US house prices face ‘double-dip’ risk

US house pricesApr10.pngFebruary was a milestone in US house markets. For the first time since December 2006, prices were higher than a year ago, according to today’s authoritative S&P/Case Shiller Index. But the rise in the 10 City and 20 City indices was just 1%. And as the above S&P chart shows, prices are still only at Q3/Q4 2003 levels, even before adjusting for inflation.

S&P expect further gains in March/April, as buyers rush to beat this week’s expiry of the $8k buyer’s tax credit. But fears are rising that this $12.6bn programme (like auto scrappage schemes) has only brought forward already-planned purchases and not created much new demand.

Yale University Prof Robert Shiller, co-author of the Index, worries about this, noting thatI do have concern about a double dip” once Federal support is removed. The problem is that 1.1m homes are now in foreclosure, up 20% versus last year. Whilst another 4.8m people are either 60 days overdue on their mortgage payments, or already entering foreclosure – a 30% increase on 2009.

Banks have $2.6trn of mortgage loans on their books, and been very slow to crystallise their mortgage losses. This has caused ‘shadow’ inventory to build, in addition to those houses publicly advertised via realtors. The Wall Street Journal estimates it would take 9 years to work through published and ‘shadow’ inventory, at current sales rates.

About Paul Hodges

Paul Hodges is Chairman of International eChem, trusted commercial advisers to the global chemical industry. The aim of this blog is to share ideas about the influences that may shape the chemical industry over the next 12 – 18 months. It will try to look behind today’s headlines, to understand what may happen next in important issues such oil prices, economic growth and the environment. We may also have some fun, investigating a few of the more offbeat events that take place from time to time. Please do join me and share your thoughts. Between us, we will hopefully develop useful insights into the key factors that will drive the industry's future performance.

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