New Home Sales: Why Do Investors Care

New home sales measure the number of newly constructed homes with a committed sale during the month. The level of new home sales indicates housing market trends and, in turn, economic momentum and consumer purchases of furniture and appliances.

Why Do Investors Care?
This provides a gauge of not only the demand for housing, but the economic momentum. People have to be feeling pretty comfortable and confident in their own financial position to buy a house. Furthermore, this narrow piece of data has a powerful multiplier effect through the economy, and therefore across the markets and your investments. By tracking economic data such as new home sales, investors can gain specific investment ideas as well as broad guidance for managing a portfolio. Each time the construction of a new home begins, it translates to more construction jobs, and income which will be pumped back into the economy. Once the home is sold, it generates revenues for the home builder and the realtor. It brings a myriad of consumption opportunities for the buyer. Refrigerators, washers, dryers and furniture are just a few items new home buyers might purchase. The economic “ripple effect” can be substantial especially when you think a hundred thousand new households around the country are doing this every month. Since the economic backdrop is the most pervasive influence on financial markets, new home sales have a direct bearing on stocks, bonds and commodities. In a more specific sense, trends in the new home sales data carry valuable clues for the stocks of home builders, mortgage lenders and home furnishings companies.

Current New Home Sales Data
Sales of new homes fell in February for the fourth straight month, pushing activity down to a 13-year low. While the rate of decline has slowed, the worst slump in more than two decades has not run its course, analysts said.

The 1.8 percent drop sent the annual sales rate down to 590,000 units in February. That was the slowest pace since February 1995 and down 57.5 percent from the sales peak of 1.389 million units in July 2005. The median price of a home sold last month dropped to $244,100, 2.7 percent less than the level of a year ago. The median sales price is the point where half the homes sold for more and half for less.

A closely watched gauge of existing home prices, the S&P/Case-Shiller Index, reported recently that 16 of 20 major cities had record annual price declines in January compared with a year ago.

A separate report Monday showed that sales of existing homes posted an increase of 2.9 percent in February, the first gain after six months of declines. Nonetheless, analysts said they do not expect a sustained rebound for many months in the market for resales or new homes, primarily because the number of unsold homes is so high.

The report on new homes showed the number of unsold homes on the market at the end of the month was a 9.8 months’ supply at the February sales pace, matching the 26-year high set in January.

Builders have cut construction and offered heavy discounts. Such efforts have been offset by record mortgage defaults, dumping even more homes on the market.

Analysts said buyers’ demand remains weak heading into the spring sales season. Among the reasons are difficulty in getting loans because of tighter standards and potential buyers’ hesitancy to commit to a purchase in an environment of falling prices.

Sales of new homes dropped the most in the Northeast, by 40.6 percent, and fell 6.4 percent in the Midwest. Sales rose 5.7 percent in the South and 0.7 percent in the West.

The two-year slump in housing has depressed overall economic growth. The government will provide its last look at economic growth in the final three months of 2007. Many economists believe that report will show the gross domestic product edged up by a barely discernible 0.6 percent from October through December. Many analysts believe GDP growth may have dipped into negative territory from January through March, which would be the strongest signal yet that the country has slid into a recession.

The worry is that the slumping economy and rising unemployment will make it more difficult for housing to mount a sustained rebound in the second half of the year.

Source: Bloomberg, ET