The markets rocketed Friday on news from the National Association of Realtors that existing home sales increased 7.2% to an annual rate of 5.24 million units in July, the largest monthly hike since 1999. This makes four straight months of higher existing home sales -- the first time in five years.
Chairman Ben Bernanke declared at a central banker retreat Friday morning that economic activity in the U.S. and overseas "appears to be leveling out, and the prospects for a return to growth in the near term appear good."
This should come as no surprise to followers of TheStreet.com. For more than a year, Jim Cramer has predicted that the housing market would reach the bottom by June 30, 2009 and that would signal an absolute bottom to the bear market. That bullish call, along with supporting commentary from Doug Kass, is chronicled here in excerpts from
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I had Bob Toll on "Mad Money" a quarter ago, and he was beyond bearish. I bugged him about the housing legislation, he said he would believe it when he sees it. I asked him whether there could be a point where there was so much household formation and pent-up demand that it had to help, he said, "No way." I asked him if there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and he said yes ... "an oncoming train." Everything -- orders, cancellations, lack of traffic -- painted a picture of unremitting gloom, and the stock and the group got hammered.
Today was quite different. It looks like the pent-up demand from three years of living in apartments and with mothers-in-law is taking its toll, and traffic is coming back. The cancellations? Down big. The possibility of a turn? Reading his tea leaves, I think you come up with a 2009 turn for sure.
Right now, if you think housing is going down for the next year, you are making what I think is a sucker's bet. Six months? Yes. One year? No. We will have gone through too much of the bad lending.
Jim Cramer, Aug. 26
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I can't believe there are still clowns out there saying that I called multiple bottoms in housing. I have said very clearly that 2009 is the year when housing will bottom. I believe 2008 is when the housing
bottom. Big, big difference.
Believe me, I know this. I had to buy a house because my lease is up. I know it isn't a great time, Why the heck do these silly Web sites that abound say that I am right now calling for a bottom in housing when I have been far less than thrilled that I have to buy a house
Could it be that the worst in
is over? If you believe, as I do, that housing bottoms on June 30, 2009, you can make a case that like
, this one is bottoming, as that turns out to be its real cohort.
Everything that can be done short of cutting rates again to get housing stability is being done, and this takeover is a monumental step toward housing stabilization. So are the affects of every bank takeover. In fact, bank takeovers are extremely positive.
Yet nobody thinks this tide of house price depreciation can be turned. Nobody believes. The papers are filled with stories about how it really won't matter and things are going to stay bad anyway.
So, here is another attempt to explain why this former housing bear believes we will see house price depreciation end by June 30 of next year -- and believe me, I do not believe there will be house price
, I am just saying it will end.
When I see these things, it tells me that housing
next year, no matter what. I believe the falloff in price will be steep between now and June, but can you imagine if other banks follow
and give people 90 days for TARP to work? Right now there are
homes being built. You take the foreclosure inventory off the market, and you could get to that bottom very quickly. It is the ultimate killer of supply. Demand will then take care of itself
we can keep from having double-digit unemployment.
Jim Cramer, Dec. 4 -- Housing Bottom Gets Closer
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Fewer homes will be built this year than were built in 1990 -- 440,000 -- yet we have 60 million more people in the country. Each year roughly 860,000 new households get formed in the country, almost double the number of new homes. Soon the price of mortgage money, the single biggest determinant of home buying, will be one-third less than it was two weeks ago.
Yet nobody believes we could have a rally in housing in 2009. Nobody. I have received more scoffing about my June 30 bottom than about just about anything, other than my call to sell 20% of your portfolio when the
was at 11,000.
Housing will be the most
story of 2009, just as it has been the most bearish story of 2006-08. That could lead, ultimately, to a turn in the mortgages held by CDOs and the benchmarks of the synthetics. It can happen and it can happen fast, provided:
1.The homebuilders do not get TARP money.
2.President-elect Obama proposes a tax credit for buying a home.
3.We get some homebuilder bankruptcies so we even fewer new homes are built.
4.The Fed helps take mortgages down to 4.5%, which would make it nuts not to act, if only just to borrow the money and buy a property, any property.
I think very few people are ready for it.
The real takeaway of KB Homes'conference call was the housing bottom that they saw in Southern California. It's huge. They said sales are up by hundreds of percent -- that's the term they used -- because the affordability is the best in 20 years, and rates are the best in 47 years.
Two years ago, KBH's Southern California home business hit a retaining wall going 200 miles an hour. It has seen nothing but price cuts and foreclosures and cancellations in its projects ever since...
until this quarter
In this quarter, they saw month-to-month-to-month stronger sales, as housing prices are down as much as 45% in some of their sales areas....
I think the case can be made that it is time to buy there.
Am I too late with my "housing will bottom on June 30" call? After looking at the new-home sales this morning, quite strong at 337,000, and knowing that the rates are going lower still, and that the national average price of a home is down 18%, you are looking at what might be the single greatest moment to buy a home in the last 10 years. (I sure wish home prices were in the CPI, because you would see the deflation.)
