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Homebuilder Sentiment Remains Flat in March, Below Expectations

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index points to a flat reading for homebuilder sentiment from February through March. The index came in at 62 vs 63 expected, although 62 is still a six-month high after a turbulent period in housing.

Key Takeaways

  • Sentiment remained at 62 through February and March according to the NAHB Index, vs 63 expected.
  • Sentiment at this time last year stood at 70 during a stronger housing market and global economy.
  • After a difficult year, housing affordability has increased in recent months, and sentiment may yet see an uptick. The current reading remains at a six-month high.

Mortgage rates have finally dropped after rising throughout most of 2018. Rates are now below what they were at this time last year, and wage gains have started to outpace the increase in home prices as sellers adjust prices to reflect the tough market.

New homes are still more expensive than existing homes of similar quality, but affordability has picked up in general and with a reading above 50, sentiment is positive.

The median price of a new home in January dropped 4% annually according to the US Census, although this was partially due to a higher portion of entry-level homes being sold – sales hit a three-month low during the month of January.

Builders Still Face Problems

Homebuilders responding to the survey did state that they are still having trouble building lower-priced homes due to shortages of skilled laborers, an issue seen throughout most industries staffed by the tight US labor market. Lots to build on are also in short supply.

Sales expectations rose from 68 to 71 for the next six months, and current sales conditions rose from 66 to 68. Prospects of prospective buyers saw a 4-point drop from 48 to 44, showing continued contraction as seen in recent months. 

The less-volatile three-month moving averages gauging builder sentiment saw a 5-point rise in the Northeast from 43 to 48, a 3-point rose in the South to 66, and a 2-point rise in the West to 69. Midwestern sentiment slipped closer to contraction, dropping from 52 to 51.

Expert Outlook

Chief NAHB economist Robert Dietz commented on the stimulating effect of an increased number of lower-priced homes on the housing market.

“More builders are saying that lower price points are selling well, and this was reflected in the government’s new home sales report released last week. Increased inventory of affordably priced homes — in markets where government policies support such construction — will enable more entry-level buyers to enter the market.”

NAHB Chairman Greg Ugalde stated that “builders report the market is stabilizing following the slowdown at the end of 2018, and they anticipate a solid spring home buying season.”

Market Reaction

Gold has seen little reaction to the news and remains above the $1,300/oz line of support at $1,304.66/oz, up 0.22%. Gold is trading within a range of $1,307.40/oz and $1,297.90/oz with April Comex Futures currently just behind the real-time value of spot gold at $1,304.60/oz, up 0.13%.

The NAHB is a key indicator of the health of the US housing market which, in turn, points to the state of the economy overall. 2019 has seen stronger activity so far than the end of 2018, with two positive readings and a flat reading at a six-month high wrapping up Q1, all of which points to renewed strength finally emerging after adjusted interest rate policy.