New Home Sales
It was only a matter of time before, as we said last month, January's reported surge in New Home Sales soared by 10% to 468K (well above the 400K then expected) would be revised lower. This just happened, when moments ago the Census Bureau lowered the January number from 468K to 455K. But what's worse is that last month's seasonally abnormal print was obviously an aberration due to the law of small numbers (explained here in detail), February's print was even worse, printing at 440K, below the 445K expected, and the lowest monthly print since September. Then again looking at the chart below shows why 20K houses up or down is absolutely meaningless in the grand scheme of things, as New Home Sales is the one category that resolutely refuses to bounce from the Depression lows.
With another session in which US futures levitate into the open, despite a modest drop in the Nikkei225 (to be expected after the president of Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, the world’s largest pension fund, said that a review of asset allocations into stocks is not aimed at supporting domestic share prices) and an unchanged Shanghai Composite while the currency pair du jour, the USDCNY, closes higher despite tumbling in early trade (which also was to be expected after a former adviser to the People’s Bank of China said China is headed for a “mini crisis” in its local- government debt market as economic reforms lead to the first defaults) everyone is asking: will it be deja vu all over again, and after a solid ramp into 9:30 am, facilitated without doubt by the traditional Yen carry trade, will stocks roll over as first biotech and then all other bubble stocks are whacked? We will find out in just over two hours.
Dispassionate look at next week's calendar.
Yesterday's "better than expected" New Home sales served as the "good news" pre-market boost to send futures ramping higher once again, if not enough to cause a fresh all time high. Here is what really happened when one spreads the numbers, courtesy of Mark Hanson's housing blog. "If all of the 4 regions were in this morning's New Home Sales print were rounded down to the nearest thousand by the Census Bureau vs up, it would subtract 4k sales, or about 12%. Even with the massive January seasonal adjustments, this would result in a SAAR headline print of 428k, or flat YoY vs the up 10% reported. If only the South was flat YoY like the other regions, the same thing would occur. "
Three unlucky attempts in a row to retake the S&P 500 all time high may have been all we get, at least for now, because the fourth one is shaping up to be rather problematic following events out of the Crimean in the past three hours where the Ukraine situation has gone from bad to worse, and have dragged the all important risk indicator, the USDJPY, below 102.000 once again. As a result, global stock futures have fallen from the European open this morning, with the DAX future well below 9600 to mark levels not seen since last Thursday. Escalated tensions in the Ukraine have raised concerns of the spillover effects to Western Europe and Russia, as a Russian flag is lifted by occupying gunmen in the Crimean (Southern Ukrainian peninsula) parliament, prompting an emergency session of Crimean lawmakers to discuss the fate of the region. This, allied with reports of the mobilisation of Russian jets on the Western border has weighed on risk sentiment, sending the German 10yr yield to July 2013 lows.
Shorts were well-and-truly squeezed this morning providing (yet again) just enough ammo to push the S&P back into the green for 2014 and the Russell to new record highs as the pump-and-dump we noted earlier continued for the 3rd day. However, soon after Europe closed, the fabulous five (TSLA, AMZN, FB, AMZN, and TWTR) all stopped levitating and stocks began to drop back to JPY's reality once again. Treasuries continue to rally (-6bps on the week) to 2-week low yields (leaving stocks disconnected) and while early (and considerable) USD strength faded in the afternoon, the USD index ends up 0.2% on the week (with EUR weakness leading). Gold and Silver were monkey-hammered early on but the former recovered some of its losses to end +0.35% for the week so far. While stocks ended unchanged-ish, VIX (following last night's epiuc WTF moment) rose to 14.4% and credit spreads closed wider on the day.
It was about a year ago when we noted a core component of the US housing non-recovery: the time to sell foreclosed homes had just hit a record of 400 days across the nation. Fast forward to today when even the last traces of the lie that sustained the housing recovery myth are being swept away, and we get the following article from Bloomberg titled "Foreclosures Surging in New York-New Jersey Market." The good news (according to some): thousands of people could live mortgage free for years until the bank delays obtaining the keys to the foreclosed property. This was money which instead of going to the mortgage owner, would instead go to buy Made in China trinkets and gizmos and otherwise keep the US retail party humming. Which brings us to the bad news: the party - retail and otherwise - is ending, as courts and banks finally catch up with inventory levels on both sides of the foreclosure pipeline, and those who lived for years without spending a dollar for the roof above their head are suddenly forced to move out and allocated the major portion of their disposable income toward rent.
