Channeling Orwell: AP's Kravitz Celebrates Allegedly Recovering Housing Market, Flushes Bad Starts Data Down Memory Hole
After reading Derek Kravitz's final report of the day at 4:45 p.m. on the housing market at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, I just had to check the other wires to see if they were sipping from the same housing-market-in-recovery koolaid.
The answer is no. At Reuters, Jason Lange's 3:22 p.m. dispatch reported that "Output at U.S. factories slipped in March and builders started construction on fewer homes, offering cautionary signals for an economy that appeared to be gaining traction." At Bloomberg, Timothy R. Homan wrote: "While warmer weather may have spurred home construction at the beginning of 2012, a competing supply of cheap existing properties may be steering potential buyers away from purchasing a new home. That means home construction may not help boost the economy in 2012." Both of these assessments make Kravitz's take on housing, which included omitting very negative data on housing starts, seem that much more bizarre (my comments in italics follow each paragraph):
The stunts the folks at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, continue pulling to downplay, minimize, or whitewash bad or embarrassing economic and other news shouldn't surprise us any more. But they continue to disappoint nonetheless.
Last month, a consumer sentiment index reported by the Conference Board fell by a relatively modest amount. Headlines and descriptions at related AP reports went from “falls” to “dips slightly” to “roughly flat” to a “rosy outlook” in the course of a single day. Today's AP rewrite only involved one step. At 9:04 a.m., Derek Kravitz's dispatch on the Census Bureau's New Home Construction report gave equal play to the seasonally adjusted (and totally unexpected) fall in new housing starts and the also unexpected but more modest rise in building permits:
Fantasy Meets Reality: On Sunday AP Boosted 'Housing Recovery;' Turns Out Now It's 'Unexpectedly' Weak
Derek Kravitz and Alex Veiga at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, must have doubled down on the energy drinks over the weekend. A Sunday morning report (HT to a NewsBusters tipster) telling readers that signs are "pointing to a long-awaited recovery" in the housing market went on, and on, and on, and on for over 1,350 words.
The factors the AP pair cited were primarily these: "Hiring has strengthened," "Loans remain cheap," "Homes are more affordable," and "Americans are more confident." They should have known that their first point has become questionable with March's mediocre jobs report and the recent spike in weekly initial unemployment claims to 380,000 (which so happens to be above his colleague Christopher Rugaber's already too-high benchmark for job-market improvement of 375,000), and that their last point should read: "Americans are less un-confident."
While Housing Starts Languish, AP's Kravitz Trumpets Increase in Permits as Evidence of Builder Optimism
You've got to admire the determination of Derek Kravitz at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, to find lemonade among the lemons known as the monthly new-home construction statistics from the Census Bureau. Why, he was even able to find a guy who said that "housing permits-not the starts" are more relevant in gauging the health of the market. Did it ever occur to these guys that builders might be piling up permits in the hope that economic conditions will change for the better for real once it's clear that the country will have new leadership (which could conceivably happen even before the November general elections)?
Here are the first seven paragraphs from Kravitz's report, followed by a fuller rundown of the relevant stats (bolds are mine):
The Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, and designated drone Derek Kravitz clearly haven't tired of putting smiley-faces on the ongoing, relentlessly awful conditions in the new-home market.
As shown on February 17 (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), the number of single-family homes under construction is barely above its all-time low (since records have been kept), while January's figure for single-family units completed was absolutely the lowest on record. Yet Kravitz, as has been his habit, erroneously presented housing starts alone as a proxy for "construction" activity, made it appear to many typical readers that housing starts have been averaging about 500,000 per month (not per year), and pretended that the modest rise in starts "suggests builders are growing more confident that more buyers are ready to come off the sidelines." In his Friday report on new-home sales, Kravitz noted a seasonally adjusted January drop, but trumpeted a minuscule upward adjustment to fourth-quarter sales which was barely more than a rounding error:
AP's Kravitz Makes It Appear as If Builders Started Almost 1.5 Million Single-Family Homes in Past Three Months
Yesterday, the initial one-sentence squib from the Associated Press on the Census Bureau's monthly housing construction release stated that "(A) Surge in apartments offsets weak single-family homes, pushing housing starts up 1.5 percent" (the headline reads the same).
By the time AP real estate writer Derek Kravitz turned it into a full-blown report, the headline became "US housing starts rise modestly to start new year." The opening sentence now reads: "Construction of single-family homes in the U.S. cooled off slightly in January after surging in the final month last year." The word "weak" is not in the report. It won't surprise anyone that the wire service's initial unfiltered reaction was more correct. What may surprise even those who are used to AP misdirection is that Kravitz made it appear to those who don't know better, which would include a large number of newspaper, TV, and radio journalists, that construction began on almost 1.5 million single-family homes during the past three months. Really.
Today's report by Derek Kravitz at the Associated Press (also known to yours truly as the Administration's Press) covering the Census Bureau's December and full-year 2011 new-home sales release put a smiley-face on the "worst ever" year (the AP headline's term) in the category.
