Posts filed under “Consumer Spending”

Phantom Rebound in the Housing Market

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Dan Gross had a good Sunday Times piece on a favorite subject of ours: The Phantom Rebound in the Housing Market. Not surprisingly, it was on cancelled new home contracts.

Which brings us to this morning’s news:

D.R. Horton orders tumbled 23%, and cancellations remained high in the fiscal first quarter as the home-building giant continued to struggle with a deteriorating housing market.

The Fort Worth, Texas, builder received net sales orders for 8,771 homes valued at $2.3 billion in the latest quarter, down from 11,463 homes valued at $3.2 billion a year earlier. The decline was slightly better than the fiscal fourth quarter’s 25% dropoff.

The decline, however, was larger than the 18% drop Banc of America analyst Daniel Oppenheim had forecast and significantly above the 6% decline rival Lennar Corp. reported for its fiscal fourth quarter. . .

Cancellations from buyers nervous about the unpredictable and volatile housing market continued to hamper net sales. The cancellation rate was 33% in the quarter, slightly better than the 40% cancellation rate in the fourth quarter. However, Chairman Donald Horton cautioned that the small improvement doesn’t indicate that demand is rebounding." (emphasis added)

This is very much in sync with the Sunday Times piece, which cautions that the "improvements" are misleading:

"But those who think that the worst may be over for the housing market should take another look at the data, economists say. For the figures on new-home sales have a strange wrinkle that, in the current environment, may lead the government to overstate sales (and to understate inventory) by up to 20 percent. “The market is weaker than the data say,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s/Economy.com.

New-home sales are tallied by the Census Bureau, based on a sampling of contracts signed by home buyers. Running at a pace of more than one million a year for the last four years, new-home sales have been a significant contributor to the housing boom — and to the economy. (Existing-home sales, reported monthly by the National Association of Realtors, count actual closings.)

But here’s the rub: If a contract to buy a home, signed in November, is canceled in December, the Census Bureau does not subtract the failed transaction from the number of sales, or add the house back to its inventory total. In the last year, as the housing market has cooled, the volume of cancellations has risen to epidemic proportions." (emphasis added)

Note that Toll Brothers had cancellations of 37%, while Pulte Homes reported a 36% cancellation rate. And as we noted last week, Lennar announced a stunning land-related write-down of $500 million.

The NAR’s survey of 30 large builders, (November 2006), showed cancellations running at an astonishing 38% of gross sales. That compares with 26% for the same period in 2005, and about 18% 1H 2005. In other words, cancellations are actually accelerating.

How significant are the actual numbers? Dan Gross observes:

"On its Web site, the Census Bureau acknowledges: “As a result of our methodology, if conditions are worsening in the marketplace and cancellations are high, sales would be temporarily overestimated.” By how much? Mr. Carson of AllianceBernstein estimates that the government is overestimating the pace of annual sales by 100,000 to 150,000. Mr. Zandi of Economy.com estimates that the differential is even greater. “Given the rise in cancellation rates, it suggests that between 150,000 and 200,000 home sales are being counted that actually did not occur.”

There is some good news in the housing area:  Mortgage Applications ticked up as rates slid  last week. Oh, abusive, high-pressure sales tactics of Ameriquest Mortgage Securities hasn’t saved their bacon: Fitch and S&P lowered their investment ratings on their mortgage-pass-through certificates; Other sub-prime lenders have run into troubles, including bankruptcy.

But the most amusing mortgage news is that if you shop around, you can get competitive rates — including: No Mortgage Payment for 12 Months

I guess that’s what some people consider a sign of a bottom: free houses for people who can’t afford them.

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Sources:

A Phantom Rebound in the Housing Market

DANIEL GROSS
Economic View
NYT, January 7, 2007

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/07/business/yourmoney/07view.html

D.R. Horton Orders Tumble 23%
JANET MORRISSEY
WSJ, January 10, 2007; Page C8
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB116835016069971346.html

Mortgage Applications Up as Home Buyers See a Break in Rates   
VIKAS BAJAJ and CHRISTINE HAUGHNEY
NYT, January 9, 2007
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/09/business/09home.html

Category: Consumer Spending, Investing, Markets, Psychology, Real Estate

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The State of the Consumer, by the Numbers

Given our focus today on Retail sales this week, it is appropriate to reference another source of data on the consumer.

This commentary comes to us via Northern Trust’s Paul Kasriel. Paul is the Senior Vice President and Director of Economic
Research at NT, and I had the pleasure of meeting him (and Caroline Baum) at Bloomberg last month. He is the recipient of the 2006 Lawrence R. Klein Award for Blue
Chip Forecasting Accuracy.

His recent commentary focused on the Fed’s Flow-of-Funds data. It is rather insightful work into consumer debt and savings. Some of it might be a bit beyond the interest of many readers, so to make it more accessible, I did a little slicing and dicing. Here is my highly edited version, emphasizing The State of Consumer, by the Numbers:

~~~

Kasriel:  I love the Fed’s quarterly flow-of-funds report. It usually is the mother lode
of enlightening economic nuggets of information. And the Fed’s latest release on
December 7 of third-quarter data was rich with these nuggets.

The slowdown in
borrowing was due principally to the household sector: Chart 2 shows that after
hitting a post-WWII high of 14.6% in Q3:2005, household borrowing relative to
disposable personal income (DPI) dropped to 8.8% in Q3:2006 – the lowest since
7.6% in Q3:2001, when the economy was in a recession.

Notice in Chart 2 that
precipitous declines in this percentage tend to be followed by the onset of
economic recessions (indicated by the shaded areas in the chart).

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