from overseas buyers. It is what it is.

  10. BuildingCom says:

    Nonsense Eurostoxx…

    A housing bottom has yet to occur anywhere in the country. Current asking prices are grossly inflated… and falling.

  11. BennyProfane says:


    Miami high end and upper middle condos are up, and probably some prime homes, because that town and market has traditionally been a safe haven for South America cash (especially Brazil this time) and now Euro trash money escaping from that nasty predicament. The rest of that town and region is still in awful shape – millions with a mortgage are way way underwater. You would think that the Boomer generation, turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 a day, would be flooding into the market to snap up incredible bargains, but, ain’t happening. They have no money and can’t sell the HELOC’d MacMansion up north.

    And, really, you use NYC as an example? C’mon. Manhattan is an island unto it’s own, on a different planet.

    It’s unfortunate that CR made that bottom call. Now he has to spend a lot of energy finding stats to back himself up. Must be hard.

  12. SivBum says:


    Barron’s article is on national picture, not hot Miami or Phoenix, nor Manhattan. Take a look at Case-Shiller’s headlines from the past three months:

    Index Announcements
    Home Prices Rose in the Second Quarter of 2012 According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices

    Data through June 2012, released today by S&P Dow Jones Indices for its S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, showed that all three headline composites ended the second quarter of 2012 with positive annual growth rates for the first time since summer 2010.
    Home Prices Continue to Rise in May 2012 According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices

    Data through May 2012, released today by S&P Dow Jones Indices for its S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, the leading measure of U.S. home prices, showed that average home prices increased by 2.2% in May over April for both the 10- and 20-City Composite
    Home Prices Rise in April 2012 According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices

    Data through April 2012, released today by S&P Indices for its S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, the leading measure of U.S. home prices, showed that on average home prices increased 1.3% in the month of April for both the 10- and 20-City Composites.

  13. BuildingCom says:

    And the CS -20 is up a barely detectable 0.5% YoY. Nothing more than statisical noise. Worse yet, CS is negative when adjusted for inflation.

    Housing prices have a long way to fall yet as they are still at the grossly inflated levels of 2003-2004.

  14. BennyProfane says:


    Florida has been my barometer for the housing market since ’10. I fully expected South Florida to bounce back, and was starting to shop down there and advise friends to do the same. Lord, is it cheap to live down there right now. Still hasn’t happened, which proves, as I said, that the Boomers, whom I am guessing are the large majority of the housing market, are stuck in their homes up north, many underwater, or nearly, and having to work until the last breath because they have no money saved to retire with. As Barry pointed out, the move up (and now down) buyer and seller is stuck. When South Florida starts to move, that’s when I believe that the national housing market is starting to come to life. I’m not holding my breath.

  15. GeorgeBurnsWasRight says:

    “… while we have been told rates will remain low til 2013, they cannot stay at zero forever.”

    Recent decades in Japan indicate otherwise.

  16. wally says:

    When you posted your ‘housing has not yet bottomed’ stuff last spring, I thought you were incorrect. So far, you have been, in spite of your defenses of it.
    From here, I guess time will tell.

  17. BuildingCom says:

    If housing has bottomed, someone needs to explain why prices are still falling.

  18. kek says:

    Why is this article important? All real estate is local. Real estate has bottomed in certain sunbelt areas, maybe not so in the rust belt areas. If I am buying a home in AZ, where prices have increased 31% YOY, does it matter what prices are doing in New Jersey?

  19. [...] Housing market bottom callers will get it right one of these days.  (Big Picture) [...]

  20. eurostoxx says:

    Thanks for the comments. I dont pretend to be an expert on the ‘National’ housing market, (was there really ever one), but from anecdotal talking with knowledgeable people in other cities and from my hands on experience recently buying a place in miami I can condifendtly say that in, tier A, B parts of many cities, home prices are up substantially. Sure if you go into the crappy areas, say tier D, prices are still down. But that is usually how it is, the nice areas always go up first.

