Read it here first: Housing and the Stock Market

Home_index_20070318Justin Lahart has an excellent column in today’s WSJ on a subject near and dear to our hearts: Misusing the stock market as a forecastging mechanism:

"Investors who trusted in the magical powers of the stock market to forecast a recovery in housing have been finding out what can come of trusting in fairy tales.

Less than two months ago, the idea that the housing market was at a turning point, and that shares of home builders were a screaming buy, was firmly established. In early February, the Dow Jones Wilshire U.S. Home Construction Index of home-builder stocks was 39% above its July 2006 low point. Since then, it has tumbled 21%."

We discussed this very same subject last week: EMH (Part 3): The Home Builders:

"What’s been even worse, we continue to see people reaching all
manners of ill-advised conclusions from the shorter duration charts of
various flavors and sectors; these have the unfortunate tendency to
lead the faithful astray. In the past, we have advised to "Beware Economists seeking guidance from stock markets;" the very same meme applies to traders and strategists drawing bold conclusions from very short term charts also.

Which leads us to some recent charts. Let’s take a look at the Home
Builders:  Its amazing that some people claim to read charts, yet
manage to draw the precisely wrong conclusions from them. Remember,
since no one knows the future, all investing and trading are games of
probabilities regarding any given possible outcome. We cannot expect
perfection — but we can at least hope to see some measure of
intellectually defendable theories.  All too often, even that modest
goal is missed. 

A classic example of this misunderstanding has been the action in
the Homebuilders over the past few years . . ."

In Lahart’s column, he looks askance at the circular nature of a certain type of equity market analysis:

"How did investors come to believe housing was getting better in the first place? One possibility is that the rebound in home-builder stocks tempted them into seeing signs of improvement that weren’t really there. While there is a certain allure to the idea that stocks, which move on the real-money decisions of thousands of investors, are better at predicting the future than any forecaster, this sort of thinking can be dangerously circular: Home-builder stocks are going up, therefore housing is getting better and therefore it is time to buy home-builder stocks."

In other words, you should not believe that sector momentum is necessarily telling you anything other than the fact that there is momentum in a that sector.

The same can be said about markets in general. In the past, we have also taken economists to task for this bugaboo (Beware Economists seeking guidance from stock markets). We have also been critical of the blind faith some place in prediction markets for the very same reason.

This isn’t to say that the market’s ability to discount various outcomes isn’t a valid tool; The inverted yield curve, major trend breaks, market sector leadership all provide clues as to the probabilities of likely future outcomes.  Indeed, there are dozens of internal data points which provide various measures of clarity as to future probabilities.

But blind reliance on the markets as a magical forecastor of the future? Thats placing religon over science. Its track record  is only as good as the collective reasoning of the crowd, as logical as a pack of hormonal teenagers, as wise as a mob of soccer holligans.

Markets are only marginally better than its components: skittish, irrational,dangerous-in-crowds, susceptible to emotions human beings. While they may remove some of the noise, they also manage to provide evidence of the precisely wrong conclusion at exacvtly the worst possible time.

Some will incorrectly take this criticism of markets forecasting accuracy as proof that your humble author believes he is smarter than the market. Indeed, the last time out we criticized this school of thought, we were taken to task by  for our "arrogance and hubris" for believing markets occasionally get things wrong. It is worth noting that those critics were long the homebuilders, and have since been carried out on their shields. 

Mr. Market is at times a Rorschach test, a blank slate upon which participants project their hopes and fears. He reveals the personality characteristics and emotional functioning of investors by their interpretations of the noise he generates. Remember this the next time you are tempted to create a grand theory of what happens next based only upon a few of his recent squiggles . . . 



EMH (Part 3): The Home Builders
Tuesday, March 13, 2007 | 06:16 AM

Believing In House of Cards Haunts Investors
Justin Lahart
WSJ, March 19, 2007; Page C1

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Rules for Real Estate Agents

We sold our house last year — priced it reasonably, and at our first open house (Thanksgiving weekend!), got a reasonable bid. We ended up selling the house to that couple.

Whenever you hear talk of a Real Estate bubble, remember that it matters much less if you own (versus rent). In effect, we rolled out of one over-priced property and into the next over-priced property. When you are a homeowner, actual prices matter less than the spread between properties.

We closed yesterday.

In the process, we dealt with a lot of different agents on our buy and the sell. Some were terrific (who we would not hesitate to recommend and/or use again), a few were jackals, and one or two were deeply disturbed psychopaths who were obviously off their meds, likely violating a condition of their parole.

Along the way, we developed somes Do’s and Don’ts. (I’m sure readers have their own suggestions; use comments and let fly!)

This is a free lesson for the smarter, blog reading agents out there. Its a tough residential housing market, and if you want to earn your living selling real estate, pay attention and heed this advice:


1. Don’t waste our time.

I know some people do not know what they want, and you should feel free to schlep those poor bastards all over creation, burning valuable weekend time in the process.

However, when someone
gives you a very specific list of attributes and a broad price range, don’t drag
them around town(s) showing them everything but.

This is rule #1 for a reason: If you waste my time, I won’t do business with you PERIOD. If I tell you I DO NOT want a house with X and Y characteristics, and you drag me to 3 X & Y houses in a row, you are toast. Next agent, please.   

2. Don’t lie to us

In nearly every real estate transaction, the truth will eventually reveal itself. If a prior deal fell thru due to an engineer’s report, I will find that out. If the prior owner paid 1/10 of the selling price 25 years ago, that will be discovered also (not that it matters).

Some of the lies were so transparent as to be laughable. Others were more skillfully concealed. If I ask you a direct question, and you lie directly back, and I discover this lie via an expensive engineer’s report (which would have been unneccessary had you told the truth when asked), I will present the bill to you — and your corporate HQ. (Then collect in small claims court on a theory  of fraudulent misrepresentation).

Stop bullshitting, start adding value, and you might get a sales commission out of it.

3. Don’t tell us what is right before our eyes.

This is one of those nervous R/E habits: chattering on and on about the obvious. If you want to point out small details we might miss — for example, the kitchen drawers pull out all-the-way, or there is a built-in water filter in the kitchen sink, that’s fine. Even telling me the floors under the wall to wall are all hardwood adds something.

But seriously, I have two good eyes and so does my wife. I can see that THIS IS A BATHROOM; I can tell that THIS IS A WALK IN CLOSET.  We actually had one agent solemnly intone: THIS IS THE KITCHEN. Really, how can you tell? Were the fridge, stove and dishwasher clues?

Its not helpful and is actually very annoying. STF up occasionally.

(continued below)

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Category: Real Estate