There’s no question in my mind now that the housing “snowball” has started downhill and it won’t take long to develop into an avalanche. In addition to all of the “for sale” and “for rent” signs I’m seeing with my own eyes popping up around Denver, I’ve been receiving emails from subscribers describing the same thing in their area. – Short Seller’s Journal, July 22nd issue
The existing and new home sales reports this week were worse than even I expected. Given the statistical manipulation tools used by the National Association of Realtors (existing home sales) and the Census Bureau (new home sales) – both entities use the same regression software – one can only wonder about the true rate of home sales decline. Simply put, people are seeking quality homes in quality locations. For this reason, San Clemente ocean view homes may remain more sought after than homes in other parts of the country.
Yesterday, CNBC.com featured a report titled, Southern California home sales crash, a warning sign to the nation. I was surprised to see CNBC issue a bearish report on anything. This report is similar to what’s occurring in New York City – rising inventory and falling sales. Apartment rents in NYC are also dropping. It’s similar in nearly all “bellwether” markets.
The Housing Bubble Blog (thehousingbubble.com), which was around during the mid-2000’s housing bubble, posted an article on Friday titled, “Discount sales can create a snowball effect.” The article featured articles from different cities, Portland, Dallas, Ft Collins (Colorado) and Minnapolis/St Paul which described rising inventory and falling prices.
This explains why the homebuilder stocks are in an official “bear market,” with some homebuilder stocks down over 30% since late January. I have yet to hear or read about this fact from the mainstream financial media or Wall Street.
Today’s new home sales report, along with the serial decline in the housing starts data, disproves the “low inventory” narrative. Affordability, rising rates and a shrinking pool of potential homebuyers who can qualify for a conforming mortgage has torpedoed demand. The latest U of Michigan Consumer Sentiment report featured this chart on homebuying sentiment:
As you can see, the consumer “sentiment” toward buying a home is at its lowest reading since 2008. This is not a fact that would ever show up in the mainstream financial reporting on the housing market.
As for the low inventory narrative. The California Association of Realtors reported that June existing home sales plunged 7.3% from June 2017 and inventory is up 8.1%. A subscriber of the Short Seller’s Journal showed me an email in which Pulte Homes (PHM) was offering up to an unprecedented $20,000 bonus to realtors who sold Pulte homes in new developments in northern Florida.
Housing starts for June reported last Wednesday came in at 1.17 million (SAAR). The Wall Street brain trust was looking for 1.32 million. This was a 12.3% plunge from May. May’s original report was revised lower. Starts for both single-family and multi-family homes were down sharply across the entire country. If inventory were “low,” housing starts would be soaring, not falling.
I’m sure northern Florida is not the only market in which Pulte is offering large selling bonuses and I’m sure Pulte is not the only homebuilder offering large broker incentives. I look at the inventory numbers across homebuilders every quarter. A lot of the inventory is “work-in-process.” But finished a new home does not necessarily show up in the MLS system unless the builder lists it. This is why, on the surface, new home inventory might look relatively low but the builders are showing huge inventory levels in their SEC-filed financials.
Because of the nature of the asset, and the relative illiquidity of the market relative to actively traded financial assets, change in the direction of the momentum in the housing market is like turning a large ocean-freighter around. The manic phase of the housing bubble is over. The momentum has been turning in the opposite direction since late 2017. Flippers who bought homes in the last 3-6 months will soon become desperate to sell. Some will look to rent and “wait for the market move through this valley and head up again” only find that rental prices in many areas are now below the cost of carry. They forget to tell you that part in flipper seminars advertised on local radio stations.
Soon the “discount effect” of falling prices will snowball into an avalanche. If you think this is wrong, take another look at homebuilder stock charts. The commentary above is partially excerpted from the latest issue of the Short Seller’s Journal. In this issue I discuss various strategies for building and managing short positions in the homebuilder stocks in the context of the homebuilder earnings reports due out tomorrow (Thursday, July 26th). New subscribers get a handful of back-issues, an option trading primer and a copy of my Amazon Dot Con report.