Case-Shiller’s National Home Price Index indicated slower home price growth in April. Year-over-year, home prices rose 5.50 percent in April as compared to 5.60 percent in March. Year-over-year readings are calculated on a seasonally-adjusted annual basis.
Case-Shiller’s 20 City Home Price Index was also lower with a seasonally-adjusted year-over-year reading of 5.70 percent gain in April as compared to the year-over-year March reading of 5.90 percent. Seattle, Washington held on to its lead for home price growth with a year-over-year reading of 12.90 percent; Portland Oregon followed with a year-over-year reading of 9.30 percent, and Dallas, Texas maintained third place in the 20-City Home Price Index with a year-over-year reading of 8.40 percent.
Month–to–Month Home Prices Rise in 19 of 20 Cities
Seattle also led in home price growth with a rate of 2.60 percent from March to April. Portland followed with home price growth of 1.60 percent, and Denver, Colorado reported month-to-month home price growth of 1.30 percent, which edged Dallas Texas out of third place in month-to-month home price growth rates.
Analysts have been watching housing markets carefully due to a prolonged shortage of homes for sale against high demand for homes in many areas. David M. Blitzer, Chair and Managing Director of the S&P Indices Committee, noted that skyrocketing growth in home prices must slow and eventually decline. During a press conference, he asked,” Will home price gains gently slow, or will they crash and take the rest of the economy with them?”
Analysts questioned how long home prices can continue to grow and remain sustainable. Affordability is a significant aspect of home price growth as first-time and moderate-income home buyers provide opportunities for present homeowners to sell and move up to larger homes. Mr. Blitzer eased fears of an imminent housing market crash and said, “For the moment, conditions appear favorable for avoiding a crash.”
Mr. Blitzer said that more housing starts and an expected increase in home buyers were positive signs for sustaining current home prices. Upcoming readings on consumer confidence and sentiment, new home sales and mortgage rates will support estimates of when and how much home prices will continue to increase.
According to the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index for March, builder confidence in market conditions reached its highest level in 12 years and was six points higher than February’s index reading of 65.
Housing market index readings are based on three components. Builder confidence in current market conditions for new single family homes rose seven points to 78; builder confidence in market conditions for the next six months increased five points to an index reading of 78. Most surprising was the reading for buyer traffic in new housing developments, which eight points to 54 in March. Buyer traffic readings typically don’t exceed the benchmark reading of 50, which indicates neutral builder sentiment. Builder confidence in buyer traffic for March surpassed 50 only twice since the housing bubble era.
Housing Market Index Readings Expected to Moderate in Coming Months
Robert Dietz, Chief Economist for NAHB, said that Housing Market Index readings will probably be more moderate in coming months as builders continue to face obstacles. Builders cited rising costs for materials and ongoing shortages of labor and lots. On the upside, builders surveyed said that a less regulatory environment contributed to higher confidence readings.
While home builder confidence is higher, the connection between confidence and building more homes isn’t matched by housing starts. Builders also said that rising mortgage rates are a barrier to buying new homes. The Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee raised the target federal funds rate to 0.75 to 1.00 percent on Wednesday; federal rate hikes typically influence private lenders to raise consumer rates including mortgage rates.
In a post-meeting statement, Fed officials said that the federal funds rate remains accommodative and will continue to sustain economic growth and the Fed’s goal for a long-run inflation rate of 2.00 percent. The Fed cited its dual mandate of achieving maximum employment and price stabilization as supporting its decision to raise rates, but stated that actual decisions to raise the federal funds rate are based on close readings and information about global and domestic economic developments; future decisions could be impacted by emerging economic factors.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, August home builder sentiment met analyst expectations and rose by two points to a reading of 60; July’s reading was revised downward to 58. Two out of three components used in calculating the Home Builder Index were higher. Builder sentiment concerning current housing conditions rose two points to 65. Builders were also more confident about housing market conditions within the next six months; August’s reading was one point higher at 56. Builders were less confident about buyer traffic in new housing developments. August’s reading slipped one point to 44.
Any reading above 50 indicates that a majority of builders surveyed were confident in market conditions; readings for buyer traffic have not reached 50 since 2005.
Building More Homes Seen as Solution to Persistent Home Shortage
Shortages of available homes have caused demand for homes to surge in recent months. As demand increases, home prices rise. This thwarts positive conditions including low mortgage rates and recent reports of rebounding job creation. If builder confidence rises, it follows that builders will expand construction, but builders also cited factors including regulatory obstacles, a lack of qualified labor and shortages of land available for development as ongoing concerns.
Regional Confidence Readings Mixed
Regional readings for builder confidence were mixed; builder confidence in the Northeast increased by two points to 41. In the South, builder confidence also rose two points to 63. Builder sentiment in the West was unchanged at 69 while builder sentiment in the Midwest fell two points to 55.
Although growing builder confidence considered positive in light of home shortages, analysts said that single-family housing starts remain well below historical levels.
In related news, NAHB reported that readings for the 55 plus housing market index increased by one point to 57 as compared to the first quarter reading and was unchanged as compared to the second quarter of 2015. As with the general HMI, any reading over 50 indicates that more builders than fewer are confident in market conditions for 55 plus housing markets.