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Bubble or no bubble? It depends on who you ask...

Fitch is actually optimistic about housing

October 18, 2013

Depending on who you ask, the housing recovery remains in limbo as the nation awaits the outcome of uncertain government policy, rising mortgage rates and a small decline in home affordability.

But how housing will fare heading into the final two months of 2013 and through 2014 depends on who you believe.

Fitch Ratings released its Chalk Line report covering housing this week, concluding that homes remain affordable with mortgage rates and home prices still trending far below their former highs.

Robert Curran, managing director for Fitch, calls "recent government struggles, negative equity and challenging mortgage qualification standards” short-term headwinds.

In fact, Fitch still expects single-family housing starts for all of 2013 to improve by 17%, while new home sales are expected to grow approximately 20% as existing-home sales edge up 8.5%.

As for 2014 – a year when the government is going to have to deal with the nation’s debt ceiling again – Fitch remains optimistic, projecting total housing starts will expand 16.5% to 1.1 million in 2014 with the expectation that single-family starts will grow 20% and multifamily volume will shoot up 9% as well.

Fitch also believes new home sales will grow 20%, while existing-home sales growth could moderate to a 5% pace.

Fitch’s optimism contrasts with other research that forecasts either slow growth or significant troubles ahead.

Recent Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller, the force behind the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, has been sounding the alarm, suggesting housing is in another bubble phase.

Despite Shiller's reputation – and a recent Nobel Prize in economics – analysts attending a recent investors conference pushed back at the idea of a bubble, falling in line with Fitch’s more positive estimates.

"We are certainly not in a housing bubble," said Laurie Goodman who heads up a housing thinktank at the Urban Institute. Goodman said even with a 6% interest rate, affordability is expected to remain at 2000-2003 levels, which were pretty stable compared to 2006-2007.

Mark Fleming, a chief economist with CoreLogic, also had noted that price appreciation is slowing down, making it less likely the market would return to the inflated pricing levels that defined the pre-bubble era.

But if you’re in the market looking at all the outliers, it’s truly becoming a game of who do you believe? Buy now, or wait?

Capital Economics put out a release, saying "the number of new home sales continued to recover in September." Yet, the research firm will not know for sure until data delayed by the shutdown is published.

The company is now forecasting an increase to 440,000 new home sales annually. And while Capital Economics believes new home sales recovered somewhat in September, the firm is not as optimistic on existing home sales and expects a drop for that month in particular.

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