17 December 2009

Homebuyer Tax-Credit Extension Fails as Catalyst


President Barack Obama’s extension last month of a tax credit for first-time homebuyers failed to stir optimism among homebuilders or stock investors about the industry’s prospects.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index and a Standard & Poor’s index of homebuilding shares dropped after Obama signed the legislation on Nov. 6. The chart tracks these indicators since 2000.

Homebuyers received another five months, until April 30, to take advantage of the government’s $8,000 credit. They also became eligible for an additional $6,500 credit if they owned their previous residence for at least five years.

“The extension has not materially helped traffic or sales despite the program’s expansion,” Carl Reichardt, a Wells Fargo analyst, wrote yesterday in a report.

The NAHB/Wells Fargo index, an indicator of builders’ confidence, fell to 16 this month from 17 in November. None of the 47 economists in a Bloomberg News survey expected the decline. Readings below 50 show that most participants are pessimistic.

S&P’s industry gauge, consisting of builders in the S&P 500, MidCap 400 and SmallCap 600 indexes, dropped 8.4 percent from Nov. 6 to yesterday. S&P’s broadest index of U.S. stocks rose 4 percent during the period.

The shifts in sentiment and share prices were at odds with the growth in November housing starts and building permits that the Commerce Department reported today. Starts rose 8.9 percent to an annual rate of 574,000 homes. Permits climbed 6.9 percent to a 584,000 pace including such items as vacation homes in Atlantic Beach NC, the fastest since November 2008.

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