Dave Stark’s First Quarter 2007 Real Estate Market Report

Dave Stark [480K PDF]:

So far, 2007 seems to be unfolding pretty much to form. In our last newsletter (4th Quarter 2006), we predicted that closings reported in the first quarter of 2007 would run slightly behind closings for the first quarter of 2006. As of mid April 2007, sales reported to the South Central Wisconsin MLS for the first quarter trail last year by 8%. This probably overstates the drop, since stragglers will continue to report closings for the next few months. It wouldn’t surprise us if another 100 or so sales will be on the books when we look back next year. Nonetheless, there are a number of very positive, and underreported, trends at work behind those numbers that bear analyzing.
Inventories: In the chart below, you see that inventories have risen slightly from the same period a year ago, although not nearly as much as they did the year before that. However, if you compare both inventories and the pace of sales to 3 months ago, you’ll see that the number of days of inventory on the market have actually fallen for both single family homes and condos (see chart, p.2). Condo inventory on the MLS hasn’t grown at all since the 4th quarter, although it remains stubbornly high. Building permits are down even further this year than they were last year, which will continue to hasten the fall in inventories.
New Construction vs. Resale Housing:For all of 2006, single family sales fell 7.8% for the entire South Central Wisconsin market, and 11.1% for Dane County. However, if you break those sales up into new and used, you see a different picture. Single family resales were down only 5.5% for the entire market, and 6.2% in Dane County. New construction, by contrast, was down 20.1% for the entire market, and 27.2% for Dane County. For the first quarter of 2007, resales are down only 1.4% for the entire market, and are actually up 1.5% in Dane County. New construction sales, however, were down 30% in Dane County for the first quarter of 2007 compared to a year ago.
There is always a 30 to 60 day lag between offers and closings, so the numbers you’re seeing for the first quarter reflect activity from the holidays and January/February, always the slowest time of the year for offers. So far, offers have tracked pretty closely with a year ago, which is good news, because the first half of last year wasn’t that bad. If we have a “normal” second half of 2007, we should have a much better year than last.

The report includes a useful look at Sub-Prime Lending. Dave Stark is a friend and long time customer.

Google, Dell and Spyware

David Ulevitch:

This is a long post but it’s worth the read. In short, Google and Dell have teamed up to install some software on Dell computers that borders on being spyware. I say spyware because it’s hard to figure out what it is and is even harder to remove. It also breaks all kinds of OpenDNS functionality. At the end, I’ll tell you what we’re doing about it.
About a year ago Google and Dell announced a partnership to include the Google Toolbar on new Dell computers. At the same time, Google was trying to convince the Department of Justice that changing the default search engine in the (then) new IE7 was too difficult (when in reality it’s really simple). Installing the toolbar meant that users would have Google as their default search engine in IE7. It also meant that Dell and Google would share some of the revenue from the advertising clicks that resulted from these installations, much like The Mozilla Foundation does with its Firefox browser.
Dell and Google are now installing a second program on computers that intercepts all sorts of queries that the browser would normally try to resolve. This program has no clear name and is very hard to uninstall. In some circles, people would call this spyware.

More US Inflation than Government Data Lets On?

Barry Ritholtz:

This week’s Up and Down Wall Street looks at a recent analysis out of QB Partners. They are a hedge fund run by Lee Quaintance and Paul Brodsky.
QB put together an analysis of the US dollar, and why its ongoing weakness is both significant and ongoing. In their analysis they see the buck ultimately endingits run as the world’s reserve currency.
The heart of the analysis is the quandry left for the current Fed chairman Ben Bernake by new PIMCO flack and former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan.
Poor Ben is confronted with a long term Hobson’s choice: tighten the monetary and credit screws to bolster the dollar, go the other way — loosen credit and lower rates even further to prop up asset prices. Why is this no choice at all? Because History has taught us the Central Bank will continue to “inflate the money supply and promote more credit, thereby sustaining asset prices at the expense of the purchasing power of the dollar.”

There’s something to this. Grocery shopping recently I noticed that Stonyfield’s yogurts are now .99 each, up from .79 not so long ago. I also noticed that Listerine has shrunk their $6.50ish container, thereby increasing the price. I wonder how solid the Government data is?

House Dems: Broadband isn’t broadband unless it’s 2Mbps

Nate Anderson:

Saying that the FCC “has not kept pace with the times or the technology,” Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) opened a hearing today into the FCC’s methods for measuring broadband availability in the US. The US lags in speed, availability, and value, said Markey, compared to a country like Japan, where most residents can pay $30 a month for 50Mbps fiber connections to the Internet (which some senators would like to see migrate across the Pacific). But without accurate data on US broadband, neither the government nor private industry will be able to put forward a comprehensive national broadband plan.
Problems with the FCC’s broadband data collection methodology have been well-known for years, and Congress is finally poised to step in and tell the agency how to fix the problem. The Broadband Census of America Act, currently in draft form, asks the FCC to increase its broadband threshold speed from 200Kbps to 2Mbps and to stop claiming that a ZIP code has broadband access if even a single resident in that ZIP code does. It also asks the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to prepare a map for the web that will show all this data in a searchable, consumer-friendly format.
The mood among the members of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet was jovial; Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) even opened by asking (in reference to the proposed map), “Why do maps never win at poker?” The answer: “Because they always fold.” Groan.

2007 National Design Awards

The National Design Awards were conceived in 1997 by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum to honor the best in American design. First launched at the White House in 2000 as an official project of the White House Millennium Council, the annual Awards program celebrates design in various disciplines as a vital humanistic tool in shaping the world, and seeks to increase national awareness of design by educating the public and promoting excellence, innovation, and lasting achievement. The Awards are truly national in scope–nominations for the 2007 Awards were solicited from a committee of more than 800 leading designers, educators, journalists, cultural figures, and corporate leaders from every state in the nation. Reflecting the ever-growing scope of design, the Awards program has expanded this year to include three new categoriesÑlandscape design, interior design, and design mind-for a total of 10 awards.

Running the Numbers

Chris Jordan:

This new series looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 426,000 cell phones retired every day. This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs.
My only caveat about this series is that the prints must be seen in person to be experienced the way they are intended. As with any large artwork, their scale carries a vital part of their substance which is lost in these little web images. Hopefully the JPEGs displayed here might be enough to arouse your curiosity to attend an exhibition, or to arrange one if you are in a position to do so. The series is still in its early stages, and new images will be posted as they are completed, so please stay tuned.