Housing prices to free fall in 2008
CNN Money
By David Goldman, CNNMoney.com staff writer
January 23, 2008

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The worst housing financial crisis in decades is only going to get worse, a Merrill Lynch report said Wednesday.

The investment bank forecasted a 15 percent drop in housing prices in 2008 and a further 10 percent drop in 2009, with even more depreciation likely in 2010.

By contrast, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) expects housing prices to remain flat in 2008. NAR did cut its home price estimate for the current quarter, however, to a 5.3 percent year-over-year decline, which represents the steepest drop in that price measure on record. But NAR sees an uptick in home prices in the last two quarters of 2008.

"Merrill Lynch's figures are way too pessimistic, and they are unprecedented," Lawrence Yun, the National Association of Realtors chief economist told CNNMoney.com. "There is so much variation in local housing markets, and we see stable price conditions for 2008."

The current housing crisis and the depreciation in home prices have pummeled the economy, with businesses and consumers cutting back on spending, raising the specter of a recession. "Lower sales and higher inventory for sales are lowering the velocity of transactions," said Fritz Siebel, Director of US Property Derivatives for Tradition Financial Services. "That cannot be a sign of good health for the economy."

But for those who think that the worst is over, Merrill Lynch said that housing prices still remain comparatively high. The brokerage believes that home prices are still far above historical norms when compared to other measures such as rent or GDP. "By our calculations, it will take about a 20 to 30 percent decline in home prices to correct this imbalance," said the report.

Merrill Lynch believes that housing starts will most likely slide another 30 percent by the end of 2008 - a historic low.

The report says that the inventory situation only continues to worsen, as homebuilders are now looking at more than a nine months' supply. "The current supply/demand environment does not favor a swift recovery in the housing market, in our view," according to the report.

Yun agrees that the reduction in housing starts will not bode well for the economy, especially in the homebuilding industry, but he believes that the reduction will soothe the housing market by slowing the glut in inventory. "The reduction in housing starts is not stabilizing the economy, but it will stabilize the market," said Yun

Original Text