South Orange County Blog from Bob Phillips

What Would Americans Do With an Extra Couple Hundred Bucks?

An article from The Atlantic, by Gillian B. White, dated  10/8/2015

That’s not a hypothetical question. Falling gas prices mean the average household will be about $700 richer this year.

shopping cartsFor most Americans, trying to cut back on bills involves a mix of discipline and sacrifice: Moving into a smaller place, searching for sales at the grocery store, or forgoing air conditioning on hot days, for examples. But drivers around the country have been getting a reprieve without any effort thanks to falling gas prices. So what are they doing with the unanticipated bonus in their bank accounts? Not saving it, a new report from J.P. Morgan finds.

The price of gas peaked at about $3.70 a gallon in 2014. At present, that price has declined by about $1.50. While those single-gallon prices might seem insignificant, they add up. Take the example of a Toyota Camry, one of the nation’s top-selling cars with a fuel tank that holds around 17 gallons: Filling a totally empty tank at the peak would cost over $60. Now it would cost a much more reasonable $37. And for those who rely on their car as the main method of transportation, that’s a big deal. It’s been estimated that over the course of 2015, Americans will save on average $700 thanks to the dip in gas prices. That’s more than government stimulus checks in recent years, which paid out between $300 and $600.

And they’re spending it—most of it, at least. According to the J.P. Morgan Institute, Americans are spending about 80 cents for every dollar they’ve saved. They’re going out to restaurants—which accounted for nearly 20 percent of gas savings—shopping for clothes, and buying groceries, electronics, and appliances.

These findings imply that Americans are feeling surprisingly upbeat about the economy. Were they more pessimistic, economists would expect them to be saving a greater portion of the money for the expected tough times ahead, or using the money strictly for essentials, like housing and bills. Other recent reports on the impact of lowered gas prices have painted a less optimistic picture. The Council of Economic Advisors puts the consumption bump at closer to 45 percent of gas savings, and a Gallup poll found that though nearly 60 percent of respondents said they’re feeling the positive effects of lower prices, only about one-quarter said that that they were spending the extra money. The bulk of respondents told Gallup that the money was going toward bills or savings.

So what explains the difference? The study’s authors, Diana Farrell and Fiona Greig note that these discrepancies could be related to sample size or more limited data in those surveys. In their study, J.P. Morgan analyzes the spending of 25 million clients via transactions on debit and credit cards between October 2012 and June 2015. While that certainly is a robust sample, it too has its own limitations and biases. For instance the bank’s data won’t capture transactions made with cash or on other credit or debit cards, which could be money that families are using for essentials rather than a night out or a new television. The data could also be skewed to reflect the habits and demographics of the bank’s clientele. For instance, the survey finds that gas bills account for only 2.9 percent of individual’s incomes in 2014 while the Consumer Expenditure Survey reports that it accounts for 3.7 percent, which could reflect a difference between where these sample groups live, their access to public transportation, or their income.

Nonetheless, some of the broad trends are intriguing. The data show that the gas-price infusion is obviously not spread equally among all Americans. It’s more heavily concentrated among those who live in the South and Midwest where people drive more, over greater distances, and have decreased access to and use of public transportation. The savings are also more meaningful for low-income households—who saw their monthly disposable income climb by more than 1 percent for those pulling in less than $30,000 a year—and young people.

Though the money spent on gas makes up a nominal amount of consumption in the grand scheme, the impact of gas prices on American families can be a telling way to assess how confident people are feeling about spending. It could also help predict spending trends should prices hold steady, or increase in the future. That could help inform policy decisions on things like gas taxes. For an economy that’s been puttering along with little wage growth, increasing costs of living, and little disposable income—spending is a good thing. It puts more money into businesses, which then creates more jobs and helps spur further economic growth. And there hasn’t been quite enough of that since 2008.

