Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Analysis of New Home Price Index

While some people are celebrating the spring with the signs of the shoots, bottoming of the real estate market, rebound in oil prices, it could just be another case of triumph of hope over reality. Patience is the name of the game and those who are sitting without any interest in the markets can afford to wait out. There's no urgency. There's no rush.
The fluctuations in median/mean prices of new homes in Edmonton and Calgary could just be noise though the incontrovertible fact is that prices have been falling for almost 2 years now. That is if you bought anytime in 2007 or 2008, you are in the red.
The new home price index in Alberta gives an interesting perspective as it represents a more controlled set of sample space. In the index, they get information from the same representative builders/contractors who sell largely same/similar homes.

"The New Housing Price Index (NHPI) is a monthly series that measures changes over time in the contractors' selling prices of new residential houses, where detailed specifications pertaining to each house remain the same between two consecutive periods."

The new house price Index is down to 230.8 in Calgary from a peak of 248.2 in 2008. The Edmonton index has fallen more rapidly to 213.1 from a peak of 236.2 in 2008. Please not that the monthly peaks could be higher than the values I have as I did not want to give $6 to StatsCan for getting the montly data that should really be freely availalbe. And if that is the case, then the over pricing will be even more spectacular.

Given the humble readings of 137 and 147 for Edmonton and Calgary in 2005, one can easily see the 'bubble' there. From 100 in 1997 to around 150 took over 8 years, yet the index gained another 100 points in less than 3 years. And for all the arguments about increasing population etc, Alberta's population grew just as fast in 1996-2001 than it did between 2001-2006.

Why did the prices rise so much and so fast? For the same reasons it rose in just about all parts of the world. Easy credit. Speculation. 'Real Estate always goes up' mantra.

That game is over now, except in the minds of a few who are invested heavingly in real estate, either via vocation or investments. For us, we are losing our affinity to this province as we don't work in the Energy sector and our small business is taking off in a big way. As and when we decide to expand, we don't want to be based in Alberta for reasons we witnessed in the last few years. So we really have no interst in the market, except as an observer.

On a broader scale, what we are seeing now is a desperate attempt to revive the 'decoupling myth'. That's why the rush to commodities currencies, oil and everything else. OPEC has so far cut about 3 mbpd production and yet we keep on talking about supply constraints. Everyone (banks, hedge funds etc) is trying to play the same old game(lower dollar, higher commodities, rising stocks) because this is the only game they know. But alas! the numbers tell something else. Chinese exports are still falling hard (down 23% YOY) and it seems most of the stimulus China is providing is going into building more new factories even when the power consumption and utilization is all going down in the existing factories. But that's the only thing the Chinese government can do since it doesn't have any banksters to bail out.

Returning to the index of new home prices, if the prices were to keep pace only with inflation of 3% per annum, then we would see price index of roughly 143 or so in both Edmonton and Calgary, last seen in 2005. I recall that several long time investors who bought during mid 90s bust in Alberta sold in 2005 because the market was getting frothy at that time.

For a new home that is now selling at around $400k in Calgary, it's inflation adjusted price based on 1997 base of 100 should be $400*143/236 or around $242k. Remember, 143 is the inflation adjusted index based on an anuual inflation of 3% since 1997.
A similar home in Edmonton should sell for $400*143/213 or around 268k.

Which means, we are not even half way through the declines yet, assuming there's no over swinging of the pendulum to ther other side.
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