    I suspect that the same thing is happening nationally.

    Cash buyers were the ones who took off most of the foreclosures/shorts, in the past few years, but now there is quite a bit of interest from people like myself, starting a family and who feels like the want to take the plunge and are going about the mortgage route. Quite a few are relying on FHA loans, which is a crazy program IMHO, to meet the tighter downpayment required now.

    Is all of Florida bouncing this hard, no. In particular there were places like Brickell and Aventura in Miami that had lots of new construction in 2003-2008 that subsequently went into foreclosure. Say the average 2 bedroom unit was sold for 5500-650, in the pre bubble area. in 2010 and 2011 you could come in cash and get it for 220-300. Now they are going for 400.

    There are problems, especially since the market has moved so fast, that getting an appraisal with your mortgage can be difficult if there are not many ‘comps’ in your building/area. But the banks who own the properties, or even the owner underwater thinking of a short sale, are reluctant to sell unit for 2010-2011 prices.

    The glut of foreclosed homes in NICE areas is over, IMHO.

    The crappy areas, well that is another story and perhaps may be more what the ‘national’ statistics rely upon

  21. BuildingCom says:

    “The glut of foreclosed homes in NICE areas is over, IMHO.”

    Until they come right back on the market again. Specu-Debtors bought them thinking they were a “bargain”. Their pain hasn’t even begun.

  22. Vitus Capital says:

    I think “suck” should be “stuck”…

    Wait. Come to think of it, the Republicans might be right: the housing crisis could actually be the fault of current owners, all of whom suck. I just did not think of this before.

    In all makes sense. Real Estate is in recession due to sucking homeowners. People don’t have jobs because they are lazy and suck. Healthcare is for people who don’t suck, which is basically rich people.

    Now all is clear . I’m going to switch back to being a Republican!

  23. Chief Tomahawk says:

    BR, badly needed edit:

    “Hence, the decrease in inventory is due to a negative factor — suck sellers. It is not the positive that it appears to be.”

    I believe you’re missing a “t”. Underwater homeowners probably don’t need anymore marginalization.

  24. kek says:

    60% of all homes in Phoenix Metro are cash sales, the balance presumably have to qualify and make the appraisal in a tough new mortgage market. Don’t see how they are coming right back on the market again.

  25. fprevite says:

    I don’t know if we have reached a bottom in housing yet, but I believe it to be unlikely. There are many forces, mostly as you describe “unnatural,” meaning they are not market forces but interventions or consequences of interventions. Here’s a list of problems that will effect any housing recovery:

    1. There is an uncertainty about what will become of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. While they got off on a tangent in the subprime bubble, they otherwise have performed well. The development of the secondary market was a linchpin in sustained housing growth. Now there is talk of putting them out of business or at least combining them. As one who has taught mortgage classes for a number of years I have always made the comment that the best thing that ever happened to Fannie Mae was the creation of Freddie Mac. It resulted in both doing a better job, both forced to innovate, and that competition benefitted the homebuyer. Kind of like the Texas joke about the small town lawyer that was starving to death until another lawyer moved to town. Then they both became millionaires.

    2. While there are systemic problems in the credit industry (two-thirds of credit scores are estimated to be inaccurate), there is no question that a large percentage of the population can not afford to buy a house. If their credit is still ok, they do not make enough money or have a sufficient amount of down payment to qualify. Else, their credit is bad and they won’t qualify for that reason. Some have estimated that as much as 45% of our home buying population can not qualify.

    3. There is a belief that markets correct rather quickly. That is not necessarily true. The stock market moved sideways throughout the sixties and into the seventies. Texas experienced a great recession in 1983 when President Reagan deregulated the price of oil (the preceeding December). The oil rig count in the U.S. went to about 20 and tens of thousands of engineers lost their jobs in Houston, as well as the barbers and restaurants, etc. Every major bank in Texas but one went broke. Every single savings and loan in Texas went broke. All six banks I did business with went broke.

