Thursday, April 09, 2009

Is This The Bottom? Part III

I think it is; I think it is. Maybe if I say it twice it will make it so. On March 20, I asked the "bottom" question for the first time. My reasons for asking were mainly technical in nature, although I said I believed the enormous under girding of the banking system by the Fed and other governmental agencies was starting to have an effect. I asked the "bottom" question again on March 26. This time I explained that my reasons for leaning to the affirmative were not only based on the technical action of stocks, but most importantly on the fundamentals. The last two weeks of March saw four economic releases for February housing data that were all better-than-expected. Good grief surely housing could not be turning, especially when home prices were still falling and defaults were still on the rise. But yes, new housing permits, new home sales, exiting home sales and pending home sales all turned higher in February and beat estimates by between 6% and 22%. I think yesterday's Wells Fargo pre-announcement of better-than-expected earnings validates the February housing data. It was clear from Wells Fargo's earnings pre-announcent that a big increase in mortgage originations was driving their good results. Now for some additional good news. I'm hearing anecdotal reports from realtors that I know around the country that March real estate readings in many of the most troubled areas of the country, such as Florida, California, and Arizona are turning up. In almost all cases the year over sales are up substantially, and the inventory of homes is shrinking. Home prices in all areas are still falling, but unit sales are increasing and walk-through business is growing rapidly. I have said many times before that real estate got us into this mess, and improvements in real estate will need to get us out. Increases in unit sales are good news for real estate and the economy, but we need for real estate prices to stabilize. That would seem to be many months off. However, the Fed's purchases of long-term Treasury bonds and mortgage backed securities has driven down 30-year mortgage rates to about 4.75%. That is proving to be a boon to refinancings as well as new buyers. My brother in Indianapolis says he has a number of buyers who are ready to buy, but they cannot sell their houses. That may not sound like good news, but it is. Just a few month ago, he said things were completely dead. The fall in mortgage rates is definitely putting more people in the market, and I'm hoping that one of them is interested in one of my brother's clients' homes, so a fortuitous chain reaction can begin. My sister-in-law in Arizona, says she has had more activity in the last few weeks than she has seen in months. It may seem early to call a bottom in the economy with only one month's data and a few anecdotes. Indeed, the good news may later be seen as false hope, but when you combine good data and anecdotes with the fact that stocks have staged a bona fide technical rally, the turn around appears to be sprouting legs.