Industry NewsMarkets & Economy

Housing recovery lacks coal for the firebox

Commentary: Without credit, hopes for construction and sales are too high

Another thin week for economic data, but plenty going on and patterns are forming. The dominant one is positive expectation for the economy: some is legitimate, although hope-based; some is illegitimate, salesmen mostly on Wall Street; and some is a form of habit, that sooner or later we'll enter an old-fashioned cyclical recovery. President Obama's inaugural falls into the third group, affirming his approach since first elected: the economy requires some attention, but it is a distraction from more important things. In a speech five times as long as this column, the inaugural included the word "economy" once, "jobs" twice, and "prosperity" once. The surprise datum on Tuesday: sales of existing homes slid 1 percent in December. Financial markets were briefly jolted by the absence of ramp-up. However, the many who are certain that housing will drive a strong and typical recovery went into sputtering and unseemly defense of their positions. Housing in genera...