More Houses Selling in Vegas

The greater Las Vegas residential market has long been one of the poster children for the housing depression--pretty much since day one of the crisis, in fact.

The greater Las Vegas residential market has long been one of the poster children for the housing depression—pretty much since day one of the crisis, in fact. According to Case-Shiller, the value of housing in the market at the moment is fully 61.8 percent off peak. So it’s some kind of news when there’s an uptick in the Vegas market, however modest.

The Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors reported on Wednesday that the market’s sales and prices were up in February, while inventories were down. The association says the total number of homes, condominiums and townhomes in the market sold in February was 3,794. That’s up from 3,591 in January, and up from 3,371 in February 2011. Single-family homes were the strongest among the categories, up 17.8 percent, while condo/townhome sales rose 5 percent, both compared with a year ago.

Moreover, the stock of houses languishing on the market in Vegas has shrunk. By the end of February, GLVAR reported 6,543 single-family homes listed without any sort of offer, down 18.2 percent from 8,001 such homes listed in January and down 45.6 percent from one year ago. Still, the market remains a cash-buyer’s dream: fully 71.3 percent of all sales involve distressed property, and half of those found buyers who paid cash.

Pulse of Commerce Index gains slightly in February

The little-known UCLA Anderson Forecast and Ceridian Corp. Pulse of Commerce Index released this week rose 0.7 percent in February. The index uses real-time diesel fuel consumption as a measuring rod of economic activity.

The index has been weak lately. The year-over-year growth in the index since May 2011 has been hovering slightly above zero, in fact. In December 2011, growth turned negative at minus 0.8 percent (year-over-year), with January 2012 even worse at minus 2.2 percent. February’s year-over-year loss was only slightly negative at minus 0.2 percent.

“The continuing weakness of the [index] is signaling that, perhaps, the recovery in home building has not yet taken hold,” Ed Leamer, chief economist for the Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index and director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast, noted in a press statement. “The recent improvement in building permits and housing starts may get building going again and therefore, trucking as well, as it has been said that it takes 17 truckloads to build a home. If we get the saws and hammers going again, we will have a real recovery with much healthier job growth.”

Ex-Goldman exec airs dirty laundry

The financial-news splash of the day involved the publication of a New York Times op-ed by former Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith, who had highly critical things to say about severe greed at the top and clients who were played for suckers. The rest of us were shocked, shocked to hear about such goings-on at a very large bank.

Wall Street mostly ran out of steam on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 16.42 points, or 0.12 percent, and the Nasdaq up 0.03 percent. The S&P 500 lost 0.12 percent.