June 25, 2012

AP Headline Mischaracterizes Modest Rise in May New Home Sales; Crutsinger Injects Unsupported ‘Modest Recovery’ Opinion

At the Associated Press today, trying to build an impression of momentum where there isn’t very much, Martin Crutsinger, concerning today’s Census Bureau release of May new-home sales data, wrote that, “Americans bought new homes in May at the fastest pace in more than two years. The increase suggests a modest recovery is continuing in the U.S. housing market, despite weaker job growth.”

We’ve been through this before. The rest of Crutsinger’s report quoted no expert to support his
“modest recovery” claim as it relates to sales volume. Thus, it is his opinion. Readers don’t care what your opinion is, Marty. As I suggested in connection with another AP report earlier this month — “Stick to the facts, sir, and resist the urge to inject your thinly disguised perspective (I would say “shut up,” but I’m trying to be nice).” Speaking of facts, the AP’s headline is deceptive. Since it hasn’t changed in about 12 hours, I assume that the wire service either doesn’t understand why it’s wrong, or doesn’t care.

The headline reads: “US new-home sales rose at fastest pace in 2 years.”

The headline would have been correct if it head read: “US new-home sales rose to fastest pace in 2 years.” May’s seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 369,000 new single-family homes was indeed the highest figure since March and April 2010, when the expiration of the first-time homebuyer’s tax credit temporarily nudged annualized sales to 381,000 and 422,000, respectively. But it was also barely ahead of the 366,000 turned in just three months ago.

However, the headline as written leads readers to believe that the month-to-month rate of increase of 7.6% (369,000 compared to April’s 343,000) was the highest in over two years. That just isn’t so. A review of the relevant Census Bureau data shows this just isn’t so. Month-over-month percentage increases have been higher five other times in the past two years: February 2012 (366k/339k, +8.0%), March 2011 (301k/273k, +10.3%), December 2010 (326k/287k, +13.6%), September 2010 (317k/282k, +12.4%), and June 2010 (305k/280k, +8.9%). To be clear, the headline is what is incorrect; Crutsinger’s first sentence is accurate.

Crutsinger wrote the following about home prices:

The median price of a new home sold in May edged down 0.6 percent from the April to $234,500. But the median price was 5.6 percent higher than the same month one year ago.

“Somehow,” he forgot to tell readers that it was the third consecutive monthly drop.

More fundamentally, given that the housing market has seen more false starts in the past three years than Olympic sprint races used to have before electronic sensors and rules changes greatly reduced them, Crutsinger’s “modest recovery” assessment with job growth tapering (or possibly worse) is particularly unwarranted. But more fundamentally, it’s uncalled for. Unless and until you cite support for such an assertion, Marty (even then, it should be couched in terms such “industry observers believe,” and involve interviewees with no ax to grind), it’s not part of your job.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.


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