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What Do Cheddar Cheese, Nonfat Dry Milk and Housing Have In Common?

Besides the hot futures and options vehicles nearly every American trades such as cheddar cheese [1] and nonfat dry milk [2] (just kidding), starting March 31st, investors can now trade housing index futures [3] as well.

The indexes will be called the S&P Case-Shiller Metro Area Home Price Indices [4] and use calculation techniques developed by economics professors Karl Chase and Robert Shiller, author of the influential book “Irrational Exuberance.”

The press release provides a good overview: S&P Set to Launch Metro Area Home Price Indices [5].

There will be a composite index weight by market size and one for each of the following ten cities: Boston, Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York Commuter Index, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington D.C. I would venture a guess that the NY Commuter Index includes New York City, the outlying suburbs of Westchester and Fairfield Counties, Long Island and Northern New Jersey.

This index won’t render the OFHEO Housing Price Index [6] or the various NAR indexes [7] obsolete because this covers 10 metro markets rather than entire country.

However, it looks like the methodologies employed in this index are far better, with less bias than the NAR and OFHEO numbers. Here’s a series of white papers [8] on the Chicago Merc’s site that sums it up nicely as follows:

_National Association of Realtor (NAR) Indexes_
– NAR indexes quoted as median home values and do not use repeat sales methodology
– Median values do not address homeowner returns and may readily be skewed if composition of housing stock changes, e.g., new luxury subdivisions are introduced to area

_Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO)_
– Uses repeat sales methodology
– BUT … sample confined to Fannie & Freddie conforming mortgages and, therefore, skewed to low end of housing market
– Only perhaps 1/6th of California housing sold with conforming mortgages
– Uses appraisal data to supplement sample … appraisals tend to be upwardly biased?

What does a housing index that can be traded do for us?