    In the midst of that mayhem I had a bunch of rent houses. All went upside down with respect to the mortgage being more than the house value. Some remained that way for 17 years. Yes, that’s right. 17 years! So, there is no reason to believe that the prices will rebound to their purchase price in any specific time period. It will happen, when it happens, and each market is unique.

    4. There are major problems being created by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau that will have a significant, chilling, effect on home lending. The trial attorneys are getting their razors sharpened for the slaughter. Problems include how the loans are priced, disparate impact on minorities (notwithstanding the fact that maybe 75% of them have credit scores that will be subprime), the False Claims Act (look it up), increasing demands for buybacks or requiring loan origination companies to retain 5% of all the loans they originate, and a whole raft of problems relating to appraisals. Many of these problems are unintended consequences of the Dodd-Frank Act, but they could quickly kill any housing recovery.

    5. With historically low interest rates, qualified buyers have been gobbling away at nearly all new construction (if well located, and well priced) and resale properties. The inventory in some markets has been reduced below six months which is considered a “normal” market. Prices in those markets have risen. As those prices rise, more and more banks will begin unloading their foreclosures. This will act to depress prices, or at least slow the rate of growth. But in the short term some houses are being sold for more than their list price. In effect we may be observing mini-housing bubbles in various markets around the country? What eventually happens with bubbles, yup, they burst! Check out the June 24th LA Times article by Ken Harney about low appraisals not keeping up with rising prices and killing deals.

    So, I think it is highly unlikely that the housing market is ready to fully rebound.

  26. BuildingCom says:


    Phoenix is a disaster zone. Don’t buy into what you all read in the media as most of it is paid PR.

    Phoenix housing demand has fallen a full10%YoY and still falling. RUN from Phoenix.

  27. rustplane says:

    Lest we not forget, while debating about housing’s bottom since the 2008 crash, the U.S. has a relatively high fertility rate in the industrialized world, at 2.133 vs., say, Germany’s at 1.3, and legal immigration is 1 million/year. So population pressures drive demand ultimately even if household formation lags a bit.

  28. [...] Barron’s Cover Calls Housing Bottom (Yet Again) | The Big Picture [...]

  29. [...] Barrons cover calls the housing bottom, yet again (TBP) [...]

  30. Sorry to disagree and I do so knowing that I will probably be lambasted for my “own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge” but the fact that you seem to disregard is that continuing population growth, by itself, demands a housing recovery.

    Most markets around the country have been underbuilt based on demand created by population growth and this will by the law of supply and demand force prices to rise. Yes, employment growth remains weak and yes foreclosures will now resume at a greater speed but, so what? The distressed sales that will be coming to the market are typically of a lower quality and condition and, for the most part, have already been factored into the equation of value. Employment remains a concern but even in Youngstown, Ohio the early 1980s with unemployment at 13% the housing market recovered.

    It is easy to be a naysayer, all you have to do is appeal to fear. But irrespective of your negattivity, housing is on its way back in almost every local market area in the country – even Case-Shiller, arguably the most neagtive of all the pricing indicies, shows that.

    And by the way, I am a strategist and rely heavily on empirical data and the scientific method.



    BR: If you want to discuss under-building, perhaps it might help to put it into the context of the prior decade of over-building . . .

  31. BuildingCom says:

    “The U.S. has a relatively high fertility rate ”

    Nonsense. Population growth in the most recent US Census measured the slowest growth in US history.


    BR: Higher compared to Europe and other developed areas.

  32. BR,

    you, rather graciously, went with..

    “…One last aside, I have to mention this astounding WTF line in the article: “Some keen observers of the real-estate market, such as Moody’s Analytics’ Mark Zandi . . .” Really? Zandi is a very nice guy, but with no disrespect, I do not think there is a single US economist who has been less right about Housing than Zandi…”

    speaking of Zandi, Is there anything that He has said, over the last ~7 Years, that has been, actionably, Correct/Worthwhile?

    differently, flippin’ Dude make Presstitutes look like Choir Girls (read..He’s a (Intellectual, at least) Ho..)

    little wonder that CNBS is, forever, trotting him out (with Diane Swonk) for his regurgitation of the ‘Accepted’ Talking Points..