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What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – August 10, 2015

Whats Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week August 10 2015This week’s scheduled economic news includes reports on construction spending, a survey of senior loan officers, and reports on labor markets including ADP private sector jobs, the federal government’s reports on non-farm payrolls, core inflation and the national unemployment rate.

Construction Spending Slows, Loan Officers Survey Suggests Growing Confidence

Construction spending fell in June after the May reading was revised upward to 1.89 percent from the original reading of 0.90 percent. Spending for residential construction rose by 0.40 percent, while non-residential construction spending remained flat. The seasonally-adjusted annual outlay for construction was $1.06 billion in June.

Analysts continue to note a trend toward construction of smaller residential units including condominiums and apartments, with an emphasis on rental properties. This supports reports that would-be homebuyers are taking a wait-and-see stance to see how factors including rising home prices, fluctuating mortgage rates and labor market conditions perform.

According to a survey of senior loan officers conducted by the Federal Reserve, mortgage lenders reported that mortgage applications increased during the second quarter and indicating that financial constraints on consumers may be easing. According to the survey of 71 domestic banks and 23 foreign-owned banks, 44 percent of respondents reported moderate increases in loan applications, while only 5 percent of survey participants reported fewer loan applications.

Some banks surveyed reported easing mortgage approval standards, but fewer lenders eased standards than in the first quarter. Further supporting growing confidence among lenders, the Fed survey also reported that large banks were easing consumer credit standards for auto loans and credit cards.

Mortgage Rates Fall, Jobless Claims Rise

Freddie Mac reported that average mortgage rates fell across the board last week with the average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage lower by seven basis points to 3.91 percent; the average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage fell by four basis points to 3.13 percent, and the average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage was unchanged at 2.95 percent. Discount points for all loan types were unchanged at 0.60 percent for 30 and 15-year fixed rate mortgages and 0.40 percent for 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages.

Weekly jobless claims rose from the prior week’s reading of 268,000 new claims to 270,000 new claims, which matched analysts’ expectations. In other labor-related news, the government reported a national unemployment rate of 5.30 percent in July; this was unchanged from June’s reading.

The ADP employment report for July showed fewer jobs were available in the private sector. June’s reading showed that private sector jobs grew by 229,000 jobs; July’s reading fell to 185,000 private sector jobs. According to July’s Non-farm Payrolls report, 215,000 new jobs were added in July as compared to expectations of 220,000 jobs added and June’s reading of 231,000 new jobs added.

The Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is closely monitoring job growth and inflation rates as it contemplates raising the target federal funds rate. Core inflation grew by 0.10 percent in June; which was consistent with May’s reading and expectations. The FOMC recently cited the committee’s concerns about labor markets and lagging inflation. The Fed has set an annual growth rate of 1.65 percent for inflation for the medium term; this benchmark is part of what the Fed will consider in any decision to raise rates.

What’s Ahead

This week’s scheduled economic reports include reports on retail sales and consumer sentiment in addition to usual weekly reports on mortgage rates and new jobless claims.

 

 

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What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – October 20, 2014

WhatsAheadThisWeekLast week’s economic highlights included the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Housing Market Index for October. The Commerce Department also released Housing Starts for September. Freddie Mac reported that the average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage dropped below four percent. The Fed released its Beige Book report, and Weekly jobless claims came in lower than expected. Here are the details:

Homebuilder Confidence Slips in Spite of Lower Mortgage Rates

U.S. Homebuilder confidence in housing market conditions slipped by 5 points to October’s reading of 54 as compared to September’s reading; this was   also lower than the expected reading of 59. Builders are concerned over strict mortgage credit rules, but the NAHB’s chief economist noted that pent-up demand, lower mortgage rates and improved labor markets are expected to drive builder confidence in the near term. Readings of 50 and above indicate   that more builders are confident about market conditions than not.

