Existing-home sales rose 4.4 percent in March from one month prior while new home sales increased 5.8 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, 456,000 existing-homes were sold in March while new home sales totaled 58,000. These raw counts represent a 45 percent increase for existing home sales from one month prior while new home sales rose 21 percent. What was the trend in recent years? Sales from February to March increased by 32 percent on average in the prior three years for existing homes and rose by 8 percent for new homes. So this year, both existing and new home sales outperformed compared to their recent normal.
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 busier activity in April and even better in May. For example, in the past 3 years, April sales rose by 11 to 19 percent from March while May sales rose by 10 to 12 percent from April. For the new home sales market, the raw sales activity in April tends to be better than that occurring in March, while May’s activity seems to be more volatile. For example, in the past 3 years, raw home sales in April increased 5 percent on average from March. However, sales in May dropped by 2 to 4 percent in 2015 and 2016 while they increased 10 percent in 2014.