by Erin Carlyle
Growth in home sales prices continued to slow across the nation in September, marking nine straight months of deceleration, data from S&P/Case-Shiller showed Tuesday.
U.S. single-family home prices gained just 4.8% (on a seasonally-adjusted basis) over prices one year earlier, down from a 5.1% annual increase in August, the S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index shows. The measure covers all nine Census divisions. Significantly, September also marked the first month that the National Index decreased (by 0.1%) on a month-over-month basis since November 2013.
“The overall trend in home price increases continues to slow down,” says David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “The only region showing any sustained strength is the Southeast led by Florida; price gains are also evident in Atlanta and Charlotte.”
Price gains have been steadily slowing since December after a streak of double-digit annual price increases in late 2013 and early 2014. Eighteen of the 20 cities Case-Shiller tracks reported slower annual price gains in September than in August, with Charlotte and Dallas the only cities where annual price gains increased. Miami (10.3%) was the only city to report double-digit annual price gains.
The chart above depicts the annual returns of the U.S. National, the 10-City Composite and the 20-City Composite Home Price Indices. The S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, which covers all nine U.S. census divisions, recorded a 4.8% annual gain in September 2014. The 10- and 20-City Composites posted year-over-year increases of 4.8% and 4.9%, compared to 5.5% and 5.6% in August.
National Index, year-over-year change in prices (seasonally adjusted):
June 2013: 9.2%
July 2013: 9.7%
August 2013: 10.2%
September 2013: 10.7%
October 2013: 10.9%
November 2013: 10.8%
December 2013: 10.8%
January 2014: 10.5%
February 2014: 10.2%
March 2014: 9.0%
April 2014: 8.0%
May 2014: 7.1%
June 2014: 6.3%
July 2014: 5.6%
August 2014: 5.1%
September 2014: 4.8%
“Other housing statistics paint a mixed to slightly positive picture,” Blitzer said. “Housing starts held above one million at annual rates on gains in single family homes, sales of existing homes are gaining, builders’ sentiment is improving, foreclosures continue to be worked off and mortgage default rates are at precrisis levels. With the economy looking better than a year ago, the housing outlook for 2015 is stable to slightly better.”
Blitzer is referring to a report last week that showed housing starts (groundbreakings on new homes) down 2.8% in October, but still at a stronger pace than one year earlier. What’s more, single-family starts showed a 4.2% increase over the prior month. Also, in October existing (or previously-owned) home sales hit their fastest pace in more than one year. (Both reports are one month ahead of the S&P/Case-Shiller report, the industry standard but unfortunately with a two-month lag time.) Taken together, the data suggest that the rapid price gains seen late last year and in the first part of this year are mostly behind us.
“The days of double-digit home value appreciation continue to rapidly fade away as more inventory comes on line, and the market is becoming more balanced between buyers and sellers,” said Stan Humphries, Zillow’s chief economist. “Like a perfectly prepared Thanksgiving turkey, it’s important for things to cool off a bit in the housing market, because too-fast appreciation risks burning both buyers and sellers. In this more sedate environment, buyers can take more time to find the right deal for them, and sellers can rest assured they won’t be left without a seat at the table when they turn around and become buyers. This slowdown is a critical step on the road back to a normal housing market, and as we approach the end of 2014, the housing market has plenty to be thankful for.”
As of September 2014, average home prices across the U.S. are back to their spring 2005 levels for the National Index (which covers 70% of the U.S. housing market), while both the 10-City and 20-City Composites are back to their autumn 2004 levels. For the city Composite indices, prices are still off their mid-summer 2006 peaks by about 15% to 17%. Prices have bounced back from their March 2012 lows by 28.8% and 29.6% for the 10-City and 20-City composites.
S&P/Case-Shiller is now releasing its National Home Price Index each month. Previously, it was published quarterly, while the 10-City and 20-City Composites were published monthly. The “July” numbers above for the National Index above reflect a roll-up of data for the three-month average of May, June and July prices.
by Wolf Richter
It is possible that a miracle intervenes and that the price of oil bounces off and zooms skyward. We’ve seen stocks perform these sorts of miracles on a routine basis, but when it comes to oil, miracles have become rare. As I’m writing this, US light sweet crude trades at $76.90 a barrel, down 26% from June, a price last seen in the summer of 2010.
