I preface this with an admission — I’m in awe of the quality and volume of content Ruth Mantell puts out.
As a web writer she is indefatigable, and since we cover a lot of the same ground, yeah, I know how much there is out there beating on our doors.
But one of her headlines today took me aback.
“Mortgage gauge hits 14-year low, but that doesn’t mean housing is dead”
The story starts thusly:
Here’s a fresh factoid sure to gratify housing bears: A broad gauge of mortgage applications recently hit its lowest level in 14 years, according to data released Wednesday.
The Mortgage Bankers Association reported its seasonally adjusted index, which measures the volume of mortgage applications, dropped more than 7% in the week that ended Sept. 5 to the slowest pace since the end of 2000. During that week, applications for loans to buy a home fell almost 3%, hitting their lowest level since February, while refinancing applications tumbled almost 11%, reaching the weakest result since late 2008.
But it may be too soon to dance on the housing market’s grave.
Well, no, and even the most bearish among us (call me Yogi) have never said it was dead. I wouldn’t dance (I don’t dance) on housing’s grave because it’s far from dead.
But with mortgage applications at a 14-year low on top of a year that has seen declining sales, declining home price appreciation, and almost consistent misses of analyst expectations on most every housing metric – it ain’t exactly Dancing with the Stars. Or doing the Charleston. Or whatever kids today are into.
This is not about Ruth Mantell. I continue to follow her work and respect her greatly. In fact I apologize to her for making her headline the jumping off point for this rant; it was just the most readily available.
It’s a broader problem in the financial press.
Never mind how CNBC became press agents for Apple on Tuesday. (Strange that in all that talk of Apple Pay and its promise of secure, seemless payments between iOS devices, no one mentioned the hacking of the iCloud that brought us all those celebrity nudes.)
Never mind how the mainstream financial press continues to employ the same economists who consistently find bad economic reports to be “unexpected.”
All year we’ve been fed a line from the housing industry about how break-out is right around the corner, that there’s pent-up demand from the cold winter, or “just you wait until the spring buying season kicks in” – and we all have reported it to one degree or another.
I want housing to do well. I’m trade media, and our motto here is “Moving Markets Forward.” I’m all about wanting this market to take off.
But it won’t if we don’t admit there’s a problem, and that the problem goes a lot deeper and is more systemic than a little weakness here or there.