A mixed picture in housing

The latest news in the housing market: New home construction fell last month, but building permits were up to their highest level since 2008.

Jeremy Hobson: New home construction fell last month by almost 5 percent. That's according to the Commerce Department. But building permits were up to their highest level since 2008. That's a good sign for future construction. And that mixed picture in housing is where we'll start with Juli Niemann, analyst with Smith Moore and Company, who is with us live from St. Louis. Good morning.

Juli Niemann: Good morning, Jeremy.

Hobson: So what do you think -- good news or bad news here for the housing market?

Niemann: Well, high excitement because that's the highest levels... about the permits and the promises, but don't believe it 'til the diggers show up. That's the big thing about housing permits. You've got a huge inventory of unsold homes, the shadow inventory, with banks holding up large numbers of homes already in mortgage default. And even more, they're homeowners who are paying, but whose homes are significantly less than what they paid. They're underwater, so this problem has to go away first.

Hobson: Sounds like there's maybe somebody calling you right now to get some housing construction -- call waiting blocking you out there. But Juli, let me ask you, we've been having this conversation for a long time now about a weak housing market -- when is it finally going to recover along with other parts of the economy?

Niemann: Well the official end of the recession was in 2009. But the housing depression and credit depression continues on. That means we're going to be stuck in this very slow and at times, no growth -- that's going to be the new normal until we get the debt resolution. That means everybody has to write it down, the stuff that's a total loss, but you have to do it in an orderly fashion so you don't have massive bank failure or investment failure. And that's what's paralyzing everybody.

Hobson: Juli Niemann, analyst with Smith Moore and Company, thanks as always.

Niemann: You bet.

About the author

Juli Niemann is executive vice-president for research and portfolio management with Smith, Moore and Company.

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