    June 16, 2011
    Mark Zandi: Always Quoted, Often Wrong, Never In Doubt
    By John Tamny

    It’s accepted wisdom in certain quarters that we should never believe what we read. With journalists pressed to report on all manner of subjects about which they often lack knowledge, it’s inevitable that their news reporting will be slanted in ways that misinform the reader.

    Of course in order to inform their reporting, journalists frequently have go-to sources whose comments are meant to bring outside expertise to subjects about which they know little. When it comes to reporting on economic matters, Moody’s Mark Zandi is the go-to economist du jour, and on a clear day he’s everywhere; his comments about the economy a living embodiment of the view that what we call “news” is anything but.

    Captive to nearly every discredited economic fallacy in the book, Zandi’s musings on the economy misinform the reporters who oddly hang on his every word, along with readers who didn’t get the memo about the difference between reporting and reality. Last week was no exception….”

  33. Defining Quality says:

    The race to the bottom started a long time ago – back when TAX cuts for the elite became the central focus of government! It will not end until minimum wage workers can qualify for a loan!
    There is a long way to go before that happens!
    The sheer number of Foreclosures now define “Market Value” for most property in America!
    Rents are going up because everyone who can buy is on the fence waiting for the bottom – which is nowhere in sight! The risk reward value of home ownership is way out of whack and while Deflation is Rampant in Real Estate – Inflation in all other Staples of daily living is at the CRAZY level.
    Consumers are being destroyed one household at a time and this WILL NOT STOP!
    Government clearly now exists and will continue to exist for the benefit of a FEW – CentaMillionaire$ an Billionaire$ – a fact of observed reality for anyone who can think!

  34. BuildingCom says:


    You’ll be lambasted because anyone who discredits himself like you just did deserve it.

    The truth about housing?

    -Housing prices are grossly inflated and falling

    -Builders are building and selling for double digit percentages less than grossly inflated resale housing prices

    -Population growth is falling

    -Household formation is at multi decade lows

    -Housing demand is at 15 year lows and falling

    -Housing inventory is at 22 million excess empty houses and growing

    So Dan….. why are you here discrediting yourself?

  35. [...] a result of artificial factors (close to zero percent interest rates) as to market fundamentals. This post gives more details that the Barron’s piece overlooks. Beyond the author’s desire to be [...]

  36. kek says:

    BuildingCom Says:

    September 10th, 2012 at 9:33 pm
    Phoenix is a disaster zone. Don’t buy into what you all read in the media as most of it is paid PR.
    Phoenix housing demand has fallen a full10%YoY and still falling. RUN from Phoenix.

    Yeah, run from Phoenix with your 30% YOY profits, and move to Westchester County and build a house at $50 per square foot! LOL

  37. BuildingCom says:

    Hmmm…. What did Robert Shiller say about Phoenix just yesterday?

    “Get out before too long”, states Robert Shiller when discussing Phoenix

    And as far as our building costs, why don’t you step up and demonstrate your construction and contract managment experience ok “KEK”?

    We’re waiting.

  38. kek says:

    Why didn’t Robert Schiller tell me to get into Phoenix last year 30% ago?. Thanks Bob. Too bad so many people have not learned to think for themselves in making investment decisions, instead relying on the “experts”.

    Too bad these dumb asses didn’t listen to Shiller.

    Still laughing at your $50 per sq. foot Westchester County build. Clayton Homes is at $90 a foot (singlewide) , not including delivery.

  39. BuildingCom says:

    Why would he when he and everyone else understands that houses depreciate ALWAYS.

    So the extent of your construction and contracting knowledge goes as far as calling someone and asking for a retail price over the phone? Now that’s something for the blog to laugh at.

    Just as we thought. You know nothing about bidding, estimating or adminstering a construction contract.