I like the adjective used at Sweetness & Light's related blog post to describe Kravitz's crud: "unfazed." The AP reporter follows four paragraphs of facts with three more paragraphs of sunshiny "analysis" which are so wholly unsupported by reality that you would fall off of your chair laughing if you didn't also realize that most readers, listeners and viewers who saw and heard this garbage today didn't know any better than to believe it:
I see that the Associated Press's Derek Kravitz is picking up where his colleague Martin Crutsinger left off in offering up incomplete information and inconvenient truth-avoiding coverage of Uncle Sam's financial results as described in the Monthly Treasury Statement. December's statement, which was released yesterday, showed a deficit of $86 billion and a year-to-date shortfall of $322 billion.
Naturally, this was cause for a positive-spinning headline at the AP report: "US gov't on pace for smaller deficit in 2012." Whoop-de-doo. Two problems: a) It's too early to tell, b) the year-to-date reduction thus far is fairly small (about 13%), c) Most of the improvement is because of a lucky break when fiscal 2011 ended, and d) December itself was a pretty bad month compared to December 2010. Here are several paragraphs from Kravitz's concoction (bolds and numbered tags are mine):
A few readers asked me for my reaction to Derek Kravitz's December 23 report at the Associated Press on new-home sales. I thought that it was reasonably good, but felt that his leaving open in readers' minds the idea that this year's sales could conceivably top last year's was in bad form.
I was too kind. Based on data available elsewhere, Kravitz should have known (and maybe did) that instead of holding out the possibility that "December would have to produce its best monthly sales total in four years for 2011 to finish ahead of last year's total," he should have written something along the lines of: "There is virtually no chance that 2011 will be better than 2010."
Lord have mercy, these people are looking anywhere and everywhere to turn an economic improvement molehill into something that sort of looks like a mountain.
Today, the headline to Derek Kravitz's report at the Associated Press ("Rise in home construction suggests a turnaround") reasonably reflected the underlying reality reported by the Census Bureau, but his first six paragraphs most definitely did not:
This morning, the Census Bureau told us that 25,000 new homes were sold in October, which, after seasonal adjustment, works out to an annual rate of 307,000. This was up from a seasonally adjusted and downwardly revised (from 313,000) 303,000 in September. According to the first sentence of Derek Kravitz's related report at the Associated Press, this constitutes a "hopeful sign," even though October's number could easily be revised downward, as September's was.
Kravitz went further downhill in his fifth paragraph, descending into flat-out, undeniable falsehood (bold is mine):
The headline and opening sentence in Derek Kravitz's Associated Press report this morning on the Census Bureau's homebulding industry data release gives readers the impression that industry activity increased impressively during September. It increased a tiny bit, but certainly not by the percentage indicated.
The headline ignorantly assumes that a double-digit increase in housing starts is the same as an increase in "home building." It isn't. That headline, the first four paragraphs from Kravitz's report, and some other indicators of housing market progress -- and the stunning lack thereof, three full years after the politicians promised that the Troubled Asset Relief Program would right the ship -- follow the jump (bolds are mine):
At first blush, it might seem hard to imagine how one can contend that a press report describing an industry sector as operating "at depressed levels" and at volumes that are one-half of what "economists consider to be healthy" isn't telling the whole truth. But that's exactly how I would describe Tuesday's writeup by the Associated Press's Derek Kravitz after July's Census Bureau release on housing starts, building permits, homes under construction, and completions.
The problem is, as I separately noted earlier today, that of the sixteen key metrics the Bureau reported, eleven of them were record lows, either for any July on record, or any individual month on record. The other five were either the second-worst or third worst Julys on record. This isn't a depressed market; it's a despondent one. Kravitz only disclosed one of those eleven records, and in a misleading manner.
In his Friday report covering the June state and local employment report released by Uncle Sam's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Associated Press's Derek Kravitz told readers about the three biggest seasonally adjusted job-losing states (Tennessee, Missouri, and Virginia), but had nothing to say about states which gained jobs. This was a curious omission indeed, given that BLS told us that "nonfarm payroll employment increased in 26 states and the District of Columbia and decreased in 24 states."
Only Kravitz knows why he neglected to tell us about the job gainers, but the list of the top eight states in that department should make readers wonder if the wire service reporter's omission was motivated by inconvenient (for liberals and leftists) likely explanations for the improvements in most of them (keep in mind that though it's not an apples to apples comparison, the economy as a whole added only 18,000 seasonally adjusted jobs in June):
Case Shiller Home Price 'Boost' Disappears After Seasonal Adjustment; AP, S&P Like the Raw Numbers Better
While the vast majority of those in the establishment press doggedly insist on reporting seasonally adjusted numbers in most economic spheres, there is an odd exception: Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller Home Price Indices.
