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Economy in Brief

New Home Sales Jump and Prices Dive. Bad News as Good?
by Robert Brusca May 24, 2007

New home sales were revised lower in March but still managed to jump sharply to post a much stronger selling rate in April than had been expected. The jump of 16.2% m/m reverses out the weakening trend in housing. Sales are still down year/year but only by 10.6%. Conditions are still spotty. While Toll Brothers reported somewhat improved results, that home builder is still not comfortable enough with prospects to give earnings guidance. However, it did say that it had seen glimmerings of strength- not just an abatement of weakness.

The new home sales report shows the small and volatile Northeast up by 43% Y/Y and the largest region, the South, off by just 3.4% Y/Y. The West and Midwest are off by Y/Y values in the range of 25% to 30%.

Cleary the rise in sales is the big news in this report. But a rival bit of news is the drop in prices. Last month average and median pries were up Y/Y. But Median prices have swung from +7.9% Y/Y in March to -10.9% Y/Y in April. What’s that line from Frank’s song? Riding high in March, shot down in April …hmmm not quite the verse, but those are the facts. Average prices have switched from a March gain of 8.7% Y/Y to a drop of 3.6% Y/Y in April. The relatively larger drop in median prices speaks of more weakness at the lower priced end of the market and may have something to do with sub-prime problems. Cleary builders have been cutting prices and just as clearly, the strategy has been working.

If we look at trends in average new home prices around the time of the last recession, we see that builder capitulation on prices was the catalyst in that recession for spurring house prices back up and for ending the weakness in the sector as recovery took hold in the economy at large. House prices then snapped back up into a positive growth range quickly as the economy transitioned from recession to growth. House prices could be performing this same function again. The low prices jump start demand and get some inventory off homebuilder’s hands giving the market a push and creating some buzz at the same time. With continued growth in the rest of the economy housing is able to move ahead and dig itself out of the slump. It looks like a good story to me…Oh, and they all live happily ever after, too.

New Single Family Home Sales
Momentum: Annualized Rates Of Change Prices
As of: Total Northeast Midwest South West Median Average
Month-to-month percent change
Apr.07 16.2% 3.8% -4.0% 27.8% 8.5% -11.1% -7.9%
Mar.07 -1.4% 77.8% 1.6% -8.9% -2.9% 3.0% 0.7%
Feb.07 -3.8% -27.4% -25.9% -2.0% 21.2% -1.7% 2.5%
Annualized Rates
  Total Northeast Midwest South West Median Average
3-Mo 40.9% 135.5% -110.8% 56.1% 110.6% -34.2% -18.3%
6-Mo 6.1% 225.6% -24.8% 12.9% -25.7% -16.3% -5.0%
1-Yr -10.6% 43.1% -28.1% -3.4% -25.4% -10.9% -3.6%
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