A new article from Brena Swanson, of HousingWire.com, dated 2/22/2016
Bank of America unveiled a new affordable mortgage program that offers consumers the option of putting as little as 3% down and requires no mortgage insurance. The program does not involve the Federal Housing Administration, whose program has recently undergone a lot of scrutiny from big banks.
Bank of America announced a partnership on Monday with Self-Help Ventures Fund andFreddie Mac for its new “Affordable Loan Solution” mortgage, a conforming loan that provides low- and moderate-income homebuyers access to a responsible lending product with counseling at affordable entry prices.
To make the program function, the three companies will work together to help ensure the loan is properly originated and backed in case the loan goes delinquent, the companies said Monday.
For starters, Bank of America said the mortgage will be available through all of its mortgage sales channels.
Self-Help, which is based in Durham, North Carolina, will then buy the loans and servicing rights, along with providing post-closing counseling for any borrowers who might be experiencing payment difficulties.
Since Self-Help is taking the first-loss position, the loans require no mortgage insurance.
Freddie Mac will purchase all of the eligible affordable mortgages originated via the Self-Help and Bank of America partnership, having recently approving Self-Help as a seller/servicer to facilitate the rollout of this offering to borrowers.
The program allows down payments as low as 3% on the purchase of a primary, single-family residence, with no reserve funds required in most situations.
The loan also requires a minimum FICO score of 660, and first-time buyers will need to participate in homebuyer education.
“There is a need in today’s marketplace for more responsible mortgage products that enable creditworthy homebuyers, who meet certain income limits and other requirements, to become homeowners at an affordable entry point with comprehensive counseling,” said D. Steve Boland, consumer lending executive, Bank of America.
“Affordable Loan Solution combines Bank of America’s wide distribution network of mortgage professionals with the borrower support expertise of Self-Help and market liquidity provided by Freddie Mac to provide a new affordable loan option,” said Boland.
The news comes amid a pushback against the FHA, which offers similar style loans, from lenders for its loan requirements.
The FHA, unlike Bank of America’s new program, offers loan options with as little as 3.5% down mortgages, along with 520 FICO score. It’s important to note that the two are not offered together.
As a result, major lenders have pulled away due to the heightened risk of possible enforcement actions on the high-risk loans.
John Shrewsberry, Wells Fargo’s chief financial officer, said last September that the San Francisco bank will not make loans to FHA borrowers with low credit scores because of their higher rates of default.
In addition, Kevin Watters, CEO of Chase Mortgage Banking, said in an interview with CNBC shortly after that the FHA’s loan requirements look an awful lot like subprime lending.
“FHA requirements are down to a 520 FICO (credit score) and you only have to put 3.5% down; that’s subprime lending, and we’re not in the subprime lending business,” CNBC quotes Watters saying.
Quicken Loans is already in the middle of legal battle with the Department of Justice over its FHA loans, which is pushing the nonbank to consider ending its participation in FHA lending entirely, citing the government’s aggressive enforcement policies as the main reason for potentially dropping FHA lending.
Meanwhile, although Bank of America’s loans require no down payment, the loss is covered by Self-Help and borrowers are required to a FICO score of 660.
Self-Help added in a statement to HousingWire that research by the UNC Center for Community Capital has continually proven that, given sound underwriting, low down payments are not a significant factor in mortgage performance. Shutting out borrowers with lower down payments is a missed opportunity for lenders and borrowers alike, Self-Help said.
The research from the UNC Center for Community Capital found that losses on these loans remained relatively low, even during the housing crisis triggered by mass marketing of unaffordable subprime loans.
Bank of America has upped it mortgage lending lately. In its fourth-quarter earnings, the bank reported that total mortgage production grew 13% to $17 billion in the fourth quarter, up from $15 billion last year. This is slightly up from $16.9 billion last quarter.
And during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call, when Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, was asked what his outlook for continuing to take share in the mortgage business was, Moynihan said that the bank is focused on originating prime and sort of non-conforming loans.
Back in November, Freddie Mac CEO Donald Layton asked for mortgage lenders to consider writing more low down payment mortgages in order for the government-sponsored enterprise to help increase access to credit to potential homeowners.
The GSE also announced a partnership with Quicken Loans for more low-down payment mortgages.
“The strength of the Affordable Loan Solution program is how it brings each partner’s special expertise together to address the barriers faced by aspiring homebuyers with limited savings,” said Danny Gardner, vice president, affordable lending and access to credit, Freddie Mac. “Freddie Mac is committed to working with industry and community leaders like Bank of America and Self- Help to find better ways for helping eligible borrowers overcome the obstacles that stand between them and successful long-term homeownership.” ( End of Brena’s article.)
