We all know that economists aren't very good when it comes to understanding the economy. This is exactly what economic theory predicts.
When economists completely mess up, for example by missing an $8 trillion housing bubble, they do not risk any sanction, such as being fired. This means that they have little incentive to get things right. If waiters had no incentive to get orders right and bring food to customers quickly, then people would have to wait a long time for their dinners and frequently get the wrong dish. Since economists aren't held to same standard as waiters, we typically get wrong economic analysis.
Thus we had numerous stories telling us about the bad news on existing home sales. That is not what the data show. May sales were down 1.5 percent from April levels, but this is hardly bad news. We had just seen four months of relatively strong sales, which were spurred in part by unusually mild winter weather. (Remember sales typically take place 6-8 weeks after a contract is signed. The homes sold in May were mostly contracted in March and early April.)
If people buy a home in January or February, they will not rush out and buy another one in March and April. In other words, the relatively strong sales through the winter should have led us to expect weaker sales in the spring. The 1.5 percent falloff is relatively mild. If we look back over a longer period, May sales were 9.6 percent above the year-ago level.
Looking further back, May's sales are roughly 30 percent higher than average monthly sales from the mid-90s, before the housing bubble distorted the market beyond recognition. Since population has only risen by a bit more 10 percent over this period, we are actually seeing a very high rate of sales.
Furthermore, May sales indicated a sharp rise in prices. Monthly price data on existing homes sales are always erratic and are typically driven much more by a change in the mix of homes being sold rather than a rise in the price of homes. Nonetheless, this is the third consecutive large monthly rise in the price of existing homes. The median price of a home sold in May was 17.3 percent above its February level and 7.9 percent above its year-ago level. The price increases show up in every region indicating that this is not a story of high-priced regions seeing an increase in sales relative to low-priced regions.
This report should have been seen as very positive news on the housing market. Unfortunately, the economists who missed the bubble still don't seem to know much about the housing market. While house prices are not going to return to their bubble levels (which no one in their right mind should want), they have bottomed out and will likely be rising modestly through the rest of 2012 and beyond. Furthermore, we are seeing higher rates of construction as the backlog of unsold homes has been whittled away in many areas. Housing is now making a positive contribution to the recovery.
(Only one link allowed per comment)