Freddie Mac reported lower average mortgage rates across the board with the rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage at 3.97 percent, a drop of 15 basis points from the prior reading. 15-year fixed rate mortgages had an average rate of 3.18 percent from the prior week’s reading of 3.30 percent. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage fell by 13 basis points to 2.92 percent. Average discount points remained at 0.50 for all mortgage types.

If 30-year fixed rate mortgages can stay below the four percent mark, this could mean additional incentive for fence-sitters to become active home buyers.

Surprise: New Jobless Claims Hit 14-Year Low

Concerns over job markets and employment stability have consistently been of concern to home buyers in the aftermath of the recession. Last week’s jobless claims report brought encouraging news as it came in at 264,000 new jobless claims filed against predictions of 289,000 new claims and the prior week’s reading of 287,000 new jobless claims filed. This was the lowest number of new jobless claims filed in more than 14 years. Analysts said that lower numbers of weekly jobless claims indicate fewer layoffs, which should help boost prospective home buyers’ confidence in job stability.

Fed: Economy Growing at “Modest to Moderate Pace”

The Federal Reserve released its Beige Book report on Wednesday. This report contains anecdotes from business sources within the 12 Federal Reserve districts. The report said that the economy continues to grow at a modest to moderate pace and noted that potential concerns over the stronger U.S. dollar causing increases in export costs did not concern the Fed’s business sources.

Housing Starts, Consumer Confidence Up

September’s housing starts were above both expectations and August’s reading. 1.02 million starts were reported with the majority being multi-family homes. The expected reading was 1.015 million housing starts; this was based on August’s reading of 956,000 starts. This news is consistent with the drop in builder confidence for sales of new single-family homes.

The University of Michigan/Thompson-Reuters Consumer Sentiment Index for October rose to 86.4 against an expected reading of 83.5 and September’s reading of 84.6. This was the highest consumer sentiment reading in seven years. Analysts rained on the consumer sentiment parade by noting that recent jitters over Wall Street and concerns about Ebola outbreaks could cause the Consumer Sentiment Index to lose ground.

What’s Ahead:

Next week’s scheduled economic reports include the National Association of REALTORS® Existing Home Sales report, FHFA’s Home Price Index and New Home Sales. Leading Economic Indicators will also be released.

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What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – Sept 2, 2014

Whats-Ahead-Mortgage-Rates-6Last week’s economic news included several reports related to housing. The Case-Shiller and FHFA reports for June showed a further slowing in home price growth. New home sales for July fell short of the expected reading, but pending home sales exceeded expectations. The details:

Case-Shiller, FHFA: June Home Price Growth Slows

The Case-Shiller 10 and 20-City Home Price Index for June moved from May’s year-over-year reading of 9.40 percent growth to 8.10 percent in June. Home prices grew by 1.00 percent on a month-to-month basis in June as compared to May’s reading of 1.20 percent.

Demand shrank due to increasing inventories of available homes and stricter mortgage standards. For the first time since 2008, each of the 20 cities tracked showed slowing growth in home prices. Home prices are about 17 percent lower than their pre-recession peak in 2006. Case-Shiller also reported that the national median home price rose by 2.90 percent year-over-year to $269,800.

Analysts said that slower gains in home prices coupled with increasing confidence among home builders signals a return to more normal housing market conditions.

FHFA reported that home prices for purchase transactions grew by 0.20 percent less than May’s year-over-year reading of 5.40 percent. FHFA reports on properties connected with mortgages owned or backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

New Home Sales Slip in July, Pending Home Sales Gain

The Department of Commerce reported that New Home Sales missed expectations for July with a reading of 412,000 new homes sold on seasonally adjusted annual basis. June’s revised reading was 422,000 new homes sold, and analysts expected new home sales at a rate of 430,000 in July against June’s original sales pace of 406,000. Three out of four regions posted slower growth rates for new home sales, with the South posted a gain in new home sales. New home sales were 12.30 percent higher than one year ago.