Last week’s economic news included the NAHB Housing Market Index, Commerce Department releases on housing starts and building permits and minutes of the most recent meeting of the Fed’s FOMC meeting.
Home Builder Confidence Falls in February
According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), home builders had less confidence in market conditions for newly built homes. The reading for February was three points lower at 58 than the upwardly adjusted reading for January. Analysts had expected a reading of 59; any reading over 50 indicates that more builders are confident about conditions than those who are not.
Builder confidence was mixed for the three components used to calculate the NAHB Wells Fargo Housing Market Index reading. Confidence in current market conditions was lower by three points to 65, but builder confidence in future market conditions rose one point to 65. The reading for buyer foot traffic in new housing developments hasn’t topped the benchmark of 50 since the peak of the housing bubble; in February, the reading for buyer foot traffic dropped five points to 39.
NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe said that builder confidence is likely to improve in 2016 due to low mortgage rates, stable job markets and pent-up demand for homes. Mr. Crowe also said that shortages of available land and labor were concerns for builders.
Housing Starts,Building Permits Issued Lower
Commerce Department reports on housing starts and building permits issued also showed lower readings for January than for December. Housing starts reached 1.099 million starts in January as compared to an expected reading of 1.165 million starts and December’s reading of 1.145 million starts. Winter weather likely contributed to fewer housing starts.
Fewer building permits were issued in January than in December. January’s reading was 1.202 million permits issued as compared to December’s reading of 1.143 million building permits issued. Building permits issued for single family homes dropped by 1.60 percent to 731,000 permits issued. While lower month-to-month readings for current conditions may seem discouraging, the pace of single-family home building grew steadily during 2015 and is expected to do likewise in 2016.
FOMC Minutes: Policy Makers Eye Economic Developments
Minutes of January’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting indicate that members will closely monitor developing economic conditions as part of any future decision to raise the target federal funds rate from its current range of 0.250 to 0.500 percent. The Fed raised this rate in December, but did not increase the federal funds rate at its January meeting. Fed Chair Janet Yellen emphasized that decisions to raise the federal funds rate were not on a pre-determined course and that developing economic trends would continue to inform FOMC decisions.
Mortgage Rates and Weekly Jobless Claims
Average rates for fixed rate mortgages were unchanged last week according to Freddie Mac. The average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 3.65 percent and the average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage was 2.95 percent with Discount points averaged 0.50 percent for both types of fixed rate mortgages. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage rose by two basis points to 2.85 percent with average discount points at 0.40 percent.
Analysts have consistently cited stronger labor markets as a factor driving U.S. housing markets. New weekly jobless claims dropped last week and added evidence of expanding job markets. 262,000 new jobless claims were filed last week; the reading was lower than expectations of 275,000 new claims and the prior week’s reading of 269,000 new jobless claims. Stable job markets are important to would-be home buyers; as labor conditions improve more buyers are likely to enter the housing market.
This week’s scheduled economic news includes reports on sales of new and pre-owned homes and the Case-Shiller 10 and 20 City Home Price Indices. Reports on consumer sentiment and inflation will also be released.
In addition to weekly reports on mortgage rates and new unemployment claims, last week’s economic news included the Fed’s Beige Book report, retail sales and consumer sentiment. January’s Empire State Index showed an unexpected dip and Consumer Sentiment increased for January.
Fed’s Beige Book Shows Diverse Economic Trends
According to the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book report for January, the central bank’s business contacts reported strength in housing, while agriculture, energy and manufacturing sectors were struggling. New York’s Empire State Manufacturing Index for January supported this trend with a sharp drop. New York manufacturing has hit its lowest level since the recession and has stayed in negative territory since March 2009. Two analysts said that the Fed’s recent rate hike and subsequent hikes could slow housing markets. Consumer lending rates, including mortgage rates, typically follow suit when the Fed increases its target federal funds rate.
In other news, retail sales posted negative growth of -0.10 percent in December against an expected reading of -0.20 percent and November’s reading of +0.40 percent. December retail sales not including auto motive also posted a reading of -0.10 percent as compared to expectations of +0.20 percent and November’s reading of 0.30 percent.
