New home sales exploded in March, beginning what we think will be a major buying push that will run through the next few months as the lagged data around the homebuyer tax credit comes trickling through. Remember, we're now just one week away from the expiration on the tax credit. The March data released this morning came in at 411k (seasonally adjusted annualized rate) vs. consensus for 330k and last month's print of 308k (the lowest level in 12 months).
Inventory fell to 6.7 months from 8.6 months last month (downwardly revised from 9.2 months). While inventory is down significantly off its 1H09 highs in the 11-12 months range, it is still above its normalized range of 4 months.
As was the case with yesterday's existing home sales print, this March print is a lagging indicator as it reflects deals closed two to three months ago (Jan/Feb). In our view, the relevant benchmark is how it compares with August 2009's print of 408k. Against that measure, it's flat. The original tax credit expired in November, 2009, putting August 3 months ahead of that expiration. The current credit (for closing) expires June 30 (April 30 for signing), which means 3 months ahead equals March.
To reiterate our message from yesterday, we continue to expect a pull-forward of activity not unlike what we saw going into last November. However, in the real world of non-lagged data, this means buying activity will have to be wrapped up in the next 7 days. The NAR has indicated that the tax credit has done its job and that a further round of stimulus won't be necessary. We think the jury is still out on that, and we remain rather skeptical. Our view is that this pull forward of activity is setting the stage for a much weaker-than-usual summer housing environment where inventory could back up into the 1H09 levels of the 11-12 months.
Here's a chart showing sales levels in historical context.
And this chart shows inventory levels in historical context.
Joshua Steiner, CFA