Tags: robert shiller | housing | homes | economy

Yale's Robert Shiller: Don't Be Fooled by 'Off and Running' Housing Data

By Dan Weil   |   Tuesday, 26 Nov 2013 02:03 PM

The 13.3 percent annual gain for the S&P/Case-Shiller Index of home prices for September, a 7 ½-year high, indicates at first glance that the housing market is rolling merrily along, says Nobel laureate economist Robert Shiller of Yale University.

"It's kind of remarkable. If you look at a plot, it looks like we're off and running," he told CNBC. "I say looks like. I don't know if we really are, but right now we are."

Some market undertones aren't so rosy, Shiller says. While prices are up, existing home sales fell 3.2 percent in October.

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"I've done a questionnaire survey about home buyer attitudes, and I don't find that they're as excited about the housing market as the price increases seem to suggest," he said.

"It may be more of an unusual demand from investors that's driving the market now or it's the pullback from the large number of foreclosures we've had before. I just don't see a lot of home buyer excitement, expectations."

Surprisingly enough, Shiller doesn't see affordability as a major issue. "I tend to think that the market is driven more by psychology than any careful calculations than affordability."

Shiller measures homebuyer sentiment, as do others. "I just don't see evidence that people think we're launching out on some great new era," he said.

"That's what people thought in the early 2000s. Now they're looking at the problems in Congress and the fact that Fannie [Mae] and Freddie [Mac] are propping up the market, and we have bills to wipe them out. People are not so excited or sure about the future."

One major issue for the housing market in recent months has been the purchase of houses by major investment groups such as private equity titan Blackstone. They are buying the homes as investments, of course, seeking to earn income through rentals and ultimately selling the houses.

"The word seems to be from them that they're long-term investors, but I suspect they're not," Shiller said.

"I think what they've learned — I'm guessing, not from any direct information — they've learned the short-term momentum in the market. But as soon as it's weakening, they'll exit. We can't trust momentum in the housing market anymore."

Many housing experts sounded a bullish note after the S&P/Case-Shiller data were released Tuesday.

"Housing demand has clearly improved this year," Ryan Wang, an economist at HSBC Securities USA, told Bloomberg.

"The housing market has benefited from fewer foreclosures over the last year, the share of distressed housing transactions is back to pre-crisis levels, and that has helped to boost home prices in many parts of the country."

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