New home sales caveat

Newly constructed homes at a housing development in Novato, Calif.

TEXT OF STORY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Later this morning the U.S. Department of Commerce releases new home sales numbers for November. Expectations are for a modest uptick — between 1 and 2 percent. That's good news for the housing market, right? Marketplace's Rico Gagliano says not so fast.


RICO GAGLIANO: Should today's new home sales figures turn out as well as expected, Chris Thornberg, of UCLA's Anderson Forecast, won't be impressed.
CHRIS THORNBERG: Who cares? In many ways, the last number you should be looking at is new home sales.

For one thing, he says, the number can't account for building contracts which later get canceled.

And the survey's statistical sample is so small the number routinely gets revised. Take last October, when the Commerce Department reported a surprising 5 percent jump in sales.

THORNBERG: They've already revised it. So new home sales for October '06 is now below what it was for September '06 once the revision came in.

The more important numbers, Thornberg says? Building permits, which are down, and inventory, which is up. Both point to a continued slump in the New Year.

Dave Seiders, of the National Association of Home Builders, agrees — but says a good report today would still be welcome news.

DAVE SEIDERS: Y'know, hopefully the first step is under way, which really is getting the demand side of the market moving again.

But the next steps toward a full recovery in housing could prove more elusive.

I'm Rico Gagliano for Marketplace.

About the author

Rico Gagliano is the host of Dinner Party Download.

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