Uh-Oh: Bonfire of the Builders

Wednesday, August 08, 2007 | 08:37 AM

BonfireI have been stating for quite some time that we are only halfway through the Housing downturn, if that. The huge inventory overhang, increased mortgage rates, tightening credit regulations -- and a lack of new buyers -- are conspiring to make this cycle at least a 5 year or so process from the top (August 2005).   

Now, we have heard many many erroneous Housing bottom calls from all manner of interested folks: former NAR economist David Lereah was a notorious bottom caller, as has been Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, and even in CNBC/RealMoney's Jim Cramer (November '06).

All those prior bottom calls turned out to be dead wrong.

However, a recent item caught my eye, and suggests that perhaps we are closer to a bottom -- at least in the Builders -- than I may  have realized: the cover story of the most recent BusinessWeek.

Now, before you run out and buy Toll Brothers (TOL) or Beazer Homes (BZH),  quite a few caveats are in order.

First, magazine covers are notoriously imprecise to use as a Buy/Sell timing signal. We often do not see the true results -- did a cover story truly mark the top or bottom of an issue --  for many months if not years. Consider the Time Magazine Cover "Why we are going gaga on real estate" -- it was a mere 2 months from the peak in the housing cycle. Shorting the Home Builders then would have been painful for a few months, but then become highly lucrative.

Second, the jury is still out on a more recent BW cover: It's a Low, Low, Low, Low-Rate World: Why money may stay cheap longer than you think. That came out in February, and since then rates slipped lower, moved much higher, and then retraced some of those gains. As the author of that cover story, Mike Mandel, noted "Magazine cover curse had been evaded--so far." That is mostly true in terms of interest rates, it is far less so in terms of the availability of credit (see The Credit Window is Now Closed).      

Still, its premature to claim that particular cover was a great indicator (yet).

And its worth noting that BusinessWeek may very well be a less reliable contrary indicator than mainstream publications like Time or Newsweek -- if only because BW covers these sectors anyway.

When an economic issue makes the cover of Time, its guaranteed to be already very late in the game. With BW, that's not necessarily true. I suspect BusinessWeek gets lumped into this group -- more so than Barron's or Fortune, or Forbes -- because they have never lived down the Death of Equities cover article . . .


UPDATE August 8, 2007 3:12pm

I see in comments that Calculated Risk (coincidentally) covered the same story yesterday, but reached a somewhat different conclusion. We are sympatico on the macro picture, but I think this bounce will be high enough to sucker some EMH believers back in . . .   



A nice table accompanies the issue, showing the Home Builders performance
click thru for full table



For more on the Magazine Cover Indicator, see these articles


Bonfire Of The Builders
Mara Der Hovanesian
Businessweek, AUGUST 13, 2007

Home Builder's performance Table

Wednesday, August 08, 2007 | 08:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (44) | TrackBack (1)
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» Pending home sales index drop to lowest level ever from The Big Picture
Ouch!The battered housing sector took another blow Tuesday, with an industry group reporting that a gauge of pending home sales tumbled to its lowest level ever as the credit crunch restrains purchases. The National Association of Realtors' index for p... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 2, 2007 1:38:17 PM


High Interest rates are suffocating the economy already.

In the last three decades when the last(quarterly average) rise in interest rates takes place
and Nominal GDP year-over-year growth starts to decelerate , the Fed has
cut rates in within one quarter of this event, every time except for 1998.

This time around we are in the fourth quarter of declining Nominal GDP growth.

By this measure, Mr. Bernanke is already late!

The lower US Dollar, high CPI rate and the Chairman’s reputation, prevent
the Fed from lowering rates.

See this graphically at “Fed Meeting “, August 5, 2007

Posted by: will rahal | Aug 8, 2007 9:12:10 AM

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