A “Housing Start” is a privately-owned home on which construction has started. It’s an important gauge of housing health because it tracks new housing stock nationwide.
In December 2009, starts fell by nearly 7 percent.
The news is mildly disappointing but not too bad. The likely cause for the Housing Starts drop is December’s rough weather conditions. It’s tough to break ground when Mother Nature won’t coordinate and last month was especially hazardous in a lot of parts of the country.
More cheery, however, is that for the second straight month, Housing Permits exploded.
A housing permit is an certification from local government that authorizes construction. After posting a 7 percent gain in November, permits rose by another 8 percent in December.
It’s a signal that housing is, indeed, in recovery — despite the falling number of actual starts. More permits mean that builders plan to bring more homes on the market for what’s expected to be a very busy spring home-shopping season.
According to the Census Bureau, 82% of homes start construction within 60 days of permit-issuance. Therefore, Housing Starts should start rising soon anyway.
For home buyers, the news couldn’t be better.
With more homes coming online, competition among home sellers should increase, and that will suppress the rise in home prices nationwide.
It’s basic economics. When home supplies grow faster than home demand, prices fall.
Conforming and FHA mortgage rates improved last week on the combination of weaker-than-expected economic data and new anti-banking rhetoric from the White House.
The S&P 500 shed nearly 4 percent in its worst weekly showing since October 2009 as all 10 sectors fell. As the money left stock markets, it made its way to bonds — including the mortgage-backed variety.
As a result, mortgage rates fell for the third straight week.
Since shedding 300 basis points in December, mortgage bond pricing has recovered a bit more than half of those losses. It’s helping with home affordability and opening new refinance opportunities around the country.
This week, though, mortgage rates could rise back up. There’s a lot going on.
First, on Monday, the December Existing Homes Sales report will be released. The report is expected to be extremely weak as compared to November. This is because of a combination of factors including:
- The initial tax credit expiration date of November 30, 2009
- Sharply rising mortgage rates throughout the month of December
- A general slowdown from the holidays and from the weather
Therefore, don’t be surprised by the newspaper headlines you see Tuesday morning.
Other data this week includes the Case-Shiller Index — a measure of home prices nationwide — and the New Home Sales report. The Case-Shiller Index has registered mild home price improvement over the past 8 months and its latest report is expected to show the same. New Home Sales should be similarly strong.
But, the biggest news of the week is the first Federal Open Market Committee meeting of 2010.
The Fed meets Tuesday and Wednesday this week and Wall Street will be watching closely. The Fed is not expected to change the Fed Funds Rate from its current target range of 0.000-0.250 percent, so, instead, markets will watching for the Fed’s post-meeting press release.
What the Fed says about the economy will be much more important that what it specifically does about the economy for now. If the Fed says the economy is growing as expected, look for mortgage rates to rise. Conversely, if the Fed says the economy is at risk, expect mortgage rates to fall.
The safest rate lock strategy this week is to lock your mortgage rate before the Fed’s 2:15 PM ET adjournment Wednesday. Rates will be bouncy all week, but once the Fed’s press release hits the wires, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.
Securing an FHA mortgage is about to get more expensive.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the Federal Housing Authority outlined policy changes to its mortgage assistance program. The shift is meant to both reduce the government group’s portfolio risk while strengthening its overall financials.
For consumers, the changes mean higher costs.
As listed in the official announcement, there are 3 major guideline updates for the FHA:
- Upfront mortgage insurance premiums are increasing to 2.25% from 1.75%
- Minimum downpayments for applicants with sub-580 FICOs are rising to 10 percent
- Seller concessions are being limited to 3%, down from today’s allowable 6%
Furthermore, the FHA has appealed to Congress to raise an FHA borrowers’ monthly mortgage insurance premiums.
To read the FHA’s statement, it’s clear what the group is trying to balance. On one side, the FHA wants to provide affordable financing to families that need it. That’s its mission statement. On the other side, though, the FHA must manage the risk that comes with insuring lesser-quality loans.
To that end, the FHA is stepping up its enforcement of “bad lenders” in hopes of stopping problems where they start.
