Another month, another slew of confusing, if not contradictory, housing data.
Today we find out that the government's estimate of February new-home sales shows a major drop from January, and from February 2005. Or does it? As usual, the bubble-heads in the press out there neglect to mention that the 10.5% drop from January is subject to error of 12.4% either way, meaning it could actually be a rise. The 13.4% drop year over year is firmer, being subject to a 12.5% error.
Not that the disputed evidence matters to the Street, of course. Investors seem to have decided long ago that the new-home boom is on the wane. Just take a look at the stocks of homebuilders like Hovnanian
More ominous may be the drop in median new-home price, from $237,300 to $230,000 year over year, which is the lowest figure since July of 2005. Average price continued to ratchet up -- obviously, those folks on the high end can still afford to chase things upmarket -- but it seems that the idea that we should all rush out and buy houses before they appreciate another 10% per year may require a bit of rethinking.
Even the National Association of Realtors (usual motto: "Bubble? What bubble?") has continued its new policy of straighter talk than usual. Although existing home sales rose in February, following a five-month decline, the NAR's president managed to utter the dreaded words "single-digit appreciation" in the otherwise sunny release.
Yes, the median existing home price marched up another 10.6% year over year. And that's why the NAR still takes great pains to convince us that a home is "an investment." Unfortunately, for a lot of buyers who've financed their dreams with high-risk ARMs, the coming months may demonstrate just how sound those "investments" have been.
And depending on just how "soft" this landing is, those of us invested in everything from mortgage banks to disposable-income sensitive retailers may feel the hangover of our country's homeowner hedonism. With so much of consumer spending attributed to the "I'm rich" sentiment provided by spiraling home prices and equity withdrawals, a pinch in price there could trickle down to everyone from Stock Advisor pick Best Buy to Tiffany to Target.
Seth Jayson hopes all those homebuilders just keep building. At the time of publication, he had no positions in any company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.