Analysts said that improving labor market conditions and the slower rate of home price growth are positive trends for housing markets as more home buyers can afford to buy homes. Mortgage rates are approximately one-half percent lower than last year, which also increases affordability.

Pending home sales exceeded expectations for July to an 11 month high, which may ease concerns over July’s dip in new home sales. The National Association of REALTORS® Pending Home Sales Index rose to 105.9 in July as compared to June’s index reading of 102.5. Homes under contract increased from a negative reading of -1.30 percent in June to July’s reading of +3.30 percent. Pending home sales are considered a strong indicator of future home sales.

Mortgage Rates Mixed. Consumer Confidence Jumps

Freddie Mac reported that average mortgage rates were little changed. The rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was unchanged at 4.12 percent. 15-year mortgages had an average rate of 3.25 percent which was an increase of two basis points over the previous week. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage moved from 2.95 percent to 2.97 percent. Discount points were unchanged at 0.50, 0.60 and 0.50 percent respectively.

Two gauges of U.S. consumer confidence indicated stronger levels of consumer confidence in the economy. The Consumer Confidence Index rose to 92.4 in August from July’s reading of 91.9 and exceeded a lower expectation of 88.5. The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index rose to 82.5 against July’s reading of 79.2 and the expected reading of 80.1. Increasing consumer confidence suggests that as more consumers become comfortable with current economic conditions, they may be more confident about buying homes.

What’s Coming Up

Next week’s economic reports include construction spending and the Fed’s Beige Book Report. The Bureau of Labor Statistics will also release Non-farm Payrolls and the National Unemployment Rate for August. No activity is scheduled for Monday due to the Labor Day holiday.

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What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – Aug 18, 2014

What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week Aug 18 2014Last week’s economic news brought little housing-related content, but several economic reports in other sectors contributed to overall perceptions of the economy.

In a speech given in Sweden, Fed Vice President Stanley Fischer noted that the economy might be in a period of “secular stagnation.” This condition is expected to keep interest rates low for longer than expected.

A survey of small business owners showed that confidence increased by 0.70 in July. Job openings for June increased from 4.60 million to 4.70 million. Readings for several reports fell shy of expectations and new jobless claims were higher than expected.

Economic Readings Lower Than Expected, Weekly Jobless Claims Rise

Retail sales for July were flat and fell shy of June’s reading of 0.20 percent, which was also the expected reading for July. Retail sales except autos were also lower in July with a reading of 0.10 percent against the expected reading and June’s reading of 0.40 percent.

Weekly jobless claims were reported at 311,000 against expectations of 300,000 new claims and the prior week’s reading of 290,000 new jobless claims. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, this was the highest reading since June.

New jobless claims were close to pre-recession levels which suggested a slower pace of layoffs. The four-week average of new jobless claims, which presents a less volatile reading than for weekly reports, rose by 2000 new jobless claims to a reading of 285,750.

Mortgage Rates Lower

Freddie Mac’s weekly survey reported lower mortgage rates last week. Average rates were as follows: 30-year fixed rate mortgages had a rate of 4.12 percent and were two basis points lower than the previous week.

Discount points averaged 0.60 percent against the prior week’s reading of 0.70 percent. The average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage was 3.24 percent as compared to the prior week’s reading of 3.27 percent. Discount points were unchanged at 0.60 percent.

The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage dropped by one basis point to 2.97 percent with discount points unchanged at 0.50 percent.

A couple of good news bytes from last week included an increase in small business sentiment in July. The National Federation of Independent Business Index for July increased from June’s reading of 95.00 points to 95.70 points.

The federal government also reported that job openings increased from 4.60 million in May to 4.70 million in June.

What’s Ahead

Several housing-related reports are set for release this week. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) will release its Home Builder Index for August, which measures builder confidence in market conditions for newly built homes.

