Case-Shiller outlook on housing recovery too optimistic, says Fiserv, which sees more price drops ahead in 342 markets

October 21st, 2009 by Mike Hinshaw

For those who are considering selling their homes as a way to avoid bankruptcy, two recent reports are contradictory–except for a few, select markets. One Oct. 19 account at CNBC mentions renewed confidence in the housing market, including data from “the Case-Shiller Home Price Index showing an unprecedented reversal from negative to positive growth in the summer months.” But a CNNMoney piece finds otherwise, in fact singling out the Case-Shiller data as too optimistic.

Of course, to paraphrase the cliche, all real estate is local. Still, unprecedented reversal sounds pretty good. But the CNBC piece also mentions observers who sense another housing bubble already forming.

In a decidely “definite-maybe” passage of the “Investor Agenda” piece, Robert Shiller (” . . . Professor of Economics at Yale University and Chief Economist and Co-founder of MacroMarkets LLC ” who is also “the other half behind the Case-Shiller U.S. Home Price Indices”),  was asked whether “this uptick was a result of the first time home buyer credit.”

Shiller said he couldn’t be sure “given that ‘we’re seeing other signs around the same time.’ ”

That sure doesn’t sound like unprecedented confidence. I’m taking that to mean he’s not hearing the Phat Lady of the Turnaround warming up.

Asked about his response to concerns of another bubble in the making, Shiller’s response is classic CYA:

“I look at the data and think it might be happening because it’s such a sudden turnaround. But my instincts say no.”

Shiller also noted that cities in the frothiest part of the bubble have yet to show any sign of a turnaround, presumably a good thing in that we might be more suspect if those areas suddenly got fired up.

The most concrete response is saved for the end of the piece: “Finally on the important question on mortgage rates and how much longer they can remain this low . . . Shiller ended by saying that ‘Fed is still buying up mortgage… and they said they’ll extend that into next year, but when that stops, if it does stop, that’s when we might see a major change in the market.’ ”

An Oct. 20 report from CNNMoney escorts the Phat Lady back to her dressing room, no need to warm up.

The sub-hed doesn’t seem so bad: “National home prices are forecast to shrink another 11%. Miami, Las Vegas and Phoenix will record steep declines, but a few cities will actually post gains.”

But the main deck is chilling: “Home prices: About to get much cheaper.”

CNNMoney says the report it cites (from “Fiserv, a financial information and analysis firm”) is “at odds with the past few months of the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price index.

“That report,” CNNMoney says of Case-Shiller, “has given hope that most housing markets may have already stabilized because the composite index of 20 cities rose in May, June and July. Nationally, it found that home prices have gained 3.6%.”

Other economists also dispute the Case-Shiller findings.

“Brad Hunter, chief economist for Metrostudy, which provides housing market information to the industry, is quoted as saying, ‘I’m afraid Case-Shiller may be just a temporary reprieve.’

“He pointed out that the tax credit for first-time home buyers helped support prices during the three months of Case-Shiller gains. By the end of November, the credit will have been used by 1.8 million homebuyers, at least 355,000 of whom would not have bought a house without the tax break, according to estimates by the National Association of Realtors. But the market assistance ends when the credit expires on Dec. 1.”

Fiserv projects that “a plunge” in home values “in 342 out of 381 markets during the next year,” and that “[o]verall, the national median home price is predicted to drop 11.3% by June 30, 2010 . . . For the following year, the firm anticipates some stabilization with prices rising 3.6%.”

CNNMoney also quotes Mark Zandi, chief economist with Moody’s Economy.com:  “I think more price declines are coming because the foreclosure crisis is not over.”

Hunter, the Metrostudy economist, “also sees a new wave of foreclosure problems coming from higher priced loans and prime mortgages. He expects a high failure rate for option ARM loans that were issued to prime customers so they could buy homes in bubble markets, such as California and Florida. In those areas, prices for even modest homes had skyrocketed.”

Fiserv has good news for a “handful of metro areas [that] will buck the trend . . . . Six markets will remain flat, and 33 will actually post gains. The biggest winner will be the Kennewick, Wash., metro area, where home prices have ramped up 8.9% over the past three years and are expected to increase another 3.4% by June 2010.

“Fairbanks, Alaska, prices are anticipated to rise 2.5%, while Anchorage will climb 2.1%. Elmira, N.Y., prices may inch up 1.8%.”

Fiserv also reports here the results of a consumer survey that asked respondents how “financial activities have been impacted by the prolonged recession, and how financial institutions can help them gain a greater sense of control of their finances.”

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