Although the stock market has been on a roll and the long-feared crash in the bond market hasn't reared its head, it might be time for a reminder that it was the housing market that brought down the economy. And it is helping to lift up the broader economy as the housing recovery appears to gain traction.
Underscoring that point, this week, reports are due on housing starts and existing home sales.
Housing starts and home sales figures
The housing starts number is scheduled for release by the government at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday (all times Eastern). Existing home sales, from the National Association of Realtors, is set for 10 a.m. Thursday. Ken Mayland, president of forecasting firm ClearView Economics, says the advance in the stock market mostly affects upper-income brackets. "Middle-income people have a lot tied up in the house," Mayland says. As home prices have recovered, people have reclaimed a portion of the wealth lost during the downturn.
Mayland cites figures from the Federal Reserve showing that the market value of household real estate surged $450 billion in the fourth quarter alone. "This is starting to look like the good old days, just starting," Mayland says, adding, "This can have meaningful impact on a lot of people."
Reaching 5 million
Jeffrey Rosen, chief economist for Briefing.com, says he hopes that the annual pace of home resales rises above the benchmark of 5 million for the first time in years. The last time existing home sales hit that level, he says, was when the first-time homebuyer tax credit was offered, which first covered sales in 2008.
Specifically, in September 2008, houses were resold at an annual rate of a little more than 5 million. But the annual rate isn't the same as annual sales, any more than your car's speed on the interstate is the same as the average speed for the whole trip. The last year with more than 5 million existing home sales was 2007.
The DJIA puzzle
A fair number of experts have been scratching their heads, trying to explain the series of record highs notched by the Dow Jones industrial average. Rosen says one key factor has been the recovery in the housing market.
Leading economic indicators
The Conference Board releases the index of leading economic indicators at 10 a.m. Thursday. The forward-looking gauge of economic activity was up 0.2 percent in January. That followed a larger increase in December.
While he wouldn't predict this week's leading economic indicators for February, The Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein says, "The underlying trend of the economy might begin to pick up a little this spring, driven in no small part by the housing market."
Goldstein calls housing a tailwind for the economy, where it used to be a headwind. "The new headwind is sequestration and the question is which one is stronger," he says.
Many economists believe that growth in the current quarter will be relatively robust, and will slow a bit in the second quarter, due in part to the mandatory federal budget cuts, which took effect March 1.
"Clearly, the sequestration, at some point is really going to play havoc," Goldstein says. "It's going to play as a typical kind of economic shock, if you like." Goldstein agrees with others who believe that growth should resume at a moderate pace in the second half of the year.
This week in business history: Modern corporations emerge
On March 20, 1602, the Dutch East India Company, also known as VOC, was founded in Amsterdam. It is regarded as the first multinational corporation and the first to issue stock, per se. It conducted trade in Asia with the benefit of a monopoly, and had the power to establish colonies and even to wage war. Years later, it would benefit from the tulip mania, regarded as one of the first known market bubbles. Operations continued through the late 1700s, when it became bankrupt and served as the later bookend for the period of European colonialism.