The Department of Commerce will release Housing Starts for July, and the National Association of REALTORS® will release its Existing Home Sales report for July. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the Federal Reserve will release the minutes of its most recent meeting on Wednesday; this could provide details concerning the Fed’s recent monetary policy decisions, which include the wind-down of asset purchases under the current quantitative easing program.

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Experiencing ‘Purchase Anxiety’? How to Calm Your Nerves Before Committing to Buy a New Home

Experiencing 'Purchase Anxiety'? How to Calm Your Nerves Before Committing to Buy a New HomeWhether this is your first big purchase, or your family is moving to a new location or looking for more space, buying a home has its share of ups and downs.

It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious about whether or not you’ve found the right property. Here are some things you can do to make yourself feel more secure with your decision.

Do The Math

You’ve probably already done this, but it’s okay to go over it a number of times to be sure. Factor in your household income and all the bills you expect to pay every month. Add everything up.

It sounds like a stressful activity, but when you look at the numbers and realize that buying a home is actually doable, it can be a liberating feeling.

When you know for sure you can make it as a homeowner without getting underwater, you will feel more confident.

Meet The Neighbors

If you haven’t had the chance to knock on a couple of doors yet, you should spend some time saying hello to people in the neighborhood. The more you can get to talking with families that are just like yours, the more you will be able to picture yourself as a member of the community.

If you have kids, find out if there are other kids the same age nearby. That will help to ease their anxiety about moving as well.

Ask Your Agent

Don’t feel like you are being overly cautious if you ask your real estate agent and or mortgage professional your lingering questions. Make sure you’re getting a good price for the area, and make sure you know about any issues with the condition of the property.

You should be able to trust that your realtor and mortgage professional are excited for your decision.

Familiarize Yourself With The Neighborhood

Take a drive and figure out which stores you’re nearest to, the route you can take to get to work, and which other amenities you might take advantage of. Home buyers often underestimate how important living in a safe neighborhood with plenty of accessible businesses can be.

The more you can imagine yourself living at your new address, the better you will feel.

Remember, never sign the papers on a new home unless you feel one hundred percent secure in your buying decision.

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What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – Aug 11, 2014

Whats Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week Aug 11 2014

Last week’s housing related news was minimal, but a Federal Reserve survey of senior loan officers revealed that although credit standards for commercial and industrial loans as well as credit cards are easing, current mortgage credit standards are more stringent than in 2005. This could be a contributing factor to slowing housing market gains while other sectors of the economy are recovering at a faster pace.

Qualified Mortgage Rules Impact Non-Conforming Mortgages

The Senior Loan Officers survey also noted that qualified mortgage rules have slowed approval of prime jumbo mortgages and non-traditional home loans. This suggests that applicants falling outside of stringent qualified mortgage rules can expect challenges when buying or refinancing their homes.

In other housing news, Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey reported that last week’s mortgage rates were mixed. Mortgage rates for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage averaged 4.14 percent with discount points of 0.70 percent against last week’s reading of 4.12 percent with discount points of 0.60 percent. 15-year mortgage rates averaged 3.27 percent with discount points of 0.60 percent. This was an increase of four basis points, although discount points fell from 0.70 percent to 0.60 percent. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage was 2.98 percent, a drop of two basis points, with discount points unchanged at 0.50 percent.

Fewer Jobless Claims, Service-Related Business Growth Exceeds Expectations

The weekly Jobless Claims report brought a lower than expected reading of 289,000 new claims as compared to predictions of 305,000 new jobless claims. In other economic news, the Institute for Service Management (ISM) reported that its non-manufacturing index rose from June’s reading of 56.00 percent to 58.70 percent in July. Analysts had forecasted July’s reading at 56.50 percent. July’s reading represented the highest growth rate for service-related businesses since 2005.

According to the Department of Commerce, June factory orders rose by 1.10 percent over May’s reading of -0.60 percent against an expected reading of 0.60 percent. As business expands and factory orders increase, it’s likely that jobs and hiring will also grow. Steady employment is a compelling factor for most home buyers and positive reports in labor and industrial sectors could boost housing markets as more buyers increase demand for homes.

