The WSJ And Financial Statistics: You Can’t Please Everyone

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Heh. A financial blog has accused the Wall Street Journal of being hoodwinked by press release put out by the National Association of Realtors.

So… Here’s the story. In today’s WSJ, a front-page piece claims that America’s massive foreclosure crisis is actually attracting more homebuyers (editor’s note: err, not really):

On Monday, new data suggested that pressures like these are starting to drive prices low enough to attract some buyers back into the market. Sales of previously occupied homes jumped 2.9% in February from the month before, the National Association of Realtors said, the first increase since July.

The only problem is, according to the Larry Kudlow-approved blogger at The Big Picture, those statistics measured seasonal differences rather than actual improvements in home sales:

Can you imagine what it would be like if we reported retail sales from December to January this way? Headlines would misleadingly state: “Retail sales plummet 65%!” That is why with highly seasonal data series, the preferred methodology is to report year-over-year data — not month-to-month variations.

Whether the Wall Street Journal used non-standard statistics for that piece is an open-ended question (and one we’ll proudly admit we’re not qualified to judge), but it makes us wonder… Does the WSJ have an official approval criteria for quoting business metrics? And how often do they rely upon statistics obtained from press releases by industry groups that can be less than objective?

But the real questions are whether the Wall Street Journal made an error in using those statistics and whether the piece will have any long-term effect. The asnwer to both is not really. Expert commentary from Curbed.com’s Joey Arak after the jump:

(Image via Minnesota Public Radio)


“While the year-to-year stat may be a larger indicator of the market’s overall health, no one expects home sales right now to keep up with the ferocious pace of years’ past. Right now the theme everywhere is “MARKET CRASHING OMG PANIC!!!” so any improvement in home sales, no matter how short-term or minuscule, is a story in itself for those wondering if the damage has been done. You can’t really hurl bricks at the WSJ for that.

As for the story’s effect on the market, meh, who knows. Maybe the stock market goes up for a day, maybe consumer confidence goes up for a bit, but there will be some other story in a day or a week or a month about how the market sucks again. Enough of those and we’ll all finally be able to buy those condos along the Williamsburg Riviera.”