AP's Rugaber Cites 'Slowly, But Steadily Improving' Existing Home Sales Situation Without Meaningful Support

In what has become an all too predictable ritual, an AP reporter has tried to make the situation in the economy look like it's on the upswing when it's not.

Today, the AP's Christopher Rugaber read the press release on existing home sales from the National Association of Realtors. As a trade group, NAR will tend to put a good (or at least not as ugly face) on even a rough situation. So it's hard to blame them for saying that "Sales of existing homes rose in July even with constraints of affordable inventory, and the national median price is showing five consecutive months of year-over-year increases." The first half of NAR's statement is selectively incomplete, but Rugaber compounded the problem in the first sentence of his report this morning:

RISE IN US HOME SALES REFLECTS STEADY IMPROVEMENT Americans bought more homes in July than in June, the latest evidence that the housing market is slowly, but steadily, improving.

I hardly think that the following record of seasonally adjusted annual sales rates covering the past four months constitutes "slowly, but steadily, improving":

  • April (after revision; value found in NAR's May release) -- 4.62 million, up 3.4% from a revised March figure of 4.47 million.
  • May (after revision; value found in June's release -- 4.62 million, no change from April.
  • June (after revision; value found in July's release) -- 4.37 million, a 5.4% drop from May.
  • July (pending revision) -- 4.47 million, a 2.3% increase from June.

On a seasonally adjusted annualized basis (I was unable to locate the raw monthly data at the NAR's site), sales of existing homes are exactly the same as the were in March, and 3.2% lower than they were in April. How is "slowly, but steadily, improving" at all descriptive of this situation?

Rugaber contradicted himself in his third paragraph, using some of the data just cited:

The industry's recovery has grown more consistent, though it remains sluggish and uneven. July sales were below the 4.6 million annual pace reached in April and May. And the annual sales pace is below the roughly 5.5 million that economists consider healthy.

But I guess that's okay, because most readers and almost no broadcasters of AP content will get that far. As far as unit sales of existing homes are concerned, the operative word isn't "sluggish" or "uneven." It's "non-existent."

As to prices, Rugaber would have been on solid ground citing a degree pf price recovery in April, May, and June, as what NAR calls "The national median existing-home price for all housing types" rose 15.6% during the second quarter. But that wasn't the case in July as that figure fell by 0.9% from June. Maybe it's a breather after three good months, so it's not necessarily fair to call it a bad thing; but July's downward move certainly doesn't support Rugaber's "slowly, but steadily, improving" assessment.

It looks like from at least now until November, even more than usual, the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, will leave no economic data unspun.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.