Weak Housing Data Should Keep Fed on "Extended Period"

Richard Suttmeier
  MAR 16, 2010 9:16 AM

Homebuilder sentiment slumps again in March as housing starts decline again in February.


Editor's Note: This article was written by Richard Suttmeier, chief market strategist at ValuEngine.com, which is a fundamentally-based quant research firm in Princeton, New Jersey, that covers more than 5,000 stocks every day.

Homebuilder Confidence Hurt by Foreclosure Dilemma

The National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index fell to 15 in March from 17 in February because of bad weather, foreclosure sales, and difficulty in obtaining construction and development loans. The Prospective Buyers component slipped to 10 from 12, and the Home Sales for the next six months fell to 24 from 27. This data is significantly weak considering that 50 is a neutral reading. The chart shows a potential re-test of the lows for this index. Housing Starts in February declined 5.9% to an annual rate of 575,000 units.

FASB Mark-To-Market Rules May Get Tougher

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) will likely expand the mark-to-market rules to include assets such as loans. At present, banks hold loans on their books at original cost and base reserves on their own guidelines for potential losses. This rule change would affect both community and regional banks. The Big Four; JPMorgan (JPM), Bank of America (BAC), Citigroup (C), and Wells Fargo (WFC) have an estimated $2.8 trillion loans on their balance sheets, which is 40% of total assets for these giants. Looking at all 8,012 FDIC-Insured Financial Institutions we find 1,514 overexposed to C&D loans, and another 1,312 overexposed to CRE loans only. That’s 2,896 banks or 36.1% of the 8,012 that will have difficulty with this FASB rule change.

The Government Foreclosure Prevention Program Is a Drag

According to ProPublica.org, new data shows 150,000 homeowners are stuck in trial modification limbo for more than six months. The program was intended to make mortgage modifications permanent after three months given financial documentation that shows the ability to make the lower monthly payments. It seems that three months was just not long enough to complete the process. Some who were denied after the trial period aren't being officially dropped subject to a review.

As of the end of February 168,708 homeowners were in permanent modifications. While this is up from 116,297 from the end of January, keep in mind that the program was supposed to help three to four million homeowners.

Retailers are surprise leaders with the Retail HOLDER Trust (RTH) at a 52-week high, which makes no sense given the extremely weak readings of consumer confidence. The daily chart shows an extreme overbought condition with RTH up 6.2% year-to-date and only 8.3% from its June 2007 high.

There are five Retail Industries that are more than 20% Overvalued according to ValuEngine:

Semiconductors have been a laggard with the SOX down 2.6% year to date, and 36.2% below its July 2007 high. The daily chart is overbought with my weekly value level at 331.57 and my semiannual pivot at 358.89 and monthly resistance at 379.97.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.