3-MTH Manhattan Sub-market Pending Sales Check

Posted by urbandigs

Wed Aug 24th, 2011 10:27 AM

A: Lets try something new here and take a look at the most recent 3-month trends of demand (pending sales) for all the Manhattan sub-markets in the UrbanDigs tracking system. Lets see who the over/under-performers are given the volatility in equity markets lately and the end of the active season. The results may surprise you.

Please remember that the real-time UrbanDigs system was engineered to eliminate both stale listings and listings exposed to ongoing data integrity breaches; making the final inventory count much lower than comparable reports. This was necessary to ensure the highest quality data analytics for Manhattan real estate. As with any analysis, data quality and sample size are of utmost importance. For neighborhoods with too little data, we grouped together more zip codes around the immediate area to get a larger sample size in order to show a better representation of any trend.


Chelsea/Midtown South: +9.6%
Inwood/Wash. Heights: +8.8%
Murray Hill/Kips Bay: +7.7%
Fidi/Civic Center: -5.3%
Tribeca: -11.8%
Gramercy/Flatiron: -13.4%
Midtown East: -14.2%
Soho/Noho/West Village: -17.1%
Harlem/Morningside Heights: -18.7%
Harlem/Hamilton Heights: -20.7%
Upper West Side: -21.7%
Midtown West/Clinton: -21.9%
Upper East Side: -23.4%
LES/East Village/Union Square: -23.7%
Battery Park City: -28.6%
East Harlem: -30.8%

*Subcriber now to further break down trends by # of bathrooms and price point

The Leaders --> Chelsea/Midtown South, Inwood/Wash Heights and Murray Hill/Kips Bay

The Laggards --> East Harlem, UES, UWS, Midtown West, LES/E.Village/Union Square, Battery Park City

Interesting indeed. Buyers and sellers should be cognizant of not only what the Manhattan market is doing, but what their local sub-market is doing as well. As you can see, different segments of the Manhattan market are bucking the trend with a recent rising pace of demand even in the face of extreme volatility and a general seasonal slowdown.

I'll try to find time to a similar post on supply trends tomorrow.

Mortgage Rates & Confidence / Banks Dont Let Rates Fall

Posted by urbandigs

Mon Aug 22nd, 2011 09:51 AM

A: Few things first. Number one, confidence always trumps lending rates. The data shows that record low mortgage rates are more of a boon to those seeking to refinance. Number two, make no mistake about it that rates are this low because uncertainty is rising and confidence is falling as our economy teeters on the verge of another recession - not the best combination for masses of new buyers to enter the marketplace. Add in a negative wealth effect as markets tend to fall hard when rates get so low and that may give new buyers some pause. So lets at least accept reality and take the good with the bad. Between 2005 and 2006, the peak of the housing markets, 30yr fixed mortgage rates were between 5.5% and 6.5%; and purchase volume was significantly higher as opposed to now with rates so much lower! With 30yr rates at historic lows today around 4.3%, most of the action is in refinancing, not new purchases. I want to quickly discuss why lending rates did not fall as much as Treasury rates over the past 4-6 weeks; where 10YR US Treasury yields declined over 100 basis points.

There are two main reasons why lending rates might diverge from trends in the US Treasury market in times of turbulence...

#1: Mortgage rates are priced off of mortgage bonds, not US Treasury yields, and are exposed to rising levels of credit risk. Higher credit risk, higher rate. Most of us use the 10YR US Treasury yield as an indication to where lending rates are trending, because not many of us out there have access to current pricing on mortgage bonds (you can check out US Govt Agency yields here). In normal times, yes, lending rates will have a relationship to trends in the 10YR Treasury market. However, in times of rising default risk expect a divergence.

#2: Banks can hold rates steady as Fees Rise and new Applications exceed capacity. This applies mostly to refinance applications when rates take a sharp move down. There seems to be fewer new purchase applications as a direct result of declining confidence as macro economic conditions deteriorate causing rates to fall in the first place.

Its item #2 that we have been seeing over the past 4-6 weeks resulting in much lower US Treasury yields, but not a synchronous fall in lending rates. A Streeteasy.com discussion starts out with a user stating:

"I'm set to close next week and the rate we locked in 1 month ago is high compared to what it is today (4.875). We've asked our broker to just let the lock expire so that we can lock in at current rates. She keeps telling us that HER rates haven't changed!"
Oh I believe it and wrote about it a week ago. While every buying situation is unique and exposed to different variables that may affect the lending rate, its the general awareness that lending rates did NOT fall as much as they should have considering the fall in Treasury yields that got this buyer upset. There are very real reasons, as discussed above, for why lending rates did not fall as far as some expected.