What’s Ahead

Next week’s economic reports include retail sales, retail sales excluding automotive, industrial production and the weekly reports on mortgage rates and new jobless claims. While there isn’t much housing news expected next week, readings in other economic sectors can suggest potential trends in housing markets

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Consumer Confidence Soars in June

An article by Tory Barringer, of DSNews.com, July 29th, 2014

2OnEscalatorPicU.S. consumer confidence jumped up more than four points from June to July, signaling a brighter economic outlook among Americans.

The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index reached 90.9 in the group’s July survey, up from 86.4 in June. As   of July, the index stands at its highest level since before the Great Recession.

Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board, said the surge was fueled by strong job growth and a brighter short-term outlook for the labor market and personal incomes.

“Recent improvements in consumer confidence, in particular expectations, suggest the recent strengthening in growth   is likely to continue into the second half of the year,” Franco added.

The index component measuring consumers’ feelings about their present situation increased two points to 88.3, the Conference Board reported, while the index gauging future expectations jumped more than six points to 92.7.

Looking at recent economic developments, 15.9 percent of consumers surveyed said jobs are plentiful at the moment, though nearly double that percentage maintained that work is still hard to find.

Looking ahead, however, Americans were more positive, with a greater share expecting more jobs in the months to come and a smaller number expecting labor to fall—an improvement Federal Reserve leaders might take note of as they sit down this week to decide their next move in monetary policy, says Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist for Capital Economics.

“The net difference between those two balances shrank to -14.8 in July, from -16.1. That decline strongly suggests that the amount of slack in the labour market really is diminishing quite rapidly, which many Fed officials still aren’t willing to admit,” Ashworth said in a note to clients.

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What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – April 28, 2014

Whats-Ahead-Mortgage-RatestLast week’s economic news supported recent reports that home sales were fewer and home prices increased, but did so at     a slower pace.

The NAR reported a slower pace of existing home sales, and FHFA reported a slower year-over-year rate of growth for  home prices on properties financed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The U.S. Commerce Department reported that new home sales fell to their lowest level since July 2013. Mortgage rates    rose for fixed rate mortgages, but were unchanged for 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages. Here are the details:

Existing Home Sales Slow, Moderate Growth In Home Prices

March sales of existing homes dipped by 0.20 percent according to the NAR. 4.59 million previously owned homes were sold on a seasonally adjusted annual basis against projections of 4.55 million sales and February’s reading of 4.60 million pre-owned homes sold.

Rising home prices contributed to the slowdown in sales, which started last summer. Rapidly rising home prices due to short supplies of available homes and high demand for homes caused some buyers to leave the market. The national average price for existing homes was $198,500 in March, which represented a year-over-year increase of 7.90 percent.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which governs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, reported that home prices for homes financed with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac owned mortgages rose by approximately 7.0 percent year-over-year as of February.

Severe winter weather was cited as a possible factor in slowing home sales, but as the peak home buying season gets underway, analysts forecast that some sales lost may be recovered in warmer weather.

Mortgage Rates Rise, New Home Sales At Lowest Level In 21 Months

Freddie Mac reported that average mortgage rates for fixed rate mortgages rose. The rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage rose by six basis points to 4.33 percent; the rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage also rose by six basis points to 3.39 percent.

The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage was unchanged at 3.03 percent. Discount points were also unchanged at 0.60,.60 and 0.50 percent respectively.

Sales of new single-family homes slumped to their lowest level in since July 2012 according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The median price of a new single family home rose to $290,000, which represented a 12.60 percent increase year-over-year.

Analysts noted that month-to-month home sales numbers are not as reliable as sales trends measured over months, but 384,000 March sales of new homes fell markedly short of expectations of 450,000 new home sales and February’s upwardly revised reading of 440,000 new homes sold.

