Monday, January 28 08:48:05
On the one hand, there were sharp price increases in US property prices in 2012, with the S. and P./Case-Shiller 20-City Index, up a total of 9 percent over the six months from March to September. That comes after what was generally a decline in prices for five consecutive years. And while prices dropped very slightly in October, the trend was quite encouraging for the market. (Our November data come out on Tuesday.)
But some of these changes were seasonal. Home prices have tended to rise every midyear and to fall slightly every fall and winter. And for some unknown reason, seasonal effects have become more pronounced since the financial crisis.
After screening out these effects, a number of indicators are up, including data for housing starts and permits as well as the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Index of traffic of prospective homebuyers, which has made a spectacular rebound since last spring.
What might explain this picture? It's hard to pin down, because nothing drastically different occurred in the economy from March to September. Yes, there was economic improvement: the unemployment rate, for example, dropped to 7.8 percent from 8.2 percent. But that extended a trend in place since 2009. There was also a decline in foreclosure activity, but for the most part that is also a continuing trend, as reported by RealtyTrac.
In short, it is hard to find an exact cause for the rebound in home prices. But that isn't unusual - we hardly ever know the real causes of major changes in speculative prices. Yet we do know that any short-run increase in inflation-adjusted home prices has been virtually worthless as an indicator of where home prices will be going over the next five or more years.