MortgageNewsDaily.com discusses, "Refinance Applications Surge on Lower Rates - Purchases Fall":
MBA's Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage application volume, increased 4.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier. This follows a jump of 21.7 percent recorded in the previous week (see chart below).


The increases are being driven by refinancing which accounted for 78.8 percent of the market this week and 75.6 percent in the previous week. The refinancing share is the highest it has been since November 2010. "Unprecedented volatility in the stock market last week amid additional signs that the economy has slowed led to further drops in mortgage rates, with the 15-year rate reaching a new low for the MBA survey," said Mike Fratantoni, MBA's Vice President of Research and Economics. "Purchase application activity fell sharply over the previous week, likely the result of potential homebuyers hesitant to purchase in this highly volatile and uncertain environment."

Fratantoni continued, "Refinance application volume increased substantially for the week, although there was substantial variation across the market. In September MBA's Weekly Applications Survey will transition to an expanded sample that covers 75% of the retail market rather than the current sample that covers roughly 50% of the retail market. That expanded sample showed a significantly larger increase in refinance applications than the current sample, with some lenders reporting increases in refinance applications in excess of 50 percent for the week. The big differences in refinance volumes were likely driven by the decisions of some lenders not to drop rates last week, largely due to the need to manage their pipelines."
Its that last sentence that I wanted readers to see. A big reason why lending rates did not fall as far as Treasury yields was due to banks managing the substantial rise in refinancing applications (mostly refinancing requests) and managing their pipeline.

Record low rates should incentivize risk, and should incentivize buyers to take advantage. But it rarely works this way in housing markets due to the elements of 'confidence' and the 'wealth effect'. Rather, investors that are losing confidence in the broader economic picture tend to look at big investments as a potential depreciating asset in troubling times. So, they either wait it out or bid low and try to price in future downside risk. At the beginning of the cycle, sellers hold firm, reluctant to hit a lower bid unless their fear levels are high or forced under a time pressure to liquidate. This 'gap' between bid/ask can cause markets to experience plunging volume making the asset class itself very illiquid - this is exactly what happened to Manhattan in late 2008 into early 2009.

For 5 months between October 2008 and February 2009, we saw monthly new contracts volume below the 500 level (3 months under 360 level) as our market was exposed to plunging confidence, rising uncertainty and a severe negative wealth effect resulting in an absence of bids; see this chart below:

*Subscribe now to access all of UrbanDigs' Real-time Manhattan tracking tools

Its all about the Bids and that period defined the Manhattan downturn! Looking back, many buyers wished they would have pulled the trigger at that point. But hindsight is 20/20 and if you put yourself back into time & place, fear was just too high to bid without future risks priced in. So the market shut down and when you need to sell something in an illiquid marketplace, a lower price is really your only option. That is how these things become cycles and if you think about it, this really is just one big credit/housing bust cycle that has been going on for years now. Consider this another ripple in the wave and record low rates are one side effect as the markets try to balance themselves to incentivize risk taking.

Fed Lent $1.2Trln to Wall Street at Height of Crisis

Posted by urbandigs

Sun Aug 21st, 2011 07:24 PM

A: Pardon me for asking, but why the heck were these guys allowed to get this big in the first place and lever up this much if the lender of last resort ultimately will be the fed and the government? These are the questions regulators should be focusing on so that this never happens again. Bloomberg is out today with some numbers over the secret Fed loans during the height of the crisis after Lehman's failure; and the numbers are staggering. If you give a bully your lunch money every day, whats to stop the bully from ever changing his ways? I dont know what needs to happen to prevent moral hazard from re-igniting another wall street invention, boom, bust and ultimate bailout down the road.

Bloomberg reports, "Wall Street Aristocracy Got $1.2 Trillion in Fed's Secret Loans":

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke's unprecedented effort to keep the economy from plunging into depression included lending banks and other companies as much as $1.2 trillion of public money, about the same amount U.S. homeowners currently owe on 6.5 million delinquent and foreclosed mortgages. The largest borrower, Morgan Stanley, got as much as $107.3 billion, while Citigroup took $99.5 billion and Bank of America $91.4 billion, according to a Bloomberg News compilation of data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, months of litigation and an act of Congress.

The $1.2 trillion peak on Dec. 5, 2008 -- the combined outstanding balance under the seven programs tallied by Bloomberg -- was almost three times the size of the U.S. federal budget deficit that year and more than the total earnings of all federally insured banks in the U.S. for the decade through 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
There is much more in the article. The fed and govt guaranteed everything and anything and got to the point where they accepted junk bonds and stock holdings as collateral for loans. Thats how bad it got. When times are good, shouldn't the banks sock some money away to build up enough of a fund for a future rainy day? Or is the idea always going to be to privatize profits and socialize losses?

