Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Those surging home prices - again

I guess the word "surge" can mean different things to different people. For example, when I referred to the Hudson River surging on the night Sandy hit the NYC metro area, I meant that it actually rose over its banks and swallowed parts of places like Hoboken, Weehawken, Edgewater etc in New Jersey.

I did not mean that the river stayed pretty much flat.

So, when I see CBS news claim Case-Shiller: U.S. home prices surging, I think that Case-Shiller price index is really pointing up — not staying flat.

But, by now, I know better. So, I plotted the trends in both the 20 City Composite Price Index and the Sales Pair Counts to see there really was any upward movement in either actual sales of homes or the prices those homes are fetching.

Here is the chart:

The vertical blue line corresponds to when the Democrats took over both houses of the Congress (January 2007) and the vertical magenta corresponds to the first inauguration of President Obama (January 2009).

The green squiggly line is the 20-City composite price index from S&P's Case-Shiller. I hope it is clear that it has been relatively flat with some downward swings since President Obama took office. I say "I hope" because apparently this is not so clear to a lot of people in the media or even to the people who put together S&P's press releases.

The price index stood at 143.11 in February 2009. Today, its value is 146.57. That means, nominally, prices have increased 2.4% since then. However, cumulative inflation since 2009 is about 9% according to the CPI Inflation Calculator.

That means, in inflation-adjusted terms, today's price index is about 6% lower than it was in February 2013.

That is not a surge. That is the doldrums.

The salmon colored bars represent actual sales activity by month. Clearly, some months are more active (say, August) than others (say, February), but if you can detect an upward trend in sales activity, I have an improbability drive I'd like to sell you.

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