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Recovery Risks: Fiscal Cliff and the Winter Face Off

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Recently, Clear Capital released its Home Data Index™ (HDI) Market Report with data through November 2012. The HDI Market Report uses a broad array of public and proprietary data sources providing the most timely and relevant analysis available, and the report showed that while markets are improving, as the fiscal cliff draws closer, 2012′s housing momentum is most at risk.

Report highlights include:

• Price gains across markets started to soften in November. The effects of winter are unfolding, but REO saturation trends don’t yet sound alarms.
• Lowest performing metro markets could be the canary in the gold mine, signaling the recovery is not yet immune to seasonal slowdowns or fiscal constraints.

“November housing trends hinted at a winter slowdown ahead,” says Dr. Alex Villacorta, Director of Research and Analytics at Clear Capital. “While short-term growth across the country generally slowed, the housing market has built good momentum over the last year. As previously reported, these gains coupled with reduced rates of REO saturation signal housing should be strong enough to ride out winter, barring any shocks. That said, we remain very concerned about the fiscal cliff given both the threat of uncertainty and the potential for fiscal constraint moving forward.

“If the cliff becomes a reality, we expect to see a pull back in housing. Faced with higher taxes, many potential homebuyers on the fence could very well be forced to rent. While affordability across the country remains a draw for demand, we’ve already seen it come down off the highs as prices rise. And at the end of the day, going over the cliff translates to reduced net income for potential buyers. Even if prices remain attractive, taking a hit on income will surely deter some demand at a time when markets need it the most.”

November Housing Trends: The first signs of winter or the first signs of uncertainty?

National quarterly price gains were more than halved in November over the month, coming in at just 1.0 percent. While a slowdown in growth is typical in the winter due to fewer fair market sellers listing their homes, the percentage of REO sales held steady at 18.4 percent. Should the rate of distressed sales hold steady over the next several months, downward price pressure should be minimal.

The seasonal effects of winter also started to take hold in three out of four regions. A pull back in growth at similar magnitudes was echoed in the West, South, and Northeast, with quarterly gains of 2.0 percent, 0.8 percent, and 0.3 percent, respectively.

The Midwest was the only region to hold the momentum of quarterly growth over October. However, at just 0.9 percent, the region is in line with the level of growth across the regions and at the National level.

Price gain stalls are not as evident in yearly price trends. National yearly home prices in November held their ground with 4.6 percent growth. Putting the recovery into perspective, this time last year, national home prices had declined 2.8 percent. The South also mostly held its ground, with gains of 4.0 percent over the last year.

The West continued to lead the recovery, yet with softer yearly gains of 10.3 percent in November, over October’s yearly growth of 11.4 percent. The region continued to make progress in that REO saturation declined to just 17.8 percent. Since the peak in 2009, REO saturation has fallen by more than half.

The Northeast posted just 1.4 percent growth year-over-year, constrained by nearly flat quarterly gains. The region also saw price trends flat in the top tier sector, or homes selling for $423,000 and more.

The Midwest bucked the trend of softening gains, and posted yearly growth of 2.9 percent in November. While the Midwest hinted at a slowdown in October, things appear to be picking back up. We continue to expect volatility out of the Midwest moving into the deeper winter months. The region typically exhibits price fluctuations, as it represents the lowest median prices of any of the four regions.

The highest performing markets exhibited similar trends to those at the national and regional levels, where the range of quarterly gains were reduced by more than half. Yearly price changes continued to be mixed. Average REO saturation for the highest markets of 25.0 percent in November was 6.6 percentage points higher than the national average. This highlights the true driver behind the recovery: REO segment demand and price gains.

Markets like Detroit, Las Vegas, Tucson, and Atlanta are great examples of markets seeing growth alongside declining, yet relatively high rates of REO saturation.

The lowest performing metro markets started to show signs of weakness in November. Half of the markets posted quarterly losses, yet all but one had declines less than 1.0 percent. Yearly losses amongst the group were greater in volume and magnitude than the quarterly trends. Five out of 15 markets saw yearly losses, and three markets declined more than 1.5 percent.

Average REO saturation for the group was at just 15.9 percent, 2.5 percentage points lower than national, and 9.1 points lower than the average REO saturation of the highest performing metro markets. Again, the trends in REO saturation signal the recovery being led by those markets that were hard hit with relatively high rates of REO saturation continuing to linger. The lowest performing group, on the other hand, is comprised of a handful of markets that haven’t seen a lift from their REO segment.

The lowest performing group’s pull back serves as a reminder the recovery is not immune to the effects of seasonality, fiscal uncertainty, or notable reductions in income levels. The fiscal cliff remains a threat to consumer confidence and purchasing power as the markets move into the chill of winter.

For more information, visit www.clearcapital.com.

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