Unemployment Ups And Downs Contribute To Buyer Uncertainty

New jobless claims rose to 329,000 against expectations of 315,000 new jobless claims and the prior week’s reading of 305,000 new jobless claims. The Labor Department said that seasonal adjustments were incomplete due to the Easter holiday, which occurs on different dates.

As labor and other sectors of the economy endure ups and downs during the economic recovery, it is reasonable to expect some home buyers to put off buying homes.

This Week 

This week’s scheduled economic news includes Pending Home Sales, Case-Shiller’s Housing Market Index, the FOMC meeting and statement and Construction Spending. The Bureau of Labor Statistics will release April’s Non-Farm Payrolls Report and National Unemployment Report on Friday.

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What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – February 24, 2014

Whats-Ahead-Mortgage-Rates-7Last week’s economic data supported recent reports indicating that housing markets are slowing, The National Association of Home builders/Wells Fargo Home Builders Index (HBI) dropped by 10 points to a reading of 46 for February.

Home builder confidence dropped to its lowest reading in nine months,  and fell below the benchmark of 50, which indicates that more builders are pessimistic about current market conditions than not.

Severe weather was blamed for the lower builder confidence reading, which fell below the expected reading of 56.

Regional readings of builder confidence were also lower:

  • Northeast: Builder confidence fell from 41 to 33 points. This suggests that weather is a major concern as this area has experienced a series of nasty winter storms.
  • South: The HBI reading fell from 50 in January to 46 in February and was the smallest decline among the four regions. Fewer index points lost in the South appears to support builder’s concerns about bad weather in other regions.
  • Midwest: Builder confidence dropped from 59 points to a reading of 50.
  • West: Builder confidence fell by 14 points to February’s reading of 57. Desirable areas in the West had been leading the nation in home price appreciation. February’s reading may signal an easing of buyer enthusiasm as rapidly rising home prices have reduced affordable options for first-time and moderate income buyers.

Builders also cited concerns over labor and supplies as reasons for lower confidence readings.

Housing Starts Lower, Mortgage Rates Higher

On Wednesday, Housing Starts for January were released. Although analysts predicted a figure of 945,000 housing starts as compared to an upwardly adjusted 1.05 million housing starts in December, only 880,000 housing starts were reported for January.

The Department of Commerce also cited extreme winter weather as a cause for the drop in housing starts, which reached their fastest pace since 2008 in November. There is some good news. Economists said that housing starts delayed during winter could begin during spring.

According to Freddie Mac’s weekly survey, average mortgage rates rose across the board. The rate for a 30-year fixed rate loan rose by 5 basis points to 4.33 percent. The average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage rose by two basis points to 3.35 percent.

The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage moved up by three basis points to an average rate of 3.08 percent. Discount points for all three products were unchanged with readings of 0.70 for 30-year and 15-year fixed rate mortgages and 0.50 percent discount points for 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that weekly jobless claims came in at 336,000 against expectations of 335,000 new jobless claims. The prior week’s reading was for 339,000 new jobless claims. Analysts said that job growth may be slowing after last year’s growth, but also noted that winter weather had slowed hiring in labor sectors such as construction and manufacturing.

Existing home sales fell by 5.10 percent in January according to the National Association of REALTORS®, which reported a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of home sales at 4.62 million sales against expectations of 4.65 million and December’s reading of 4.87 million sales of pre-owned homes. The national average home price rose to $188,900, which was 10.70 percent higher year-over-year.

January’s inventory of available existing homes was 1.9 million homes; this represented a 4.90 month supply of existing homes for sale. Real estate pros prefer to see at least a six month inventory of available homes for sale.

What’s Ahead

Next week brings a series of economic reports and opportunities for good news. The Case Shiller Home Price Indices, FHFA Home Price Index will be released. Consumer Confidence and the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment report along with New and Pending Home Sales reports round out next week’s scheduled news.

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