Housing Headache

The U.S. housing market is back to underperforming expectations. We saw the latest existing home sales and new home sales numbers this week — both failed to meet the Street’s forecast.

The National Association of Realtors reported 2.4% growth in existing home sales Tuesday, to an annual rate of 4.7 million. The stock market — no longer satisfied with meager housing growth — wanted a rate of 4.9 million and suffered a small sell-off.

Even though sales managed to increase in back-to-back months for the first time since 2005, existing home prices are still plummeting, distressed sales are still booming and the market is still saturated with a 9.6-month supply of homes… a positive sign that the free market still works, but hardly reason to call a bottom.

And new home sales are still slipping into the abyss. Sales of new houses fell another 0.6%, to a 342,000 annual rate, the Commerce Department said yesterday. That’s down 32.8% from last year — we hasten to add, a time when the housing market was already in the dumps. Making matters worse, Wall Street analysts were calling for a 2% rise in new home sales. And like existing home sales, the price of new homes is still falling (down another 3%, to $221,600), and inventory is still at a lofty 10-month supply.

Check out this chart of new versus existing home sales. Both have historically moved in near lock step, with the exception of last two years. If this trend is destined for a “regression to the mean,” we wouldn’t be surprised to see new home sales level out and existing sales take a turn for the worse.