Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Worst May Soon Be Over

The latest (June) S&P/Case-Shiller figures provide a little (and I emphasize little) comfort that housing prices are bottoming out. With year-over-year prices down a record 15.92% on average in 20 major markets, that may sound like an odd thing to say. But that decline is only a little worse than the previous month's figure. In fact, if you look at the rate of change of the rate of change of the rate of change (what a mathematician would call the third derivative), things have been improving since February.

By no means does this imply that price drops are a thing of the past. On the contrary, housing prices will likely keep falling for another 12-18 months. However, the evidence suggests that the rate of decrease is about to slow. In fact, there is a good chance that the year-over-year decline in prices for July (to be reported at the end of September) will be less than it was for June.

Because almost all of the problems in the financial sector have been related to falling real estate prices, a stabilization of prices is critical for the health of our financial institutions. And because real estate prices will keep falling on an absolute basis for many more months, banks will continue writing down assets. Yet it is encouraging to see that the worst may soon be over for both the housing and finance industries.