Housing bottoms form when homebuilders finally stop building. They come when permits dry up. They come when foreclosures are so many that they drive down the prices to affordable levels. Housing bottoms come when the homebuilders give up and merge. They come when mortgage rates go really low. They come when unemployment claims level out.
The bottom, well, now. We are seeing a huge wave of buying of foreclosed homes in Northern and Southern California and in Florida. The numbers are too positive to think that these, the hardest-hit areas, aren't putting in long-term bottoms....
As is typical coming out of a recession, the stocks precede the bottom of housing. That's exactly what's happening with the lowest permits and highest affordability and best mortgage rates and massive inventory. Everywhere, except on Wall Street reporting, the bottom is bursting out. When you read the lead story in the Sunday
, and it is all about the thousands of prospective homebuyers heading south to pick up condos and homes for half of what they were worth two years ago -- or even less -- and you know that virtually no one has broken ground in the Sunshine State in a year, you can bet that the bottom's actually behind us.
There is no doubt that we will see more foreclosures if unemployment spikes badly from these levels; that always happens. But I am looking at a leveling off of claims, so I am factoring that in. Probably as many as half the Alt-As are not teasers, which means that as we get further and further from the last bad Alt-A quarter -- first quarter of 2007 -- we get some equity built up and we get some psychological reasons mounting that preclude easy walk-away. Yes, housing doesn't bottom until down 40%, but that's what we are getting! That's what is causing the bottom in the hard-hit areas, because that's where the rent/buy equation kicks in and where it is too expensive for homebuilders to build new homes, which dries up inventory faster than it can be created by foreclosures.
Housing affordability is driving the sea change and the bottom in housing, as we can see from these pending home sales this morning. We are seeing exactly what we want to see, a bottom in the South, where numbers rose 8.5% and are 7.7% above last year's numbers. The West is up 3.9% and is 1.7% above March of 2008.
When you get a housing starts number as low as when we had about 40% fewer people in this country, you can say, "That's all bad!" But when you think about what caused the housing crisis -- dramatic overbuild -- why would an "under-build" be bad?
If you are building 2 million homes a year, that's more than double the historic household creation number. Obviously there would be speculation in housing -- you don't get that many homes unless people are wagering on the asset.
When you get homes equal to half the natural household creation -- as is the case in this number today -- you are going to get the opposite: a rundown in supply that will eventually produce a bottom in pricing.
The negative observations I am hearing in interpreting the worsening Case-Shiller data this morning are, well, drivel.
The Case-Shiller Home Price Index is a very rearview mirror indication -- one that is materially lagging from current conditions, which are improving.
I recently mentioned on "The Kudlow Report" that some of the boom/bust areas of the country were stabilizing/improving. I had related a Phoenix trip a month ago that showed inventory clearance at sharply lower prices as a positive sign.
New York Times
on the Phoenix market's recovery.
And this weekend, I learned that in the higher-end home market in the Hamptons, activity had decidedly picked up. Indeed, a realtor related that in three situations over the past weekend, there was actually a bidding war for several properties.
Housing has already begun its recovery, from my perch.
A housing bottom occurs when Toll Brothers says that cancelations are much lower, but earnings are, too. A housing bottom occurs when the major homebuilders combine because they can't make any money. A housing bottom occurs when there is so little money to be made building a new home because existing homes are so cheap that there's no new building going on. A housing bottom occurs when an $8,000 tax credit for a $200,000 home all but forces renters to be first-time buyers, even with a 6% mortgage -- and we are not even there yet.
Jim Cramer, June 11 -- Housing Has Bottomed
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The housing bottom is here. With the explosion in starts in the South and West, the two areas hardest hit, we now know that the inventories have gotten too low, and the homebuilders sense that we have come to an end of the long national housing nightmare.
When you see that large a build as in these two areas and you see that housing permits are up for three straight months, you can't wait to sound the all-clear. The homebuilders certainly won't do it, as they are holding out for a bigger tax credit for homebuyers -- $15,000, and not just limited to first-time homebuyers. I can't tell you definitely that you won't get this, but I know that the president and the Treasury secretary don't want it, and they feel it is an unfair giveaway.
From my perch,
Jim's column was spot-on, as housing has almost with 100% certainty bottomed. Home prices are now clearing, albeit at depressed prices, as home price drops have brought prices relative to incomes and rental prices to levels that have attracted buyers. I am not typically a great fan of anecdotal research, but all three houses on my block in East Hampton sold in June (after being on the market for over a year each).
Yippee! Purchases of new homes in the U.S. declined in May! That's what we want to see. We want to see builders continually losing share to existing homes, because we don't want new homes being added to inventory, especially when the inventory is made up of foreclosed homes. We want to see it because as much as the Fed wants rates lower, I do not believe we can get them back to well under 5% because of the improvement in the economy.
The classic signal of a bottom requires two components: gigantic increases in sales and stabilization of price. Those are always the bottom and have been in
every single housing cycle
. Would it kill the opponents of my thesis to look into that fact?
