Tuesday, May 17, 2011

John Mauldin's Outside the Box: Still Home Sick - By Gary Shilling

In the 2001-2010 decade, household formation averaged 888.5 thousand per year. Since those years included boom and bust years, this average, about 900 thousand per year, seems like a reasonable, probably optimistic forecast for the years ahead, given the likely further fall in house prices, high unemployment and declining real incomes in the years ahead. So if demand is averaging 900 thousand per year while supply runs 400 thousand, about 500 thousand of the excess housing inventory will be absorbed per annum. Consequently, it will take four or five years to absorb the 2 million to 2.5 million housing units, over and above normal working inventory, that we believe exist at a minimum.

Prices Down Another 20%

Four or five years is plenty of time for the inventory overhang to depress prices another 20% as we’ve been forecasting. Prices, after reviving somewhat with the new homeowner tax credit, are now essentially back to their April 2009 lows (Chart 1). Another 20% drop would bring the total decline from the peak in April 2006 to 45% and take them back to their longrun flat trend (Chart 6). In that graph, median single-family house prices are corrected for two types of inflation. The first is general inflation affecting all goods and services. The second is the tendency over time of houses to get bigger and, therefore, intrinsically more expensive. As living standards rise, people want more bathroom, fancier kitchens, etc. in their homes. A further 20% price drop may be an optimistic forecast since declines tend to overshoot on the downside just as bubbles expand to the stratosphere.

Other forecasters are coming into agreement with our forecast, dire as it is. The Dallas Federal Reserve Bank states that a 23% decline is needed to return house prices to their long-run trend. Prof. Robert Shiller of Yale says there is a “substantial risk” of another 15% or 20% decline in house prices. The NAR’s March survey of members revealed that 42% of everoptimistic realtors expect home prices in their areas to fall in the next 12 months. Starting last year, Shiller’s firm, Macro Markets LLC, asked us and 110 other housing experts to forecast house prices over the next five years. Since that survey commenced, we have consistently forecast a 20% cumulative decline for 2011-2013, with an 11% drop this year.