Sunday, July 25, 2004

Housing Bubbles

Google "housing bubble" and you are directed to 279,000 sites.  Time being limited, I did not look at all of them but it is safe to say that most discuss the national U.S. housing market.

There is no such thing as a single national weather reading for all the obvious reasons. 

Also, sunbelt employment and population growth have been outscoring frostbelt employment and population growth for years.  Why, then, so many discussions of "the housing bubble".  This is not the stock market.

In this morning's NY Times, Gretchen Morgenson cites recent economic research that predicts housing bubble trouble but notes, "To be sure, home values are still hot in many spots.  In the most recent 12 months, prices have jumped by more than 15 percent in Hawaii and Nevada, by 14 percent in California, by 11 percent in New Jersey and 10 percent in New York."  She contrasts this with recent declines in Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska.  Within each state, there are probably variances as large as between states.

Another piece on "The Perils of Predicting Financial Bubbles" reminds us that Alan Greenspan called attention to "irrational exuberance" in 1996.  Anyone dumping their S&P 500 Index shares on that warning would still be angry -- unless they had made some very well timed buys and sells in the interim.  Robert Schiller is also cited:  "He explains that bubbles are created when the prices of assets are fueled by psychological rather than economic considerations."  As though there is a simple way to calculate NPVs and IRRs that separates the economic from the psychological aspects of the required net revenue forecasts.

Yes, investors (being just people) will make mistakes, including lousy forecasts.  But others will sense opportunities when these become apparent and quickly act to cash in -- and help to keep the rest of us on course. 

It is still safe to conclude  that most of us should avoid market timing.