Friday, August 14, 2009

First time home buyers skewing sales data

Just like the Cash for Clunkers program, the first time home buyer tax credit is stimulating home purchases.

Calculated Risk blog is all over this.

Remember this in December if home sales fall more than expected.

Home price seasonality

I have brought up the seasonality effect with respect to the quantity of homes sold but Rich Toscano has a great blog entry with some great perspective on the current seasonal national home price rise. In sum, the markets tend to rise in the summer as more people want to move during the summer school recess. As such activity and prices tend to rise during the summer and fall in winter.

ONLY when we see year over year sales and prices stop falling will I consider the housing market train wreck nearly over.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Inflation - Numbers to live by

Not since the 1950's have we had deflation in America. Right now 'headline' inflation is running greater than negative 1% (thats deflation folks) and looks to accelerate downward.

Will we have consistent deflation for a long period of time? I don't know but lets examine some of the factors that go into inflation.

I am focusing on 3 charts; all show data on a year over year basis to remove seasonal fluctuations.

While headline inflation is decidedly negative right now, the 'core' inflation rate is still positive. 'Core inflation' excludes energy and food prices from the calculations. Some may argue one still needs to eat and drive your car to work so why look at a number that excludes these important parts of daily life? Since energy and food prices are highly volatile the theory is they will balance out over time and policy decisions (like raising short term interest rates) should not be based upon such volatile factors.

As you can see we still have inflation within the 'core' but the rate is sloping downwards. If / when this drops below zero and we have 'core' deflation it will hopefully make the news! Core inflation has not dropped below zero in the entire time it has been sampled. (since 1957)

Housing costs are also part of the inflation figure and as you can guess it is also trending downwards and may also start going negative in the near future. Housing inflation has not been negative in the entire data set as well. (since 1967)

Most Americans alive today have not had to deal with chronic deflation and I believe we are culturally programmed to only think in inflationairy terms. Life may get very interesting if the US consumer changes their mindset to one of chronic deflation instead of inflation.

Additional Reading:
WSJ: Worldwide deflation
Bloomberg: High real interest rates attracting interest

Source: Federal Reserve

Weather and Oil

It is fascinating how the financial markets and real world are so intertwined. Take for example, the weather. Recently reading about the hurricane season I realized I had not added that as a factor for oil prices. Duh!

The chart you see here shows the frequency of hurricanes throughout the year. A nice FAQ from NOAA explains the various colors. The majority of severe hurricanes occur in August and September.

By mid August we should be well into the hurricane season and yet we have not had any major storms in the Atlantic. The National Hurricane Center shows in real time any storms and their predicted tracks. As of today there are no major storms threatening the Gulf of Mexico. Storms travelling up the East Coast will not have the same influence on the energy markets as one that enters the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is home to a large number of oil and natural gas pumping operations as well as a large portion of the refining capacity of the United States. Not only did Hurricane Katrina (which made landfall on August 29, 2005) devastate New Orleans, it severely hampered the energy capabilities of the U.S. for several months.

Keep an eye on the National Hurricane Center web site. If you see a storm forming with a high probability of entering the Gulf, you'll see oil prices perk up.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Oil Inventory Followup -- Offshore storage

I do not know of any centralized database tabulating all the floating oil and oil products inventory so one only has anecdotal evidence to go on. A Hellenic Shipping News article provides an estimate on the oil and refined products sitting offshore. The estimated 140 million barrels offshore is over 10% of the entire US inventory, not an insignificant number. . .