Not that it's completely the press's fault. S&P emphasizes the raw numbers over the seasonally adjusted ones, and for a pretty good reason: The raw numbers represent what's really happening on the ground with home prices. In the current economy, the seasonal calculations can't really be said to reflect typical seasonal patterns. Of course, this logic should apply to other key areas, particularly employment, but we (or maybe it's the reporters) are apparently not mature enough to understand large monthly swings in jobs added or lost, or able to see them in the context of previous years.
Given that the press usually hangs its hat on seasonal numbers, you'd think they'd be more than a little shy about copying S&P's press release, which today described a very small increase as a a "boost" in home prices, which disppeared after seasonal adjustment, as seen below:
Apparatchik Press: AP Vastly Exaggerates Modest to Non-Existent Improvements in Unemployment Claims, Housing Data
Thursday morning, initial weekly unemployment claims as reported by Uncle Sam's Department of Labor came in at a seasonally adjusted 414,000. It was 16,000 lower than the previous week's upwardly revised (as usual) number, but certainly no indicator in and of itself of meaningful improvement.
The housing industry data really wasn't any better. True, the seasonally adjusted figures from the Census Bureau for building permits issued and housing units started were somewhat improved, but the raw data still had several examples of record weakness.
Wait until you see the headline the Associated Press applied to a story covering the DOL and Census reports by Derek Kravitz and Christopher Rugaber:
CNNMoney Fails to Send Out a Housing Starts/Permits Email Alert in What 'Just So Happened' to Be a Bad Month
Shortly after 8:30 this morning, I began thinking that my CNNMoney.com e-mail alerts had stopped arriving. So I went to the Census Bureau's web site and learned that its monthly report on housing starts, building permits, and other construction-related news had indeed been released. The news for the already moribund industry was awful: Building permits in April fell by a seasonally adjusted 4% from March and by 12.0% from April 2010, while the comparable tumbles in housing starts were 10.6% and 23.9%, respectively.
Well, my opening and closing bell e-mails arrived as expected. So unless there was a technical glitch, this means that CNNMoney decided not to issue a post-8:30 alert for the bad housing news.
Let's take a look at the two e-mails which did arrive. First, just after the opening bell:
The Associated Press's Derek Kravitz seems to have a difficult time quoting government statistics without rewording them. This is a far from harmless habit.
Tuesday, Kravitz the Creative reported on the Census Bureau's information release on March homebuilding industry activity. His first two paragraphs and the story's headline (y'know, the parts that are more likely to be read over the airwaves or seen by readers in a hurry) told us that "new-home construction" increased by 7.2%. Either the poor chap believes that "housing starts," which is the only number which increased to that degree, is a synonym for "new-home construction," or he was trying to put a prettier face than deserved on a set of depressed industry data that barely showed a pulse.
After two cheery paragraphs, Kravitz segued into communicating the truly pessimistic nature of the housing industry these days, and noted two pieces of information which virtually prove that "new-home construction" did not increase by the percentage stated -- if it increased at all.
Here are several paragraphs from the AP report (bolded paragraph is where the two contradictory data points are found):
The Associated Press's report on existing home sales carries Derek Kravitz's byline today. Apparently the byline withholding temper tantrum thrown by the wire service's U.S. reporters which began last week has ended (further evidence here).
What Kravitz's story doesn't carry is the word "existing." How odd, since the National Association of Realtors (NAR) which produces the report, calls it "Existing-Home Sales" at the report's home web page, and labels the data "Existing Home Sales" in two different places in the detailed data.
It would be one thing if Kravitz were, as he may be, "merely" trying to keep his bad-news report from being found by search engine users looking for related sales news; a search on "existing" at the AP's home site does not return Kravitz's report. But his dispatch's headline is unclear as to which type of sales are even involved (new or existing?), and his repeated use of the term "previously occupied homes" instead of "existing" might lead some readers to believe that the data involved exclude homes which have been vacant for some time, which is not the case.
Here are excerpts from Kravitz's crummy job, which also contains something that is more predictable than the weather, i.e., a weather-related excuse:
Although it would be unfair to characterize Derek Kravitz's report at the Associated Press this morning on the Census Bureau's new home sales report as anything but bleak, the AP reporter missed what should have been the most obvious stat: The 19,000 new homes actually sold nationwide in January 2011 (i.e., not seasonally adjusted, real number) is the lowest for any single month on record in the 48 years the Bureau has been reporting this information.
Kravitz also demonstrated that he has picked up a couple of bad habits the AP's Martin Crutsinger displayed when reporting on news home sales during several previous months. First, he set the bar which would represent a legitimate industry recovery artificially low. Second, he gave readers the impression that the current housing market is better than it was a "nearly half-century" ago, which of course it isn't.
Here are several paragraphs from Kravitz's creation:
On Wednesday, with a bit of an assist from the Census Bureau's seasonalizers, the Associated Press's Derek Kravitz, with the help of Martin Crutsinger, covered the Bureau's just-published January data on housing starts and building permits. Though no one could accuse the AP pair of excessive cheerleading, they missed the most important comparison: How did January 2011 compare to January 2010? The answer: It was worse.
Here are key passages from their writeup: