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Housing Sales Not So Bad, But Journalism is Lousy

August 7, 2012

by Bill Conerly, Oregon economist
Conerly Consulting, Businomics

Once again let me rant about The Wall Street Journal’s headline:  New Home Sales Dropped: Sales of newly built homes in the U.S. fell in June to the lowest level in five months, showing that the recovery of the housing market remains uneven.

Now let’s look at the actual data:

The journal got it right. The very last data point (June 2012) is down from May. It is the lowest in the last five months. When you read “lowest level in five months” you know it’s higher than six months ago, right? Otherwise they would have said “lowest level in six months.”

The big picture is that the housing recovery was never very strong. My chart with data since 2007 shows that clearly. It also shows a tendency for the data to jump around a little bit. The latest data might very well be noise, plain and simple. Sure, it could also be the start of a new trend, but it’s way too soon to tell.

I’m a headline skimmer myself, but this story emphasizes the need for us to remind ourselves: the headline writers are trying to promote a story. The more boring the story, the more the headline writer stretches. When I get angry about a misleading newspaper story, most likely I’m ticked off about the headline, not the substance. Be careful out there.

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