Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Deflation Watch Continues: Housing Goes Splat

I normally would not comment on monthly data but the most recently housing numbers are, well, sobering.

Here's the data from Bloomberg's story today (I have added the emphasis):

Purchases of new U.S. homes unexpectedly declined in February to the slowest pace on record and prices dropped to the lowest level since December 2003, adding to evidence the industry is floundering.

Sales decreased 16.9 percent to a 250,000 annual pace, figures from the Commerce Department showed today in Washington. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News projected a gain to a 290,000 rate, according to the median estimate. The median price fell 8.9 percent from the same month in 2010.

But wait, there's more good news:

The median sales price dropped to $202,100 in February from $221,900 a year earlier, today’s report showed. Last month’s median price was the lowest since $196,000 in December 2003. The share of homes sold for $500,000 or more fell in February, matching January 2009 as the lowest on record.

Now, I'm sure some of these figure can be blamed on the horrible weather on the east coast in February.

Still, I'm pretty sure that the west coast had seasonable weather last month, so it can't be all weather-related.

And you would think that plummenting house prices would lead to at least some increase in new home sales.

No, actually: Even with home prices dropping by 14%, new home sales were the lowest in the 50 year history of the data.

Housing is one of the biggest components of the typical household expenses, so these figures have a real impact.