South Orange County Blog from Bob Phillips

Last Week’s Economic News in Review

Existing home sales outpaced expectations to hit an eight-year high, while new home sales were at a seven-month low. Meanwhile, lay-offs shrank to their smallest rate in more than 40 years.

Existing Home Sales

Sales of existing single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 3.2 percent to an annual rate of 5.49 million in June, according to last week’s report from the National Association of Realtors. This was not only well ahead of the market expectation for a 5.4 million-unit pace, but marked the highest level in more than eight years.

“Buyers have come back in force, leading to the strongest past two months in sales since early 2007,“ NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said. “This wave of demand is being fueled by a year-plus of steady job growth and an improving economy that’s giving more households the financial wherewithal and incentive to buy.“

Looking at price, the median existing-home price for all housing types in June rose to $236,400, which is 6.5 percent higher than June 2014’s and surpassed July 2006’s peak median sales price of $230,400. Looking at inventory, the supply of existing homes at the end of June grew 0.9 percent to 2.3 million units available for sale. This put the inventory of existing homes available for sale at five months.

“Limited inventory amidst strong demand continues to push home prices higher, leading to declining affordability for prospective buyers,“ Yun noted. “Local officials in recent years have rightly authorized permits for new apartment construction, but more needs to be done for condominiums and single-family homes.“

New Home Sales

While existing home sales skyrocketed, sales of new, single-family homes fell to an annual rate of 482,000 in June, according to last week’s report from the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This was 6.8 percent below May’s revised rate of 517,000, and marked a seven-month low.

However, compared on an annual basis, June’s sales pace was 18.1 percent higher than June 2014’s estimate of 408,000. If anything, the experts advised against reading too much into new home sales, when other real estate activity — such as existing homes sales — was performing so much better.

“We should not get too worried about the signal from the new home sales data at this point,“ JPMorgan Economist Daniel Silver told the Reuters news service.

In terms of prices, the median sales price of new homes sold in June was $281,800, and the average sales price was $328,700. Looking at inventory, the estimated number of new homes for sale at the end of June was 215,000, which represented a 5.4-month supply at June’s sales rate.

Initial Jobless Claims

First-time claims for unemployment insurance benefits filed by recently unemployed individuals plummeted to a 40-year low. Initial jobless claims filed during the week ending July 18, dropped to 255,000, a tumble of 26,000 claims from the previous week’s total of 281,000, the Employment and Training Administration reported last week.

The news marked the lowest point for lay-offs since November 24, 1973’s total of 233,000 claims. The big driver for the substantial drop was likely lay-offs due to restructuring in the car industry, but there was no denying that lay-offs were in retreat.

“This week’s claims reading may have been exaggerated on the low side but there is certainly no sign of the labor market losing momentum,“ High Frequency Economics’ Jim O’Sullivan told the Wall Street Journal. “The message: Employment growth remains more than strong enough to keep the unemployment rate declining.“

The four-week moving average — considered a more stable measure of lay-off activity — fell to 278,500, a decrease of 4,000 from the previous week’s unrevised average of 282,500. This was still well below the 300,000-claim mark that indicates a healthy job market.

This week we can expect:

  • Monday — Durable goods orders for June from the Census Bureau.
  • Tuesday — Consumer confidence for July from The Conference Board.
  • Thursday — Initial jobless claims for last week from the Employment and Training Administration; advanced second quarter GDP estimate from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
  • Friday — Consumer sentiment for July from the University of Michigan and Thompson-Reuters Survey of Consumers.
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