Existing Home Sales Decline 2.6%, Realtors See Bull Market

ETFguide

Is this the bottom? Several years after the housing bust, that's what homeowners and realtors are still asking.

Sales for existing homes declined by 2.6% in March to an annual rate of 4.48 million units, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Bad as the latest home sales figures may seem, the NAR said the first three months of 2012 have been the strongest first quarter since 2007.

But while a "strong first quarter" is an encouraging sign, it still doesn't negate the fact that 11 million of homeowners have more mortgage debt than home equity.

Measured from their June/July 2006 peaks through January 2012, the peak-to-current decline for both the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price 10-City Composite and 20-City Composite is negative 34.4%. January's depressed levels were new lows for both Composites in the current housing cycle.

Distressed sales accounted for 29% of March home resales, the NAR reported.

Clearing up excess housing inventory built up from 2003-07 is taking much longer than housing bulls predicted.

The year-to-date performance for ETFs tied to the U.S. housing market has largely ignored the reality of its difficulties.

S&P Homebuilding stocks (NYSEArca:XHB - News) have rocketed ahead just over 21% since the beginning of the year and are outpacing the broader U.S. stock market (NYSEArca:SCHB - News) by roughly 10%.

Elsewhere, mortgage backed securities (NYSEArca:MBB - News) have posted a modest year-to-date gain of 0.89%.

The iShares FTSE NAREIT Residential ETF (NYSEArca:REZ - News), which focuses on publicly traded apartment rentals is ahead by 5.04% year-to-date.

The average rate on a 30-year mortgage is hovering around 4.04%.

Ron DeLegge is the Editor of ETFguide.com and Author of "Gents with No Cents: A Closer Look at Wall Street, its Customers, Financial Regulators and the Media." (Half Full Publishing Group, 2011)



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