Housing slump to continue but some hopeful signs ahead

A version of this story first appeared in CNN Business’ Before the Bell newsletter. Not a subscriber? You can sign up right here. New York CNN — Mortgage rates have ticked down recently, but are still up dramatically from a year ago thanks to the surge in long-term bond yields as the Federal Reserve interest rates rose. While that’s already had a negative impact on the housing market, we’ll get more details this week about how much worse the damage has become. A long list of housing data is on tap. On Tuesday the US Census Bureau will report housing starts and building permits figures for November, followed by Friday’s release of new home sales data for the same month. In between that will be the November existing home sales numbers from the National Association of Realtors on Wednesday, as well as weekly data on mortgage rates and applications on Thursday. For the past few months, existing and new home sales have been steadily declining because of the spike in rates and the fact that home prices remain stubbornly high for first-time buyers. Housing starts and building permits have been choppier on a month-to-month basis, but those figures are both down from a year ago. Still, there are some promising signs that the worst could soon be over. Shares of Lennar (LEN), one of the largest homebuilders in the US, rallied after reporting earnings last week. Revenue topped forecasts and the company’s guidance for the number of homes it expected to deliver next year was a little higher than analysts’ estimates as well. Lennar investors “may be looking ahead to 2023, perhaps crossing the valley from recession to potential recovery,” according to CFRA Research analyst Kenneth Leon. Others in the industry are cautiously optimistic as well. According to data from the Amherst Group, an investment firm that buys single-family homes to rent out, it’s important to put the recent price slide in context. Amherst said home prices are still up about 40% from pre-pandemic levels. So even a further drop of about 15% would merely bring them to mid-2021 levels. In other words, this isn’t like the mid-2000s real estate bubble bursting. It’s also worth noting that the job market is still strong and wages are growing. What’s more, many consumers still have decent levels of excess savings thanks to pandemic era government stimulus. That all amounts to a few good reasons why the housing market could avoid a severe and prolonged slump. “The US housing market is still supported by a tight labor market, the lock-in effect of low fixed mortgage rates for existing homeowners, tight mortgage underwriting, low leverage in the mortgage sector, and low housing supply,” said Brandywine fixed-income analyst Tracy Chen in a report this month. “We believe we can avoid a severe housing downturn like the one in the Global Financial Crisis,” Chen added. Others point out that even though housing sales may remain weak due to high home prices and still elevated mortgage rates, the good news is that most existing homeowners are still paying their monthly mortgage on time. Again, that’s a stark contrast from 2008 when many people with subprime loans or borrowers with poor credit histories were unable to keep up with their mortgage payments. “Housing is not bringing down the economy. Yes, the housing market has been impacted. But mortgage delinquencies are still low,” said Gene Goldman, chief investment officer at Cetera Investment Management. There aren’t a ton of companies reporting their latest earnings this week. But the few that could give more clues about the financial health of consumers and the state of corporate spending. Cereal giant General Mills (GIS) will release earnings on Tuesday. Analysts are expecting a slight increase in both sales and profit. Consumers may be growing increasingly wary about inflation and the broader economy, but they’re still eating their Wheaties. Shares of General Mills (GIS) have soared nearly 30% this year. Analysts are less optimistic about the outlook for sneaker king and Dow component Nike (NKE), used car retailer CarMax (KMX) and memory chip maker Micron (MU), whose semiconductors are used in devices ranging from cell phones and computers to cars. Earnings are expected to decline for these three companies. They won’t be the only leaders of Corporate America to report weak results. According to data from FactSet, fourth-quarter earnings for the S&P 500 companies are expected to decline 2.8% from a year ago. Analysts have been busy cutting their forecasts too. John Butters, senior earnings analyst at FactSet, noted in a report that fourth-quarter profits were expected to rise 3.7% as recently as September 30. Investors are also going to be paying very close attention to what companies say in their earnings reports about their outlook for 2023. Analysts currently are anticipating earnings growth of 5.3% for 2023. That could be too optimistic… especially if companies start cutting their own forecasts due to worries about the broader economy. “Odds of a recession are pretty high,” said Vincent Reinhart, chief economist and macro strategist at Dreyfus & Mellon. That will have a knock-on effect for corporate earnings. Higher rates and weaker earnings suggest more pain for stocks.” Monday: Germany Ifo business climate index Tuesday: US housing starts and building permits; China sets loan prime rate; Bank of Japan interest rate decision; earnings from General Mills, Nike, FedEx (FDX) and Blackberry (BB) Wednesday: US existing home sales; German consumer confidence; earnings from Rite Aid (RAD), Carnival (CCL), Cintas (CTAS), Toro (TTC) and Micron Thursday: US weekly jobless claims; US Q3 GDP (third estimate); earnings from CarMax (KMX) and Paychex Friday: US personal income and spending; US PCE inflation; US new home sales; US durable goods orders; US U. of Michigan consumer sentiment; Japanese inflation; UK markets close early

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