Despite the surge in "seasonally-adjusted new home sales", un-seasonally-adjusted mortgage applications tumbled 8.5% this week, the biggest drop in 3 months as the modest January bounce has been almost entirely unwound. This pushes the broad MBA mortgage applications index down to near its lowest in 14 years. However, the home-purchase index continues to collapse. Purchase applications are down 30% from their May highs plunging in the last few weeks to their lowest level since 1995. Must be the weather, eh? Or is it like Bob Shiller warned yesterday, the unwind of "bubble thinking," especially as "gains are slowing from month-to-month and the strongest part of the recovery in home values may be over."
Following last month's biggest miss in 5 months, New Home Sales were revised higher in Jan and rose 9.6% in February to 468k (beating the 400k expectations by the most in 13 months). This is a new five-year high for new home sales. The "catastrophic" storm-battered NorthEast had new home sales of 33k - the highest since June; and the Snow-covered South saw huge sales. Home prices are up year-over-year by 3.4% but dropped to their lowest since August. If this does not entirely dismiss the 'weather is to blame' meme for any other macro weakness, then what does?
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For the second night in a row, China, and specifically its currency rate which saw the Yuan weaken once more, preoccupied investors - and certainly those who had bet on endless strenghtening of the Chinese currency - however this time it appeared more "priced in, and after trading as low as 2000, the SHCOMP managed to close modestly green, which however is more than can be said about the Nikkei which ended the session down 0.5%. Still, the USDJPY was firmly supported by the 102.00 "fundamental" fair value barrier and as a result equity futures, which had to reallign from tracking the AUDUSD to the old faithful Yen carry, have been propped up once more and are set to open at all time highs. If equities fail to breach the record barrier for the third time in a row and a selloff ensues after the open in deja vu trading, it will be time to watch out below if only purely for technical reasons.
The last 3 days have seen China's Shanghai Composite index tumble over 3% - its largest drop since October as sentiment comes under pressure from concerns about tightening in the real estate sector. The pace of price appreciation has slowed notably - especially 'existing' apartment sales (i.e. the speculators are exiting) - as it appears houing demand is cooling off with the number of cities with falling MoM home prices rose to six in January from two in December.The PBOC has jawboned as much and real estate sector financial condtions are tightening is slowing as a number of banks curb lending to developers. This is weighing on copper prices also as construction activity slows (exacerbating problems in the shadow banking system's collateral pools). The PBOC is getting what they wanted - but may regret it.
Asian equities are trading lower across the board on the back of some negative credit stories from China. Shanghai Securities News noted that ICBC and some other banks have curbed loans to developers in sectors such as steel and cement. Slower gains in home property prices in China’s tier 1 cities are also not helping sentiment. Beijing and Shenzhen prices rose 0.4% in January, which looks to be the slowest monthly gain since October 2012 according to Bloomberg. Elsewhere there are reports that a property developer in Hangzhou (Tier 2 city in China) is reducing its unit prices by 19%. Our property analysts noted that given the strong gains seen in Tier-1 and some bigger Tier-2 cities in 2013, a slowdown or negative trends in price growth should not be a surprise. Nevertheless, it has been a very weak day for Chinese and HK markets with the Shanghai Composite and the Hang Seng indices down -2.0% and -1.2% lower as we type. Across the region, bourses in Japan and Korea are down -1.0% and -0.6%, respectively.
The divergence between the NAHB index and other housing indicators has continued to suggest that sentiment was “getting ahead of itself" and as Citi's Tom Fitzpatrick warns would suggest that the qualitative nature of the overall housing recovery is less robust than one would like. Housing should pause/consolidate possibly even for most of this year as the weather argument that is trotted out by so many commentators does not seem to hold up to even a basic examination with the worst data coming from the West Coast. Simply put, Citi warns, we think housing sentiment got carried away as it did into 1994 and 1998 post the housing/savings and loan crisis of 1989-1991.