It was a bit like spotting that first spring robin this morning. Driving through my neighborhood, I spied a "contract pending" plank suspended from my neighbor's longstanding "for sale" sign. But while the sign was real, I think the housing market's probably still more ensconced in December than any sort of April thaw.
Earlier this week, KB Home
I'd love to be able to find fault with Mezger's logic, but KB, unlike many of its peers, is sensible enough not to begin construction on a home until it has a contract with a buyer in hand. As such, the company isn't jumping through hoops to unload large speculative inventories, so it probably has a somewhat less distorted sense of the market's status than do some of the other large builders.
I wrote a Foolish piece earlier this week in which I, too, raised the possibility of yet another down leg for housing. With each passing day, I become less convinced that the 2 million foreclosures some observers anticipate could be piled onto the already-high inventory levels without inducing a loud thud.
Add to those phenomena a forecast Wednesday from the normally optimistic National Association of Realtors that "higher loan standards will slow the housing recovery" and that home prices "will be essentially be flat his year." Those comments may seem benign, but when I hear them from the typically rose-colored-glasses realtors' group, I'm inclined to pay attention.
Next, when the Federal Reserve on Wednesday released the minutes from its latest confab, those minutes indicated an ongoing bias toward focusing on inflation. That stance is commendable, and likely necessary, but it also won't propel housing toward a recovery.
Then there's energy. If you're compelled to ask what energy has to do with housing -- and with the greater economy -- I'd simply say "everything." In fact, please don't blink, because you'll risk missing our return to $3 (and higher) per-gallon gasoline. While CNBC and the other financial networks have trotted out all manner of economists who contend that in 2005, when our gasoline costs reached their previous nominally high levels, the economy was unaffected, I'd offer that if those prices had levitated for appreciably longer, a wounding of the economy surely would have ensued.
Fools, I hope this isn't an indication that I'm excessively negative. But for now, the spring robins seem overwhelmed by vultures.
For related Foolishness:
Fool contributor David Lee Smith does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your comments and questions.