Here is a chart from the article showing the loans given to the top firms:


Unfortunately our banking system is no where near ready to be let off fed/govt ICU support. Especially when Euro banks are facing their own issues proving once again how interconnected this banking system really is. So connected that our Fed is now looking into the situation of which banks need what kinds of funding to run day to day operations.

Should Lloyds, Barclays, SocGen, Unicredit or RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland based in UK) have a run, fail, or need to be nationalized, look out for a mini Lehman type of shockwave on top of what we already saw these past few months. Last week an unidentified bank required a $500m emergency loan with a penalty rate from the ECB, further pouring gas on the fire. Mish thinks that might have been Germany's Commerzbank. Meanwhile the ECB is stuck and the idea of Eurobonds to save the system seems off the table. Its really one big mess over in Euro-bank land right now and who knows what surprise lies around the corner.

Risk Off! / 10YR US Treasury Yields 1.986%

Posted by urbandigs

Thu Aug 18th, 2011 10:31 AM

A: Wow, talk about risk off trading. Despite fears of surging rates (myself included) that may arise as part of endgame or a US credit downgrade, money is surging into treasuries sending yields sharply lower. For now, safety is in US Treasuries and Gold. My fear remains, what happens if something changes in regards to the perception that US Treasuries are uber safe and still a bargain with yields so low? What happens if even US Treasuries selloff as other asset classes selloff? That was my real fear, but its completely misplaced right now and flat out wrong. Going against me big time is the fact that the US treasury market is the one place that you can put hundreds of billions of dollars to work, and get it back. No other treasury market is considered as safe and as liquid. So for now, its a big time safe haven and a global deflationary signal.

Via Yahoo Finance:


With crazy moves like this in the 10YR, I just wonder how fast the reversal might be whenever it comes. 10YR yields at 1.986%, crazy times indeed when investors are willing to take that kind of return; very deflationary.

Global Growth Downgraded / Banks Hoarding, Not Lending...

Posted by urbandigs

Thu Aug 18th, 2011 09:35 AM

A: On the heels of a global growth downgrade from Morgan Stanley, I wanted to briefly check back in on the excess reserves being held by the banking system. We all want banks to be in the business of credit creation via new loans. But we also know since the repeal of Glass Steagall that they got way deeper into investment banking as the housing and credit boom took off during the last decade. Now that the party crashed, banks continue to hoard money in excess reserves where the fed is sterilizing the newly printed money by paying interest on those reserves. One thing is for sure, that money is not entering the economic system, not being extended into new loans and not being multiplied by our fractional reserve banking system. In other words banks are hoarding, not lending.

It may not be politically correct or 'the American way' to say this, but banks not lending is probably the best move they can make given the quality of balance sheets and current macro economic conditions. Whether we like it or not, we are still deleveraging and repairing balance sheets. Ask yourself, do we really want banks to overextend credit to an already overleveraged consumer or business in a high unemployment environment following a once in a lifetime housing and credit bust? The answer is no. If anything, now we know what can happen when loans go bad in a mass way.

We knew banks needed to be more prudent in regards to whom they lend to, if we are to avoid another catastrophic wave of mortgage/debt related writedowns/chargeoffs. We also knew that banks needed to cut back the fierce extension of credit that was handed out for much of the last 7-8 years. This is deflation in its purest form - a contraction of credit. Its painful but it must happen and it will happen regardless of government/central bank intervention. After all the stimulus, all the liquidity injections, all the bailouts, all the asset swap programs, what do we have for it in the end?? We have more calls to apply fiscal and monetary policy to stimulate past whatever down cycle we are going through right now - case in point, according to Bloomberg, "Morgan Stanley Lowers Global Growth Forecast"; any why did they do this? And I quote...

"...Morgan Stanley cut its forecast for global growth this year, citing an "insufficient" policy response to Europe's sovereign debt crisis, weakened confidence and the prospect of fiscal tightening."
So now the downturn is related to not enough policy response even though the ECB recently announced they will buy sovereign bonds. When will these guys learn that central banks are pushing on a string! And when will they learn that eventually all this liquidity will have to be removed from the marketplace; please tell me what happens when we really start to tighten?

Back to the point. In times like these, consumers and businesses don't want to take on more debt; rather, they are trying to delever and repair their own balance sheets to get their own fiscal houses in order. Even though I never missed a credit card payment, Citibank cut my credit line from $52,000 down to $11,500 about 18 months ago; an example of how everyone is likely affected by deflationary credit contraction in some way or another. It was the right move for them to do given the times, and they probably did it for most of their credit card customers.

