This article from the Seattle Times this morning, Housing Bust? No, a cyclical correction, reminded me of a recent episode of Grey's Anatomy. A young girl believes she has superpowers because she feels no pain. If Goldilocks had Analgesia she could have easily gorged herself on the hottest of porridge without a second thought.
"With all the dismal reports about the home real-estate market, don't lose track of something critically important: Mortgage interest rates have been falling quietly but steadily for weeks, and are now at their lowest level in half a year, barely a percentage point above 40-year lows."
New mortgage applications are up sharply, the number of pending home sales is up, the national economy continues to expand moderately, and the rate of unemployment just declined again — to 4.6 percent. All of which begs the question: Just what kind of housing bust is this anyway? With gloom-and-doom purveyors forecasting imminent crashes in dozens of metropolitan areas, how could such key fundamentals as jobs, interest rates and even pending home sales simultaneously be trending in the opposite direction?
Kohn sees no imminent bust or crash in housing at all. It is a "correction" that's under way — a cyclical rebalancing of a marketplace that got too hot for too long in some parts of the country, and is now heading back toward more "normal" conditions, where prices are more in line with what consumers can afford.
Not all home sellers have fully grasped the altered realities in their markets — that they've got to reduce their asking prices if they truly want to sell — so the process is still unfolding. Re-priced houses, in turn, should stimulate greater numbers of potential buyers to get off the sidelines and make offers.
The nationwide 4.3 percent increase in pending home-sales contracts, reported Oct. 2 by the National Association of Realtors, could be a sign that Kohn's prediction is already taking shape.
Second, said Kohn, the housing correction — expressed through new home
starts — "may be closer to (its) trough than to (its) peak."
A final key factor, Kohn said: "Continuing growth in real incomes should underpin the demand for housing, and as home prices stop rising, help erode affordability constraints."
Mike Moran, chief economist of Wall Street's Daiwa Securities America, minces no words: The financial press and TV news shows are overly dramatizing what is a normal and long-predicted cyclical rebalancing, and "portraying it as a catastrophe."
"[Housing] is going through a correction that's badly needed," Moran said. "The key issue is whether it is orderly or disorderly." And all signs point to a continued orderly process, not a breakout bust or panic.
Doug Duncan, chief economist of the Mortgage Bankers Association, points out that national housing-sales numbers are merely rolling back to 2003 levels — "and that was a record year."
Serious sellers and buyers shouldn't be misled by predictions of imminent crashes, Duncan says. Not only do the doom reports ignore the positives out there in the marketplace — mortgage rates in particular — but "the rhetoric is just way overwrought."
In this fable, will the Bears will eat Goldilocks in the end?
(Keith R. Harney, Seattle Times, 10-14-2006)