Also in its new policies, the FHA is introducing a “termination clause”. If banks or loan officers that produce more than their fair share of bad loans, they lose their right to originate FHA mortgages.
As a result, homebuyers should expect tougher FHA underwriting in 2010. Not because the FHA says so, necessarily, but because banks don’t want to do “bad loans”. Lenders are incented to turn down at-risk applicants and, already, we’re seeing examples of this. Despite FHA allowing 580 FICOs and lower, many banks have made 620 their minimum.
Some have other guideline overlays, too.
The FHA’s new guidelines don’t go into effect until spring. So, between now and then, the old guidelines will apply. Therefore, if you know you’re going to need an FHA home loan in the next few months, consider moving up your time-frame.
If nothing else, you’ll save some money at closing.
Mortgage markets showed little conviction last week, carving out just a narrow trading channel. There was very little data on which for markets to move, leaving mortgage rates momentum-bound.
Luckily for rate shoppers, mortgage rate momentum was favorable. Rates were slightly lower Monday through Thursday before breaking downward Friday afternoon. Home shoppers this past weekend caught a nice break.
Last week marked the second straight week in which mortgage rates fell.
This week, in holiday-shortened trading and with little economic data set for release, expect mortgage rates to again move on momentum. The biggest report of the week is Wednesday’s Producer Price Index.
Producer Price Index is important to mortgage rates because of its role in inflation. PPI is akin to a Cost of Living-type measurement, but for business. As business costs rise, the thought goes, it’s not long before consumer costs rise, too. Businesses eventually pass on costs, after all.
In this manner, a rising Producer Price Index can foreshadow rising consumer prices, and, therefore, inflation.
Inflation is awful for mortgage rates.
PPI expectations have revised downward this month, especially because last week’s data showed a deceleration in consumer prices nationwide. If PPI isn’t as weak as expected, mortgage rates will rise.
Other influential data this week includes Housing Starts, Consumer Confidence and Initial Jobless Claims.
So far, 2010 has been for mortgage rates around the country. If you’re in need of a rate lock, this week may be a good time to take one.
Data was sparse through 2010’s first trading week last week, setting the stage for a week of momentum trading.
In up-and-down trading, mortgage pricing improved overall but the best rates of the week didn’t last long.
Rates improved Monday and Tuesday as an oversold market corrected itself to better price points. Then, in anticipation of the December jobs report, rates worsened Wednesday and Thursday. Friday, after the jobs report was released, pricing proceeded to carve out a huge range before settling unchanged.
On average, lenders issued new rate sheets every few hours last week. It was a difficult week to shop for mortgages.
Unfortunately, this week doesn’t figure to be much better.
For the second straight week, the economic calendar is bare. Traders — like last week — will be forced to rely on “gut feel” to make their trades. That rarely bodes well for shoppers. Especially because traders are facing a mortgage market in the midst of a terrible losing streak.
Since reaching an all-time low December 1, 2009, 30-year fixed rate mortgages have worsened by 300 basis points, or 3 percent.
To a homeowner or rate shopper , the math of 300 basis points looks like this:
- 5 weeks ago, a 4.625 percent mortgage rate required 0 points
- Today, the same 4.625 percent mortgage rate requires 3 points
1 point is equal to 1 percent of your loan size.
Last month’s worsening is the worst 1-month deterioration in consumer mortgage rates from all of 2009.
If you’re hoping for rates to fall back to early-December levels, know that it is possible. For this week, here’s some things that could push rates in the right direction:
- 3 Fed members are speaking. Each mention of economic under-performance in 2010 will be good for rates.
- Retail Sales data is released Thursday. If the numbers are weak, mortgage rates should improve.
- Consumer confidence surveys are released Friday. Lower confidence levels should help rates fall.
Be ready to lock at a moment’s notice this week. Rates may rise or fall, but markets are positioned toward the former.That’s where momentum is pointing as of the Market Open today.
Keep an eye on rates and your loan officer on speed dial. Once the mortgage market starts breaking, it’s expected to break quickly.