Now, the worst four housing markets in the country -- California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada -- have all seen that exact combination, with Nevada being the latest in stats that came out yesterday. These four states represent 50% of the housing market. So, we have the definition of the cycle bottom -- not appreciation but stabilization -- in half the market, but more important, in the part of the market that
the housing crisis.
When I made my prediction a year ago that we would bottom and house prices would stabilize at the end of this month, I made it clear that I was calling for the classic cycle bottom: drying-up of inventory because of a sales explosion coupled with price stabilization, and we are having that happen in the most problematic half of the market.
Terrific! The Case-Shiller index says home prices bottomed in June! That's right, June figures showed that all 20 metropolitan areas increased since the previous month, ending the long slide, and the keepers of the index declared that a bottom in housing had occurred June 30.
There's a problem, though, a problem I knew that would cause an issue when I made my prediction that prices would bottom June 30. The index doesn't give you a June reading until the end of August. At that point it will be so painfully obvious it won't matter.
Yep, it will take two months for this silly index to register June readings, and if you're an investor, by then it will be too late. It will be obvious that foreclosed property held by banks will be worth more than it was when the institutions repossessed them, and that the Other Real Estate Owned category will begin to go down in value from sales or actually be viewed as a positive because there will be so little inventory left, a combination of low price, low rates -- remember that 5.5% rate that freaked people out? we've round-tripped that back -- and little new home construction.
Remember how real estate works. Start at zero. Prices climb, buyers chase. Prices climb, buyers balk. Prices plummet, buyers balk. Prices plummet again, buyers buy -- like mad. That's what happened over the last year, in totally predictable fashion, in one area after another that had been hard hit.
Something that seemed outlandish, given all of the foreclosure announcements, turned out to be empirical in the end.
A cycle's bottoming: first, tremendous demand, not enough inventory. Prices rise. Then too much inventory; prices plummet as buyers walk. Inventory cut back to equilibrium plus a government stimulus that leads to prices increases and the private sector chase.
We are between the latter two moments, so people are anticipating the turn. They are right to do it just as it was right to anticipate the much-scorned housing bottom.
It's always tough to confirm. The housing bottom data dribbles out. If you waited though, you missed so much already.
Real estate is regional. New York has not bottomed. But foreclosed housing prices fell through the price of new homes and they started selling. When sales explode in volume, that's when you have gotten a bottom in real estate for
real estate cycle. If you want to wait until pricing is up all over the country, then you will miss a move.
Other than Doug Kass, no one on the site believes me on the housing bottom. I am going: 1) by region to see it, and a bottom is reached every time prices fall 50%; and 2) it is a rolling bottom. New York was still going up when California got killed, so you cannot expect New York to be at the bottom. The components of my bottom include all forthcoming foreclosures, which are now being coveted by the banks because there is no reason to dump them on the market. The regulators aren't going to force you. Alt-A homes? Not a problem for all but the
players -- the worst loaners. But both JPMorgan and
took substantial writedowns in advance of the purchases. Doesn't matter. I can't convince anyone here but the market.
The more I reflect on the Toll Brothers' numbers, which include not just a low cancellation rate but the first time orders that rose in four years, the more I am in disbelief about the media commentary on housing. There is a relentless downbeat nature about the home industry: 44% underwater mortgages coming (Deutsche Bank), skyrocketing foreclosures, incredibly disappointing pricing, inability to get mortgage money and, most important, no life to the high end (everyone).
But this report, which confirms something Bob Toll said on
back in April, just puts the lie to those negatives. You can't have cancellation rates this low and not be able to get mortgage money. Toll's average home price is $500,000. Why would anyone be buying a house if they will be underwater immediately? Well, how about if they
need a house
I should have known that this stock could take off ahead of when Dougie gave us the heads-up, and not just because of Toll's appearance on my show. I should have known, because the short interest had spiked hugely here, ahead of the quarter, back to levels where the clever bears were making money. Once again, the housing bottom was clearly the end of the second quarter, yet it is not believed by anyone, save a handful of players.
It must be so difficult for people who don't follow the details to grasp how the mortgage "problem" switched to the mortgage "opportunity" three months ago, when housing in the hardest hit areas (California, Florida, Nevada, Arizona) bottomed. But the stocks told you. And it looks like they will tell you again, today.
I have been endlessly ridiculed in the press -- most recently
-- for saying that June 30 would be and ultimately was the bottom in housing. It is important to note that the most important indicator I follow, existing sales, has gotten so hot that the inventory -- despite all of these foreclosures -- is increasingly in short supply.
With builders unable to get capital, demand surging, immigration surging under Obama and a big change in sentiment coupled with under 5% mortgages for less than 15 years, you have a situation where I expect the inventory to be leaner than any time in the last five years....
All of the journalists and all the king's men can say I am wrong, but it is, alas, irrefutable.
This article was written by a staff member of TheStreet.com.