NEW YORK — News that sales of newly built housing are still soaring to their highest levels ever was only one indication that the real estate market, sizzling hot for a long time, shows no real sign of cooling, let alone imploding.
For months, some economists and real estate analysts have predicted that rising interest rates implemented by the Federal Reserve Board will soon dampen sales, construction and prices of housing — in other words, that the “housing bubble” would burst.
Although the impact of higher interest rates has historically translated into increased mortgage costs, and therefore decreased demand, history seems to be reversing course.
On both a year-over-year and monthly basis, all four key indicators of housing market activity — sales of new units, sales of used or existing units, new housing starts and new construction permits — posted significant gains in April.
Looked at annually, which offers a broader basis for comparison than month-to-month changes, all measures show robust increases. Sales of newly built housing in April leaped 13.3 percent over the same month a year ago, reaching more than 1.3 million units on an annual rate, after seasonal adjustments.
For homes previously inhabited, sales rose nearly 6 percent. And reflecting the optimism of both developers and their financial backers, construction companies not only secured nearly 3 percent more permits, they actually began work on almost 4 percent more buildings than they had the year before.
Even compared with March, April housing indicators were high, with all four categories growing, especially construction starts.
To be sure, any or all of these measures can change in a month or two. But with the economy reportedly picking up steam — notwithstanding stubborn joblessness — it is not unlikely that the bull real estate market will be with us a while longer.
Recent history, in fact, has been on the bullish side. Throughout the first half of the 2000s, the residential market seemed to be operating in a world of its own, impervious to an unemployment rate that has remained around double what it was during most of the Nineties, and apparently untouched by the usual tendency of inflationary bubbles in other economic sectors to eventually burst; witness the dot-com bust and various stock market plunges.
In fact, the poor performance of the securities market may actually fuel speculation in real estate, as investors withdraw money from stocks to buy, and then quickly sell, housing, thereby artificially inflating prices.
Analysts add that another reason the housing bubble, if indeed it can be called such, has not deflated is that real estate is a very tangible asset. Unlike most of the dot-coms, housing does not consist primarily of an idea or a vision. Unlike the stock market, housing is not much of a gamble, except in times of severe economic distress (recall images of urban devastation in the South Bronx in earlier decades), because people always need a place to live.
The next round of housing data is due to come out later this month.