These are all the symptoms of deflation and the unwinding process after more than a decade of policy responses to market forces. The banks are at the center of it. We must understand that banks are not reserve constrained, rather they are capital constrained. And this will continue as long as banks are in the business of buying and selling complex derivatives and writing credit default swaps, etc..Why not right? Fees are good, bonuses come in, and the fed or government will always be there to bail them out if things get hairy. Or at least guarantee any piece of shit CDO they can't unload in the open marketplace at a price they want. Take a look at Banks Excess Reserves, courtesy of the St. Louis Fed, and tell me if it looks like banks are hoarding right now:


Yes, that is $1.6trln in excess reserves being held by depository institutions right now. Our fractional reserve system of banking that was designed to multiply money via credit creation so that everyone can trade with one other (velocity of money), is in reverse right now -as evidence by this chart of the M1 Money Multiplier over at the St. Louis Fed. Another way of explaining is that you can flood the system with money, but you can't force banks to lend and you cant force consumers or businesses to borrow it ('you can lead a horse to water...but you can't make him drink'). And that is what's happening. The fed flooded the markets with liquidity, but could not control where it all ended up all in an effort to recapitalize the banking system - 'the dollar carry trade - search for yield' discussion. The reflation lasted about 27 months and here we are talking about the same shit except now in Europe. What happens when it hits Asia real hard? These are the worries that are hitting confidence right now.

Today looks to be another volatile open and with it we should expect interbank rates and other credit indicators (I like to look at the 3-Mth LIBOR OIS Spread as a signal for rising interbank lending risk) to show some stress again. We are yet to experience how Europe's debt issues will affect our greatly interwoven banking system - oh what a tangled web we weave!

The Slowest Part of the Calendar Year for Manhattan

Posted by urbandigs

Mon Aug 15th, 2011 09:55 AM

A: Hey, it has to be slow at some time relative to other parts of the year right? Our real time inventory trends data goes back to January 2008 for reasons discussed while we were in development - if your a data junkie and want a detailed look into those reasons, read "The New Dev Problem: Standardizing The Listing System". The core of the issue lies in unlisted new development units that were in reality actively marketed between early 2006 and early 2008. The effect was greatly under-inflated supply trends and delayed pending sales for units that were signed into contract way earlier than reported. In short, the data was poisoning an otherwise elegant real time tracking system that we built forcing us to remove the poison and restrict historical inventory trends to 2008.

Back to the original point of the post. Since 2008, the two slowest months of the year appear to be August & September. If we added up the total # of Manhattan contracts that were signed by month for the past 3 1/2 years, and created a chart so we can see monthly performance and year over year performance, it would look like this:


Since monthly production affects the overall trend, we can see how this time of year tends to affect measurements like Manhattan Pending Sales - see the line chart below where I shaded out the AUG/SEPT period since 2008:


All of the shaded areas show a relative downtrend in the pace of demand (pending sales) compared to the months prior - in line with the monthly bar chart showing total # of contracts signed above it. This pattern reflects our local market's seasonality - active between February and June, slower between July and September.

After Labor Day our market tends to wake up, as we see more listings come on the active marketplace for sale. While demand also ticks up after Labor Day, it does so at a lag to new inventory. In other words, first the 'stuff' comes onto the market, then the buyer's bid for the 'stuff' - in normal seasonal markets, demand tends to follow supply. If little or no new 'stuff' comes onto the market, how can demand trends rise?

In seasonally slow markets, we tend to see:

a) pace of new inventory fall - check, we have been seeing that
b) pace of new demand fall - check, we have been seeing that
c) pace of listings removed from the market rise - check, we have been seeing that

Over the last 3-MONTHS, I see the Manhattan market experiencing:

Inventory Trends (supply) --> Down 12.7%
Pending Sales Trends (demand) --> Down 11.8%
Off-Market Trends --> Up 14.5%

So regardless of what is happening in equity markets across the globe, I don't see anything outside of typical seasonality right now in our markets. Contracts are still being signed, fewer listings are coming to market, and more listings are being removed from the active marketplace. I do not see any evidence of a shift in price action at this time (it's never an immediate 1:1 reaction between an equity selloff and Manhattan pricing anyway - so if anything, my awareness for such a signal is heightened right now). Instead, both buyers and sellers need to adapt to typical seasonality that sees a drop in the pace of demand relative to a few months prior.

Fred Peters has a nice post out today on 'Negotiating in Today's Market'; its worth a read:

"Speaking of thought and rationality and real estate, let's take a look at the negotiation process as it unfolds in an environment like this one. Buyers and sellers must both exercise caution in their responses to the current situation. For buyers, the tendency is to immediately interpret any instability like that which followed on the heels of the S & P debt downgrade as a sign that sellers should immediately shave an additional 15% off their prices. We have no idea if that will happen (my guess is it won't) but it certainly has not happened in the last week! That said, sellers also need to be cautious in refusing to accept offers which are within a stone's throw of their realistic goals. Real buyers making real offers are not to be dismissed lightly.

