This time it may be that the housing cycle isn't the business cycle in the United States.
Signs of a strengthening housing market and growing residential investment simply may not mean what they usually have since the Second World War, in that almost all recessions have been preceded by downturns in housing.
Data last week showed rising prices, improving sales and, most importantly, a continued trend of dwindling supply. And this fall, for the first time in three years, conditions may not deteriorate, according to housing analysts at CoreLogic. That is due to better supply and demand dynamics, fewer bank-owned house sales and a slowly tapering inventory of foreclosures.
This time, however, better housing conditions are coming up against a potential huge cutback in government spending and a Europe-driven downturn in much of the rest of the world.
The budget office for the US Congress, which is a non-partisan body that offers analysis and number crunching for members of the legislature, weighed in with a revised forecast that sees next year's plunge off the fiscal cliff as causing a 0.5 per cent contraction in the economy accompanied by a rise in unemployment to 9 per cent.
Figures out of the housing market certainly are not flashing recession. Investment in residential structures increased at a 9.7 per cent clip in the second quarter, down from its rate the quarter before but a huge change from 2010 and last year when it shrank.
Similarly, fixed investment in housing alone accounted for about 15 per cent of economic growth in the second quarter, having been a net drag last year.
Construction employment, while still a tiny fraction of boom levels, is also showing signs of an upturn, both inside and outside the residential sector. Taken altogether, if you just looked at housing you wouldn't have much, if any, concern about the prospects of a new recession.
Edward Leamer, a professor at the University of California in Los Angeles, originated the idea that housing drives economic cycles in a paper in 2007.
"Of the components of GDP, residential investment offers by far the best early warning sign of an oncoming recession. Since [the Second World War] we have had eight recessions preceded by substantial problems in housing and consumer durables," Mr Leamer wrote, arguing housing starts ought to play a central role in how central bankers determine interest rate policy.
Although housing starts eased slightly last month from a month before, they still stand 21.5 per cent higher today than a year ago.
For a clue of how next year might pan out, it makes sense to look at two post-war recessions housing did not predict - the ones that began in 1953 and 2001.
The downturn of 2001, as most people remember, was characterised by huge cutbacks in capital spending in the wake of the puncturing of the tech stock bubble. This cascaded through the economy, in terms of jobs, consumer spending and tax receipts and despite a perhaps overly aggressive response from the Federal Reserve.
The so-called defence department downturn of 1953 might be a better model for next year. With the US war in Korea over, defence spending was slashed, contributing nearly half of the contraction single-handedly.
That is very similar to what we could see next year if many of the automated spending cuts and tax increases currently planned to start in January kick in, a real risk in most post-election scenarios.
While it would be foolish to discount housing's predictive and economic power, it is also possible that the period we've just come out of will prove in some ways to have been the aberration. The build-up of debt in the economy tracked, approximately, the rise in the home-ownership rate, while the growth of suburban sprawl also coincided, driving investment in cars, roads and all the large merchandise we fills our homes with.
Housing wealth, during the bubble translated into extra spending but it is hard to see home prices surging once again, much less households deciding they should borrow and spend more in hopes those price rises can be sustained. Trying to blow another bubble in housing is a strategy that may have reached its natural limits.
Even if government spending isn't cut next year we still face a puzzle: how to grow the economy while reining in long-term deficits. The answer - exports - is as obvious as it is difficult to achieve.
Next year, we may be looking at the rare exception when housing follows the rest of the economy lower.
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