Existing-home sales decreased 3.4 percent in October from one month prior while new home sales increased 10.7 percent. These headline figures are seasonally adjusted figures and are reported in the news. However, for everyday practitioners, simple raw counts of home sales are often more meaningful than the seasonally adjusted figures. The raw count determines income and helps better assess how busy the market has been.
Specifically, 447,000 existing-homes were sold in October while new home sales totaled 41,000. These raw counts represent a 5 percent loss for existing-home sales from one month prior while new home sales increased 21 percent. What was the trend in the recent years? Sales from September to October increased by 3 percent on average in the prior three years for existing-homes and 5 percent for new homes. So this year, existing-homes underperformed compared to their recent norm while new home sales outperformed.
Why are seasonally adjusted figures reported in the news? To assess the overall trending direction of the economy, nearly all economic data – from GDP and employment to consumer price inflation and industrial production – are seasonally adjusted to account for regular events we can anticipate have an effect on data around the same time each year. For example, if December raw retail sales rise by, say, 20 percent, we should not celebrate this higher figure if it is generally the case that December retail sales rise by 35 percent because of holiday gift buying activity. Similarly, we should not say that the labor market is crashing when the raw count on employment declines in September just as the summer vacation season ends. That is why economic figures are seasonally adjusted with special algorithms to account for the normal seasonal swings in figures and whether there were more business days (Monday to Friday) during the month. When seasonally adjusted data say an increase, then this is implying a truly strengthening condition.
What to expect about home sales in the upcoming months in terms of raw counts? Independent of headline seasonally adjusted figures, expect less activity in November for existing-home sales. For example, in the past 3 years, November sales slipped by 4 to 21 percent from October. In contrast, existing-home sales typically rose in December by 7 to 18 percent. For the new home sales market, the raw sales activity in November tends to be less than that occurring in October, and activity gets better in December. For example, in the past 3 years, November sales dropped by 3 to 18 percent from October while December sales rose 13 percent last year.