So...realistic buyers know that it is not appropriate to make offers 20% below an asking price, but they also know they have more leverage than they did a few months ago when the market experienced its hot spring moment. April and May were a phenomenon which we will not see again for a while, with a 2007-like fervor gripping buyers. Even at the high end of the market, and in new developments, where deals continue to be made at excellent prices, there is considerably less urgency than there was two months ago. And I do not anticipate that that will change in September. "
I agree completely and the real time data confirms it. Talk to your buy side or sell side agent for specific advice unique to your situation to take advantage of current market trends properly.

Credit Spreads Widening / 10YR Treasury Yields / Lending Rates Rise?

Posted by urbandigs

Thu Aug 11th, 2011 07:00 AM

A: Money continues to pour into US Treasuries despite last week's credit downgrade, sending yields sharply lower across the curve. All one needs to do is look at a 5YR chart of 10YR US Treasuries to see when the markets were most fearful. Its interesting because today's environment is not about the US banking system and US housing markets; even though both still have their issues. This time, the real fear is whats happening in Europe. The last time US Treasuries rallied this sharply in this short a period of time, was late 2008 and into 2009 right after Lehman Brothers failed. The chart speaks for itself. The question I want to raise is, why did lending rates rise today?

First lets check a chart on US Treasuries Via Yahoo Finance - 10 YR US Treasury Yields (5yr chart)


Telling. The markets don't hide fear very well!

Now, I checked with a lender Ive known for a long time at one of the bigger banks out there and was told...."believe it or not, mortgage rates rose today...". Oh I believe it. When credit risk starts to rise, we should expect mortgage rates to diverge from the trend of 10YR US Treasury rates. Its exactly what happened at the beginning of the credit crisis in late 2007, recall this discussion from almost 4 years ago, "Bond Yields & Mortgage Rates No Longer Related":

In the past there was a much closer relationship between 10YR bond yields and lending rates, but something changed. Risk joined the party. As a result, investors deemed mortgage related security products much riskier than in the past and would only be interested if the yield that came with this riskier bet was increased. For main street, any debt that is related to the current fear of delinquency & default risk, comes with a higher borrowing cost. In this new world where risk has been re-priced, that is the key term here, bond yields are no longer a reliable indicator to the future direction of lending rates. Instead, lending rates will be more closely tied to the evolving credit crunch and will act more on credit history than ever before!
We all know how that party ended! After the fed engineered inter- bank lending spreads and other credit spreads to narrow, perhaps we might be entering a new, albeit, less fierce phase of credit distress. I dont know, just talking some inner gut feelings here. Watch the TED spread so you can keep an eye on inter-bank lending spreads; if banks fear lending to each other, that can be a force that enhances whatever down cycle we may be in right now.

Back to the point. Mortgage rates are priced off movements in mortgage bonds, like Fannie Mae 30yr bond yields, not US treasuries. We tend to use 10YR US Treasuries because its more widely followed; I mean, how many of us out there have a real time feed to govt agency yields? It's only when rising credit risk gets out of whack that you will see agency yields diverge from US treasury yields; in essence, widening the spread between the two.

And that is starting to happen a bit right now: credit spreads are slightly widening! Bloomberg reported a few days ago, "Agency Mortgage-Debt Spreads Widen to Most in Two Years After Downgrades":
Yields on the home-loan bonds of the biggest U.S. mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac jumped to the highest relative to U.S. Treasuries in more than two years...Spreads on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's unsecured corporate bonds and other so-called agency debt also widened. "The market lately has preferred to sell agencies because their liquidity is inferior to Treasuries," James Rhodes, a strategist at UBS AG, wrote today in a report.
A UD reader asks me, "do you think the TED is still relevant w/the amount of government interference in the markets? "

Great question. Honestly, Im not sure on this one. I would lean to answer YES, I think in regards to interpreting an environment with perceived rising credit risk, I would expect interbank rates to rise and short term US t-bill rates to fall regardless of fed/govt intervention. Markets will do what markets want even in the face of interventions. You may kick the can down the road for a while, but the problems still exist and the markets will smell them out. If counterparty risk is on the rise, this would widen the spread and indicate rising credit risk in the banking system.

The TED spread has been stuck in a manipulated range for 2+yrs now, as the fed/govt guaranteed everything and engineered a bank re-capitalization environment (dollar carry trade) by forcing money into any risk asset with a yield - causing the reflation from the lows in 2009 to the highs in April 2011. Granted, credit stress is no where near the levels seen at the height of the crisis; so no, its not as bad as it was in late 2008.

But it warrants a close eye to see if that TED spread surges out of that manipulated range now that markets are in crazy mode.

