Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Closer Look at the Second Leg Down in Housing - By Barry Ritholtz

Today, residential real estate confronts numerous headwinds: Credit, once given to anyone who could fog a mirror, is now tight. Hence, demand is far below what it was during the past decade. Home prices are still unwinding from artificially high levels, and remained over-priced. Inventory is elevated. Unemployment remains high. A huge supply of shadow inventory is out there: Speculators and flippers who overpaid but have held onto their properties await modestly higher prices to sell. Bank owned real estate (REOs) continues to increase. We are barely halfway through a decade long foreclosure surge.

This is known, or at least should be by those who have looked at the data. I cannot explain why some economists still have not figured this out.

In my analysis, price stands out as being the prime mover of the next leg down. High unemployment, and a decade of flat wages aren’t helping to create any new housing demand. And the millions in homes they cannot afford will eventually add more pressure to inventory and prices.

But the bottom line is Home prices remain too high: There can be no doubt that home prices have moved way down from the 2005-06 peaks. How did I reach the conclusion that, even after a 33% decrease in prices?

By using traditional metrics. Whether we are looking at US housing stock as a percentage of GDP or Median income vs home prices or even ownership vs renting costs, prices remain elevated. Indeed, we see prices remain above historic mean.

We can look at numerous other factors. Employment, inventory, REOs, credit, another wave of foreclosures. etc. But the bottom line remains that prices must revert to a sustainable level, and we simply aren’t there — yet.

Yes, government policies temporarily stopped prices from finding their natural levels. Now that the tax credit has ended, and most mortgage mods are failing, the prior downtrend in price will now resume.