The latest Case-Shiller data for April suggests home prices may be stabilizing. In April, homes prices for the 10- and 20-City Composites -- 0.8% and 0.7% over March figures. Thirteen cities experienced a growth over the previous month. The news help fuel a stock market rally, with the Dow jumping 145 points.
The Case-Shiller indices monitor monthly changes in single-family home prices in 20 metropolitan areas spread across the country. It also tracks the same metrics for a ten-city metropolitan region. Many industry professionals and analysts accept the Case-Shiller index as a barometer for determining the strength of the housing market.
The Index Committee at S&P Indices chairperson, David M Blitzer, cautions reading too much into the data for making a decision if the bottom of the market has been reach or “due to warmer weather.”
From June/July 2006 to April 2011, home prices covered in the Case Shiller 10-City 20-City Composites Indices declined -32.6% and -32.8%. Since the two composites reached their lowest point in April 2009, they have gains 1.4% and 0.7%. Nonetheless, housing prices continue to drop in 20 large cities. Six metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) fell to new lows - Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, Miami, and Tampa.
In Atlanta and Phoenix, the market has virtually wiped out any gains in value since January 2000. Today, Detroit, Cleveland and Las Vegas have average home prices near the values of 11 years ago. This declined results in about 22% of people with homes mortgages “underwater” or values less than the mortgages on their homes.
The reports say Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco home prices have moved above their recent lows. Washington D.C. area experienced a 3.0% increase over March and 4.0% yearly rate of growth -- the strongest market in the nation. Meanwhile, Minneapolis suffered the largest annual decline in home value --11.1%.
Other Housing Figures
The Case-Shiller report listed some housing figures from other sources: the numbers for May showed an increase in housing starts versus May of 2010. Keep in mind, housing starts fall near 30 years lows. Existing home sales, which shows a 15 percent increase over the previous year, but is 35% lower than 2005 sales. The report acknowledges foreclosures as a “factor in most part of the country.”
Even with this good bit of news, undervalued housing, and low interest rate, analysts do not expect a robust housing market any time soon, but believe most of the decline is behind us. Some other factors effecting tighter financing standards by mortgage lenders make it more difficult for borrowers to get a mortgage.
Employment and Inventory
The expiration of the Home Buyers Tax Credit and the failure of the government's multiple programs designed to help struggling homeowners get relief, such as the loan modification programs, have also help put the brakes on further stimulating the housing market. Perhaps the most critical component for sustain housing recovery is the need for continued job growth.
In a recent presentation, Forest Economic Advisors owner and economist (FEA) Brendan Lowney, states the key to a housing industry recovery hinges on reducing the unemployment rate. Unemployment currently hovers around 9.7%; some would say the figure is more like 16.6% when you add people who have given up finding employment and underemployed workers. Lowney say people form households and buy houses when they feel comfortable about their economic circumstances and well-being. The increased demand for housing is what dissipates housing supply.
He categorizes the current housing market as one of “under demand vs. over supply.” The average inventory of housing stock had been 1.9 million homes; May figures show the available housing inventory at 3.2 million homes. He calls the excess supply “housing overhang.” Housing that stands in the way of new home sales, and makes it difficult for builders to compete. According to Lowery, Florida has about 20 percent of the available supply - 500,000 units.
Case-Shiller only gives a passing mention of foreclosures in its report. These units will start will come on the market when the banks resume foreclosures. Lowney figures do not include the “shadow inventory” either. An estimated 1.8 million homeowners are at some stage of the foreclosure process.