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Existing Home Sales: Expect Below Consensus Sales


The NAR is scheduled to report June existing home sales on Monday. The consensus is for sales of 5.27 million on seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) basis. However economist Tom Lawler is estimating the NAR will report a June sales rate of 4.99 million.

I’m reminded of the Damon Runyon line paraphrasing Ecclesiastes:

“The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s how the smart money bets.”

Tom Lawler isn’t always closer than the consensus, but that is the way to bet - and I expect existing home sales were less than the consensus in June.

Unfortunately a below consensus report also means more hand wringing about the “housing recovery”.  That will be nonsense.

The problem is many people don’t understand what “housing recovery” means.  There are really two recoveries: House prices and residential investment. Most people – homeowners and potential buyers – focus on prices, and for prices we should use the repeat sales indexes, and not the NAR median price (repeat sales indexes include Case-Shiller, CoreLogic, etc). What matters in the NAR report for prices is inventory and months-of-supply.

For GDP and jobs, the key is what the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) calls “residential investment” (RI) . For existing homes, only the broker’s commission is part of GDP, but for new homes the entire sales price is part of GDP. There are some spillover effects from home sales (furniture, etc), but those aren’t included in RI.

If existing home sales decline there is only a minor impact on RI and GDP. When we talk about the “housing recovery” for jobs and GDP, existing home sales are mostly irrelevant – the focus should be on new home sales, housing starts and home improvement.

This is a reminder that the key number in the existing home sales report is not sales, but inventory. It is mostly visible inventory that impacts prices. When we look at sales for existing homes, the focus should be on the composition between conventional and distressed, not total sales.

Bottom line: I expect sales to be below the consensus, but for conventional sales to be increasing.  I also expect further evidence that inventory bottomed early this year.  And, oh, expect some more uninformed hand wringing!

Note: Housing economist Tom Lawler has been sending me his predictions of what the NAR will report for 3 years.  The table below shows the consensus for each month, Lawler’s predictions, and the NAR’s initial reported level of sales. 

Usually when there has been a fairly large spread (like the current month) between Lawler’s estimate and the “consensus”, Lawler has been closer.  As an example, last month the consensus was 5.00 million SAAR, Lawler’s forecast was 5.18 million, and the NAR reported 5.20 million.

Note: The consensus average miss was 170 thousand with a standard deviation of 190 thousand.  Lawler’s average miss was 70 thousand with a standard deviation of 50 thousand.

Existing Home Sales, Forecasts and NAR Report
millions, seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR)
Month Consensus Lawler NAR reported1
May-10 6.20 5.83 5.66
Jun-10 5.30 5.30 5.37
Jul-10 4.66 3.95 3.83
Aug-10 4.10 4.10 4.13
Sep-10 4.30 4.50 4.53
Oct-10 4.50 4.46 4.43
Nov-10 4.85 4.61 4.68
Dec-10 4.90 5.13 5.28
Jan-11 5.20 5.17 5.36
Feb-11 5.15 5.00 4.88
Mar-11 5.00 5.08 5.10
Apr-11 5.20 NA 5.05
May-11 4.75 4.80 4.81
Jun-11 4.90 4.71 4.77
Jul-11 4.92 4.69 4.67
Aug-11 4.75 4.92 5.03
Sep-11 4.93 4.83 4.91
Oct-11 4.80 4.86 4.97
Nov-11 5.08 4.40 4.42
Dec-11 4.60 4.64 4.61
Jan-12 4.69 4.66 4.57
Feb-12 4.61 4.63 4.59
Mar-12 4.62 4.59 4.48
Apr-12 4.66 4.53 4.62
May-12 4.57 4.66 4.55
Jun-12 4.65 4.56 4.37
Jul-12 4.50 4.47 4.47
Aug-12 4.55 4.87 4.82
Sep-12 4.75 4.70 4.75
Oct-12 4.74 4.84 4.79
Nov-12 4.90 5.10 5.04
Dec-12 5.10 4.97 4.94
Jan-13 4.90 4.94 4.92
Feb-13 5.01 4.87 4.98
Mar-13 5.03 4.89 4.92
Apr-13 4.92 5.03 4.97
May-13 5.00 5.20 5.18
Jun-13 5.27 4.99
1NAR initially reported before revisions.

Calculated Risk

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