Existing home sales dropped 0.9 percent in August from one month prior while new home sales slipped 7.6 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, 541,000 existing homes were sold in August while new home sales totaled 50,000. These raw counts represent a 5 percent increase for existing home sales from one month prior while new home sales dropped 12 percent. What was the trend in recent years? Sales from July to August decreased by 4 percent on average in the prior three years for existing homes and decreased by 3 percent for new homes. So this year, existing homes outperformed to its recent norm while new homes sales underperformed.
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 that 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 both September and October for existing home sales. For example, in the past 3 years, September sales dropped by 7 to 18 percent from August while October sales typically decreased by 1 to 6 percent from September. For the new home sales market, the raw sales activity in September is hard to predict while activity in October will be busier than September. For example, in the past 3 years, September sales dropped 15 percent last year, increased 3 percent in 2014 and were unchanged.