Builder confidence improved two points in August to 37, its highest level since February 2007, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported Wednesday. Economists had expected the index to remain flat at 35.
The improvement in the index in August marked the fourth straight month-month gain. The overall index has gained 22 points in the last year, the largest one-year gain since February 1992. The August reading also marked the third straight month the index was more than double what it had been one year earlier.
The Housing Market Index (HMI), considered a measure of builder confidence, could be reflected in permits and starts data reported for August. That report from the Census Bureau will be issued in September. Meanwhile, Census will report on July permits Thursday.
All three components of the index – the assessment of current sales, of sales six months out, and traffic at showrooms and model homes – improved.
The current sales measure rose three points to 39, its highest level since February 2007. The August gain followed a jump of five points in July. The current sales gauge is up 24 points in the last year, the last year, the strongest year-year surge since February 1992.
Buyer traffic also rose three points to 31, its highest reading since May 2006. Year-year the buyer traffic index is up 20 points, the largest 12-month improvement since March 1996.
The index of the outlook for sales in sales months rose one point to 44, the highest level since April 2007. The six month sales outlook index has increased 25 points in the last year, the largest annual gain since January 1992.
“This fourth consecutive increase in builder confidence provides further evidence of the gradual strengthening that’s occurring in many housing markets and providing a needed boost to local economies,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “However, we are still at a very fragile stage of this process and builders continue to express frustration regarding the inventory of distressed properties, inaccurate appraisal values, and the difficulty of accessing credit for both building and buying homes.”
Gains in the index – or its components – do not always translate into new home sales. New home sales, for example, fell 32,000 in June to 350,000 although the HMI rose that month. The current sales measure rose in June as well but the buyer traffic index was flat. Six months earlier in December, the outlook for sales six months ahead had improved.
The index, built based on surveys conducted jointly by the NAHB and Wells Fargo, gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.”
Regionally, the index improved in two of the four census regions: up nine points to 42 in the Midwest and two points to 35 in the South but down nine points to 25 in the Northeast and down three points to 40 in the West. The regional confidence measures are consistent with the most recent report (for June) on new home sales, which showed new home sales plunged in the Northeast.
The HMI survey followed a surprisingly strong payroll report for July which showed the nation added 163,000 jobs, far more that what the market had been expecting but the unemployment rate rose to 8.3 percent in the same month. However recent housing specific survey such as the Case Shiller Home Price Index show improvements in home prices.
By Mark Lieberman, Five Star Institute Economist