But this price isn’t what drillers get paid at the wellhead. Grades of oil vary. In the Bakken, the shale-oil paradise in North Dakota, wellhead prices are significantly lower not only because the Bakken blend isn’t as valuable to refiners as the benchmark West Texas Intermediate, but also because take-away capacity by pipeline is limited. Crude-by-rail has become the dominant – but more costly – way to get the oil from the Northern Rockies to refineries on the Gulf Coast or the East Coast.
These additional transportation costs come out of the wellhead price. So for a particular well, a driller might get less than $60/bbl – and not the $76.90/bbl that WTI traded for at the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Fracking is expensive, capital intensive, and characterized by steep decline rates. Much of the production occurs over the first two years – and much of the cash flow. If prices are low during those two years, the well might never be profitable.
Meanwhile, North Sea Brent has dropped to $79.85 a barrel, last seen in September 2010.
So the US Energy Information Administration, in its monthly short-term energy outlook a week ago, chopped down its forecast of the average price in 2015: WTI from $94.58/bbl to $77.55/bbl and Brent from $101.67/bbl to $83.24/bbl.
Independent exploration and production companies have gotten mauled. For example, Goodrich Petroleum plunged 71% and Comstock Resources 58% from their 52-week highs in June while Rex Energy plunged 65% and Stone Energy 54% from their highs in April.
Integrated oil majors have fared better, so far. Exxon Mobil is down “only” 9% from its July high. On a broader scale, the SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production ETF (XOP) is down 28% from June – even as the S&P 500 set a new record.
So how low can oil drop, and how long can this go on?
The theory is being propagated that the price won’t drop much below the breakeven point in higher-cost areas, such as the tar sands in Canada or the Bakken in the US. At that price, rather than lose money, drillers would stop fracking and tar-sands operators would shut down their tar pits. And soon, supplies would tighten up, inventories would be drawn down, and prices would jump.
But that’s not what happened in natural gas. US drillers didn’t stop fracking when the price of natural gas plunged below the cost of production and kept plunging for years. In April 2012, it reached not a four-year low but a decade-low of about $1.90 per million Btu at the Henry hub. At the time, shorts were vociferously proclaiming that gas storage would be full by fall, that the remaining gas would have to be flared, and that the price would then drop to zero.
But drillers were still drilling, and production continues to rise to this day, though the low price also caused an uptick in consumption that coincided with a harsh winter, leaving storage levels below the five-year minimum for this time of the year.
The gas glut has disappeared. The price at the Henry hub has since more than doubled, but it remains below breakeven for many wells. And when natural gas was selling for $4/MM Btu at the Henry hub, it was selling for $2/MM Btu at the Appalachian hubs, where the wondrous production from the Marcellus shale comes to market. No one can make money at that price.
And they’re still drilling in the Marcellus.
Natural gas drillers had a cover: a well that also produced a lot of oil and natural gas liquids was profitable because they fetched a much higher price. But this too has been obviated by events: on top of the rout in oil, the inevitable glut in natural gas liquids has caused their prices to swoon too (chart).
Yet, they’re still drilling, and production is still rising. And they will continue to drill as long as they can get the moolah to do so. They might pick and choose where they drill, and they might back off a smidgen, but as long as they get the money, they’ll drill.
Money has been flowing into the oil and gas business like a tsunami unleashed by yield-desperate investors who, driven to near insanity by the Fed’s policies, do what the Fed has been telling them to do: close their eyes and hold their noses and disregard risk and hand over their money, and borrow money for nearly free and hand over that money too.
Oil and gas companies have issued record amounts of junk bonds. They’ve raised record amounts of money via a record number of IPOs. They’ve raised money by spinning off assets into publicly traded MLPs. They’ve borrowed from banks that then packaged these loans into securities that were then sold. The industry has taken this cheap money and has drilled it into the ground.
This is one of the consequences of the Fed’s decision to flood the land with free liquidity. When the cost of capital is near zero, and when returns on low-risk investments are near zero as well, or even below zero, investors go into a sort of coma. But when they come out of it and realize that “sunk capital” has taken on a literal meaning, they’ll shut off the spigot.
Only then will drilling and production decline. As with natural gas, it can take years. And as with natural gas, the price might plunge through a four-year low and hit a decade low – which would be near $40/bbl, a price last seen in 2009. The bloodletting would be epic. To see where this is going, watch the money.