After a week full of new data about U.S. housing, the future of the struggling housing market is no clearer than before.
Those expecting the housing market to adjust to last year's steep increase in mortgage rates and resume recovering from the mortgage crisis will have to wait longer for clarity.
The bad news came Thursday, with the Census Bureau reporting that sales of new single-family home sales fell in June. The 406,000 houses sold in the month were well below what was expected, fewer than in May and down from a year ago.
The weak sales numbers corroborated last week's weak report on new home construction. More than a million new housing starts were expected, but the Census Bureau reported just under 900,000.
New construction hasn’t risen as hoped. Starts are just slightly higher than they were a year ago, and what appeared to be a steep increase toward the end of 2013 has petered out.
Despite the underwhelming construction and sales numbers, however, homebuilders remain optimistic. Their confidence level is at a six-month high in July, as measured by the National Association of Homebuilders' index.
And other reports this week signaled that housing sales are accelerating, not slowing.
Existing home sales, the biggest part of the market, boomed in June, beating expectations and eclipsing the 5 million mark, according to the National Association of Realtors. There’s a clear trend toward improvement in 2014 after the disastrous second half of 2013, when higher mortgage rates crimped sales.
And the underlying details are even more favorable. There's a growing inventory of houses for sale, which should help reduce housing prices. Inventories are up year over year and are higher than at any point in 2013.
Furthermore, the share of housing sales that are not related to foreclosures or short sales is up. Such "distressed" sales accounted for 11 percent of June sales, down from 15 percent in June 2013. Eight percent of June sales were foreclosures and 3 percent were short sales.
And throughout all the events of the past few years, house prices have risen essentially without interruption. The Federal Housing Finance Agency reported Tuesday that house prices were up 0.4 percent in the month of May, and 5.5 percent year-over-year.
Taken together, the new information available this week likely won't help top policymakers such as the Federal Reserve's Janet Yellen with their confusion over the housing market. The labor market has seen significant improvement over the course of 2014, but it's still a mystery whether a similarly strong recovery will finally take hold in housing.