Futures Extend Slide / Manhattan Real-Time Ticker

Posted by urbandigs

Mon Aug 8th, 2011 08:59 PM

A: Futures after hours are sliding right now after today's bloodbath. As it looks now, markets will open down another 2.5% tomorrow. Not the best news I know, but sometimes this is the kind of open traders look for to get a nice bounce the following day. Also Im being asked if this is hitting the streets if Manhattan real estate so lets check how the real time market ticker is doing today compared with where it was 6 weeks to get an idea of where Manhattan inventory trends are ticking.

First, a snapshot of the futures markets via Bloomberg.com:


Fair value is +5 on the S&P so the pressure is even a bit further to the downside. This may not be such a bad thing though. On record selloff days, traders used to hope for a gap down the following morning which usually purges the markets of some short term pressures and triggers a relief rally. If the futures are there already, lets open down 3% tomorrow as that may setup a trading bounce by the end of the following session. Not a prediction or anything, just some old day trader talk as its not everyday you see these big volume 5%-6%+ down days.

As far as Manhattan real estate is concerned, the most real time look we have at changing inventory trends is the 30-Day Real-Time Market Ticker - which is directly fed by the RLS internal broker sharing system and updates every two hours for subscribers. Lets compare the ticker as it looks right now on UrbanDigs.com to how it looked about 6 weeks ago - so we can see the change in the trends:

SNAPSHOT: JUNE 22, 2011 versus TODAY, AUGUST 8th, 2011


I look at the 30-day moving window pace, and boxed it out above so you compare the trend from 6 weeks ago to how it is today. Its clear that:

1) Pace of new supply coming to market is DOWN
2) Pace of new contracts being signed is DOWN
3) Pace of listings being removed from the active market is UP

Since the pace of supply is falling along with the pace of demand, partially due to rising off-market trends, the recent downward trend in demand is somewhat muted and some may argue, seasonal. Recall from the months after Lehman brothers that if this market really were to experience a shock, we should expect 3 things to happen:

1) Pace of new supply coming to market will surge
2) Pace of new contracts being signed will plunge
3) Pace of listings being removed from the active market will surge

Subscribers can see this in the charts:
New Supply Surges in late 2008
New Demand Plummets in late 2008
Off-Market Trends Surges in late 2008

The reason why active inventory rises in times of market stress is because the seller pool as a whole in the market tends to swell when fear rises. More sellers, that otherwise would not list property, will look to liquidate either out of fear or out of a need to raise dollars. In fact, the seller pool will swell so much that a rise in off-market trends won't be enough to pressure supply to the downside. Think about it, if 3,000 listings come to market and 1,500 listings are taken off market, we have a net gain of +1,500 units that need to be absorbed by new demand or else inventory trends will rise.

Current supply is always a function of the pace of new supply coming to market against both the pace of demand and the pace of listings being removed from the active market!

Keep your eye on the ticker to see how it is in another 4 weeks and you'll know where the market is ticking.

Equity Markets Tank 5%-6%+ / Gold Surges

Posted by urbandigs

Mon Aug 8th, 2011 05:22 PM

A: We have now seen a roughly 16%+ selloff in stock indexes over the last 3 weeks. This is the kind of market activity that causes people to slow down and take a breath or two. In the face of a US credit rating downgrade, US treasuries are still rallying hard sending yields much much lower. This is a sure sign that investors continue to perceive US govt debt as a safe play relative to other options out there; even in the wake of the recent downgrade. It is also a sign of declining confidence. Many thought, myself included, that a credit downgrade would bring with it at least a slight reversal in the recent treasury rally. It didnt; the opposite occurred. The fact that gold and bonds are surging while equities around the world sink, tells me that investors are pricing in the likelihood of a notable global economic slowdown with the potential for more stimulus/bailouts or other central bank types of market interventions. Lets discuss.

First I want to get this out of the way. The US will not default on its debt obligations when we can print more money to pay interest to creditors. Rather, this debt downgrade is more a function of a) the unsustainable direction of our nations debt, call it debt trajectory if you want + b) governments unwillingness to compromise on a solution to reverse that trajectory. There are other countries out there rated AAA with a debt to GDP worse than ours, so it goes beyond the math here. markets_aug81.jpgThat is what worries me and I think is what is driving the recent selloff. If the US is not AAA, how can France or Luxembourg or the UK be? Make no mistake about it, issues in the Eurozone are playing a big role in global markets right now. Take a look at the snapshot of US markets to the right as they ended today; one for the books.

Back to the US downgrade. Part of our debt trajectory is due to the ginormous bailouts and transfer of wealth that our government and our fed did to stave off a depression. So lets not point fingers at the teaparty, or the republicans, or the democrats. We knew this was coming. We brought this onto ourselves with our repealing of Glass-Steagall in the late 90s that separated investment firms and traditional FDIC insured banks, with the de-regulation of derivative markets in 2000, with our easing of leverage rules in 2004 that allowed investment firms to lever up 30:1, 40:1 or more, with super loose monetary policy from 2000-2003 fueling a housing/credit bubble, the push for subprime lending to stimulate homeownership, the push for easier/automated underwriting policies to get the loans through so they can be packaged and resold, and with the piss poor ratings of highly complex CDOs and other mortgage derivative products by S&P, Moodys and Fitch (read Barry Ritholtz's summation of each here). This is a whole chapter of mistakes that will definitely make it in the history books. These structural problems are at least a decade or more in the works and those toxic assets that everybody forgot about as the fed engineered carry trade attempted to calmly mark them down to market, are haunting us behind the scenes.

After a 2yr engineered reflation fueled on a weak foundation of government and central bank guarantees and liquidity injections, markets are now signaling global economic weakness in a big way. This time around, central banks are as close to helpless against market crises as they have ever been. Seriously though, what can our fed do that they havent already done? They can implement QE3 and buy treasuries or other mispriced assets and further degrade their balance sheet. But what else can be done that markets wont interpret as reactions in the face of pure fear? Greece just banned shortselling on their exchanges for the next 2 months. The ECB is now intervening and buying Italian & Spanish bonds to so called 'support markets'. I dont know, to me this is more reason to be concerned. Id rather a marketplace that does not require massive central bank intervention to operate, dont you?

Whats the takeaway here? Im not sure about you, but Im losing confidence. It started weeks ago when Treasury markets started to rally in the face of rising debt issues. There is less certainty in the world today than there was only 4 weeks ago and that is what the markets are all about. Volume on this most recent selloff is huge, telling me there is a 'sell sell sell' mentality out there; and the VIX rose 50% to 48 today confirming heightening levels of fear as investors pay more for downside protection. Ugly.

To the point of becoming sickeningly annoying discussing it, I have talked about the potential for "future unintended consequences of policy actions" taken to stem deflationary forces (google shows 136 entries with that phrase). This may be it playing out across the world as investors realize that there are no free lunches out there. You can kick the can down the road and cover up mispriced assets and huge loads of debt only so long. I wonder, what artificial engineering will force money into risk assets this time around like it did back in 2009 to 'prop' up markets? Im just not sure but Im confident we will see stabs at it in the near future.

Get ready for a bumpy ride and surprising attempts of stabilization by co-ordinated central bank actions and 11th hour emergency meetings. For Manhattan real estate, this is the kind of environment that brings pause to buyers - which means, if you have a time pressure to sell your best way to get a bid fast is to aggressively lower your ask. I wonder what % of Manhattan sellers are in this boat right now, willing to take a hit to liquidate in the face of recent market events.

Treasuries Were Signaling Trouble / Markets Sink

Posted by urbandigs

Thu Aug 4th, 2011 11:58 AM

A: It's starting to get ugly out there and if your long this market and haven't checked your portfolio in the past week, I suggest you do so now. As noted Sunday, US Treasuries were signaling a warning which was confirmed by equity markets once the S&P 500 broke its 200-day moving average. Money flies into US Treasuries, gold, and US dollars.

This is why we have to keep an eye on the markets to stay ahead of the curve. While equity markets tank, and tank they are right now, money is pouring into US Treasuries, Gold and US dollars; in that order. Gold prices at $1670 are telling us that the world is losing faith in fiat currencies and central bank policy actions to counteract deflationary pressures. There is a race to debase and talk of currency wars is starting to it the mass media. marketsinking.jpgDeclining US Treasury yields, soaring treasury prices, are telling us that investors are losing faith in the US economy. Declining equity prices are telling us that investors are losing faith in future earnings expectations and are unwilling to pay as much of a premium with future uncertainty rising - take a look at the market snapshot to the right. Always remember that the equity markets are an imperfect discounting mechanism, exposed to investor confidence and levels of certainty.

All of this is happening as around 90 new deals were signed into contract in the Manhattan market over the past 2 days. The 30 day pace for new deals signed is around the high 700s, down from the high 900s about 5-6 weeks ago - so there is a clear tick down in demand. However, since the downtick started before equities began their collapse, it appears to be more of a seasonal thing than a 'loss of confidence' thing. The tricky part now is figuring out how the current market selloff may impact buy side confidence as we enter August; typically a fairly slow month for the Manhattan markets anyway.

My big fear remains, what if US Treasuries reverse course and selloff amidst a continued selloff in other asset classes? Right now US Treasuries are surging, as they normally would in times of rising uncertainty. The result is declining interest rates and calls for buyers to step up and take advantage of "decade low rates" to buy US property. The problem with this spin is that in reality, buyers are also experiencing a drop in confidence and a negative wealth effect due to market conditions that are producing these 'decade low interest rates'. So its a seesaw battle and in my opinion, confidence and feelings of being wealthy trump any decline in rates.

Now, what you need to know is that the Manhattan marketplace has performed wonderfully (especially the high end) over the past 6+ months. It was a great first half of 2011. We can't expect that trend to sustain itself as you get to the peak of any recent move; and we were at the peak of the uptick between March through June. Here is a quick breakdown of total contracts signed back then, and where we are now so you can put it into perspective:

March 2011 --> 1,048 new contracts signed
April 2011 --> 1,006 new contracts signed
May 2011 --> 951 new contracts signed
June 2011 --> 988 new contracts signed
July 2011 --> 713 new contracts signed (the tick down started)

During those strong months, we had some brief scares (think Greece) but no sustained move down like we are seeing now. So, is Manhattan ticking down due to seasonality or recent market activity? It's just too soon to tell but I worry that macro forces might be pushing more and more on buyers brains now that the selloff is kicking into a new gear.

Remember, its OK to talk about reality. Brokers should advise clients, not sugar coat them. Sellers should be kept ahead of the curve, especially if they need to sell their property. In the end the markets will dictate value, not the brokers, and the markets will always do what the markets want to do!

July in the Books: Manhattan Market Update

Posted by urbandigs

Wed Aug 3rd, 2011 10:14 AM

A: Lets get right to the freshest data available on the pace of new supply and the pace of newly signed contracts to see how the Manhattan market performed in July compared to both the prior month and the year ago period.

First, lets look at the pace of new supply coming to market on a monthly basis:


Conclusions: This is now the 10th consecutive year-over-year monthly decline of new supply to hit the market. If it feels like there is not that much new supply out there, your right. The data shows that the current pace of fresh, new listings hitting the Active marketplace right now is way down from both last month, and the same period last year. Inventory remains tight which means there is even less high quality product out there that is priced to sell quickly. This is adding to downward pressure on inventory levels right now.

Second, lets look at the pace of new contracts signed on a monthly basis:


Conclusions: We saw a big drop in new deals signed in July, to 713. This is down from 988 last month and mostly in line with July 2010's total of 760. Seasonality is likely the main reason for this after seeing 4 consecutive months of between 950 - 1,150 new deals signed. Its not easy to sustain 950+ new deals signed, especially with less product coming to market each month; as evidence by the first chart above. We should expect a tick down in new demand as we get into July & August and we are seeing that right now. It happens to be occurring as equity markets get hit with fresh fears of a possible economic slowdown - so I can understand why some out there think this might be a sign of a new slowdown to hit the Manhattan market. It's just too soon to tell considering the strong levels we are coming from the past 4 months.

Finally, here is a 1QTR view of Manhattan Pending Sales vs Active Inventory:


Conclusions: Both pending sales and active inventory levels are down around 9% over the past 3 months. The only metric seeing a relative uptick from a few months ago is Off-Market trends; which makes sense given this time of year. Usually as we enter the slower summer months, the pace of listings being removed from the active marketplace rises; and off-market trends are showing that right now. So, active inventory is being pressured to the downside by two main elements:

1) less and less new product coming onto the active marketplace,
2) rising off-market trends as sellers take active listings off the marketplace

A declining pending sales should be an upward pressure to supply, but the above noted two elements clearly are overpowering the downtick in new demand the market is seeing right now. Active inventory is also exposed to frequency with which brokers update their listings, as the UrbanDigs platform implemented a rule that only counts a listing as 'ACTIVE' if the exclusive listing agent regularly maintains the 'actv' status internally; if the agent doesn't update in 30 days, the listing is dropped out of our count of active inventory. So, we could also be seeing a rising # of listings going stale that could also be pressuring supply to the downside. Hard to say on that note as I write this.

There you have it, as real time as you can get on the Manhattan market as a whole. Subscribers can check in on their neighborhoods and submarkets of choice in the Charts Section.

S&P 500 Close to Breaking Its 200-Day Moving Average

Posted by urbandigs

Tue Aug 2nd, 2011 05:48 PM

A: You just have to keep an eye on stuff like this. Read Sundays discussion, "Treasuries Signaling Economic Downturn, Not a US Default" for my thoughts on what the bond market has been trying to warn us of these past 3-4 weeks. The media talks about debt defaults while the bond markets talk about an economic slowdown. We must be mindful of what credit and the bond markets are trying to tell us.

From Yahoo Finance - 5YR S&P 500 Chart w/ 200-day Moving Average (MA):


Here is the real time ticker for Manhattan supply, demand, and off-mkt trends over the past 30 days:


In short, over the past 30-45 days for the Manhattan housing market I see:

  • Demand down

  • Supply down

  • Off-Market up

I'll do a post on July's performance relative to June and how we compare to last year over the next day or so. In the meantime, focus on equity markets, credit, gold prices, US dollar and bond markets. Its alot I know, but something may be cooking under the surface.