New Home Sales Data: Don’t rely On It Either

Here we go again:

Yesterday’s New Home Sales data of plus 13% month over month was . . . how shall I politely phrase this . . . somewhat questionable.

It seemed like such an outlier, that I had to dig into the details, especially given all the other non-confirming data we have seen: The same time we learned about that huge New Home Sales, we learned elsewhere that Unsold house inventory is at its highest since April 1986. (Existing Home Sales number about 6 times the number of New Homes).

I’ll have more on this tomorrow, but here’s the key takeaway:

a) The data appears to be “statistically insignificant,” according to the Census Bureau;
b) Strong historical numbers (like plus 13%) tend to be subject to revision, but mostly stay net postive, albeit somewhat moderated;
c) Over the past 10 years, double digit months have been followed by flat to negative data the very next month (Mean Reversion).

The actual data can be found here.

The first item is the margin of error: Its actually higher than the increase for October as well as the revision for September:

“Sales of new one-family houses in October of 2005 were at a seasonally
adjusted annual rate of 1,424,000 . . . This is 13% (+/- 17.7%)* above the
revised September rate of 1,260,000 and 9.0% (+/-18.2%)* above the
October estimate.

the key:
anytime your margin of error is greater than the
estimated increase
in New Home sales, confidence levels inthat data are low to non-existent. (A Census Bureau Economist I spoke to agreed with this interpretation).

As significant as that is, let’s ignore it for the moment:  Looking back over the past 15 years of data, we see that a mean regression has followed nearly all double digit monthly gains. The subsequent month’s data was significantly lowered — flat to negative in nearly every case:


New Homes Sales

Month, Year Double Digit Gain Subsequent Month Increase / Decrease
June 2003 10.7% July 2003 (-2.1%)
December 2000 11.7% January 2001 (-4.8%)
July 2000 11.9% August 2000 (-4.4%)
November 1998 11.4% December 1998 (-4.6%)
January 1998 10% February 1998 (-0.7%)
March 1995 10.2% April 1995 0.8%.
*February 1994; 10.82% March 1994 8.89%
April 1993 16.45% May 1993 (-10.70%)
September 1993; 12.56% October 1993 (-3.03%)
January 1992 21.15% February 1992 (-5.47%)


In nearly all of these months, the subsequent month’s data was significantly lowered. The one exception was *February 1994, which was followed by a strong March and April — but they came on top of January 1994, which has the honor of being the very worst month ever in the history of the Census Construction data: Down -23.77%.

One final factoid: According to the Census Bureau, it takes 6 months to establish a trend for new houses sold. They note this in the fine print:

“These statistics are estimated from sample surveys. They are subject to sampling variability as well as nonsampling error including bias and variance from response, nonreporting, and undercoverage…Changes in seasonally adjusted statistics often show irregular movement. It takes 6 months to establish a trend for new houses sold. Preliminary new home sales figures are subject to revision due to the survey methodology and definitions used. The survey is primarily based on a sample of houses selected from building permits…Explanations of confidence intervals and sampling variability can be found on our web site listed above.

Bottom line:

a) A high margin of statistical error means the October data is unreliable;
b) we should expect to see a revision downwards, but not by a whole lot;
c) The November data should be flat to negative.

Hey, I’m an optimistic guy. I was an X-Files fan — I want to believe. <sigh> But sometimes, the dope is so bad that’s its misleading to call it anything but. I only want to get an
accurate read of this planet’s economy in order to know how to position
capital into various asset classes.

Damn!  Now I have to go look at GDP . . .


Note: Since this nonsensical data issue has become a recurring theme, I have added Data Analysis as a new subtopic . . .



New-Home Sales Surged in October; Cooling Still Seen
Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2005; Page A2

Census Bureau, Manufacturing and Construction Division
NOVEMBER 29, 2005 AT 10:00 A.M. EST

Comparing New Home Sales and Existing Home Sales

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. nate commented on Nov 30


    not directly related to this but related to retail boom and real estate boom at same time…

    do you know of an analysis that looks at retail sales per square foot of physical retail space? By analysis, i mean comparison of year-over-year changes. This would pick up on increases in retail sales that are not all that efficient (ie, lots of new stores built over recent years, and sales $ per square foot is trending down even though overall sales $ are increasing)

    I do not know if sales $ per square foot are increasing or decreasing.

  2. William J. Polley commented on Nov 30

    A pretty good day for economic data

    Plenty of good headlines, but does the good news run deeper? From the NY Times: Sales of new homes surged to a record in October, the government reported today, bucking recent reports of a slowdown in the roaring housing market….

  3. ray commented on Nov 30

    Barry-can you make sure that obnoxious Bob Marcin reads this, please. Amazing how you didn’t hear from him when the homebuilders were getting their heads handed to them.

  4. Matrix commented on Dec 1

    Conflicting Housing Statistics: Which Way Are We Going?

    Heres a good summary article by columnist Andrew Cassel about the conflicting statistics that have been released this week called The Economy | Volatility telling us something? [Philadelphia Enquirer] It lays out all the arguments pro and con. …

  5. Steve commented on Dec 1

    Boosting positive figure is easy by manipulating the statistical data and I can assure you I have been doing that when I have to prepare project proposal to present to the dear Investment Banker and Board of Directors of Smart Companies Management. With a Current Account Deficit closing to $800 Billion and a National Debt coiming at the heel of $8 Trillion Dollar would erode any growth, be it a positive core CPI, a one point or one point and a half gain (from paper manipulations..) would not interest me or any smart Investors across the board. Remember the mushrooming expenditure in Iraq, the title-inflated property prices and declining USD Currency would deifnitely overwhelm us any time sooner particularly in early Spring next year when the Iraq War may become more brutal after the Dec Election. Coupled with the ever enlarging Current Account Deficit would haunt us for thew whole 2006 and if Bush continues to be the helmsman, I am sure more bad news would come, be it domestically, or externally particularly in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran-Syria, Avian Flu ( that Americans are so ill-prepared ), Worldwide Depression, EU collapsing…..Taken togther, can we be so optimistic and keep spending to the last dime we have.


  6. fred c. dobbs commented on Dec 1

    I just hope we all remember how flakey these numbers can be when, in some future release, they support our favorite theories. When new home sales fall 10% in January, i don’t want anyone saying that it’s proof positive that the bubble has broken!!!
    Take a look at the OFHEO price numbers out today: Appreciation continued at an 11% annual rate during the third quarter. The hottest markets faded but others took their place. This bubble is still alive, IMHO.

  7. mike simonsen commented on Dec 1

    The problem with most of the data available today is not conspiracy, it is latency. The OFHEO report out today is based on 2-5-month-old information. And things have indeed changed since then in many areas. The key is that you have to go local to know anything really interesting about what is actually happening.
    full disclosure: my company provides real-time data, so I’m a bit biased.

  8. Morgan commented on Dec 3

    My initial reaction on seeing these two pieces of data was that new home sales are rising as prices of existing homes rise to make new homes relatively more attractive. At some point, you might as well build in the boonies rather than buy in the city.

    I’m looking at my options now, and (for a home that meets the needs of my family) it’s almost a push.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see the new home data hold up, or even be revised upward.

  9. The Big Picture commented on May 24

    New Home Sales Up (but watch the data)

    Commerce Department reported that April new-home sales jumped an unexpected 16.2% — the biggest monthly gain in 14 years. The year over year drop in sales change was a drop of 10.6%. By no coincidence, the median home price dropped a 11.1% from the pr…

Posted Under