Mortgage Rates Fall, New Unemployment Claims Rise
Last week’s average mortgage rates fell across the board according to Freddie Mac. The average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage dropped by five basis points to 3.92 percent; the average rate for a 15-year mortgage rate also fell by five basis points to 3.19 percent. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage was eight basis points lower at 3.01 percent. Average discount points were 0.60, 0.50 and 0.40 percent respectively.
New unemployment claims rose to 284,000 against expectations of 275,000 new claims and the prior week’s reading of 277,000 new claims. Analysts said that the jump in claims resulted from job losses related to temporary holiday positions, but noted that last year’s momentum of falling jobless claims has slowed.
Last week’s economic news ended on a positive note; consumer sentiment rose according to the University of Michigan. Lower prices were credited for the boost in consumer confidence in current economic conditions.
This week’s scheduled economic events include the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index, Housing Starts, Consumer Price Index and Core Consumer Price Index. No news will be released on Monday due to the Martin Luther King holiday.
Last week’s scheduled economic reports included the NAHB Housing Market Index, Housing Starts, FOMC statement and Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s press conference. In addition to weekly reports on jobless claims and mortgage rates, inflation reports were also released.
Builder Confidence Slips, Housing Starts Increase
According to the NAHB / Wells Fargo Housing Market Index for December, home builder confidence slipped by one point to a reading of 61 as compared to an expected reading of 63 and November’s reading of 62. December’s reading was three points higher year-over-year. Readings over 50 indicate that more builders than fewer are confident about housing market conditions. December’s confidence reading remained higher than 2015’s average reading of 59.
Components used in comprising the NAHB HMI also slipped in December. Builder confidence in current market conditions fell one point to a reading of 66; the six months sales outlook fell two points to 67 and the reading for buyer foot traffic in new developments also decreased by two points to a reading of 46. The reading for buyer foot traffic has consistently remained below the neutral benchmark of 50 since the housing bubble ended.
While builder confidence eased, housing starts rose in November with 1.17 million starts reported. Analysts expected a reading of 1.14 million starts based on October’s reading of 1.06 million housing starts. During much of 2015, demand for homes accelerated due to slim inventories of available homes; new construction is seen as essential to easing demand.
Fed Raises Interest Rates, Mortgage Rates Higher
The Federal Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve raised its target federal funds rate from a range of 0.00 to 0.25 percent to a range of 0.25 percent to 0.50 percent. While the Fed’s increase is expected to affect consumer lending rates for auto loans and credit cards more than mortgages, Freddie Mac reported that rates for fixed rate home loans rose last week. The average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage rose by two basis points to 3.95 percent and the average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage increased by three basis points to 3.22 percent. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage was unchanged at 3.03 percent. Discount points were unchanged for fixed rate mortgages at 0.60 percent and 0.50 percent respectively while average points for a 5//1 adjustable rate mortgage dropped to an average of 0.40 percent.
Weekly jobless claims fell to 271,000 new claims against expectations of 275,000 new claims and the prior week’s reading of 282,000 new claims.
Next week’s economic reports include reports on new and existing home sales, consumer spending and consumer sentiment. Weekly jobless claims and Freddie Mac’s mortgage rates report will also be released as scheduled. No reports will be released on Friday due to the Christmas holiday.
Last week’s economic events included reports the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index, Housing Starts and the release of minutes for the most recent meeting of the Fed’s Federal Open Market Committee. The details:
NAHB: Builder Confidence in Housing Markets Dips
The National Association of Home Builders reported that builder confidence dropped to a reading of 62 as compared to October’s revised reading of 65. Any NAHB reading above 50 indicates that more builders are positive about market conditions than not. NAHB’s assessment of housing market conditions is based on readings for three aspects of current and future market conditions. November’s reading of 67 for current housing market conditions was three points lower than October’s reading of 70. Expectations for market conditions for sales of single family homes over the next six months fell by five points in November to a reading of 70. Builders’ sentiment about prospective buyer foot traffic in new single family developments rose by one point to 48.
Home builders started more new homes than at any time since September 2007; analysts cited wage growth and low unemployment figures along with high demand for homes as driving builder confidence in housing markets. Demand for homes continued to exceed homes available for purchase, which is a driving force for builder confidence.
NAHB Regional Builder Confidence Readings
Regional readings provide a snapshot of regional housing market conditions on a month-to-month bases and on a three month rolling average. The monthly readings for November were lower except for the Western region, which gained one point for a reading of 77. The Northeastern region held steady with a reading of 52; the Midwest’s reading also decreased by one point to 59 and builder confidence in the Southern region fell by five points to 62.
Monthly regional readings for home builder confidence can be volatile due to regional economic conditions; the NAHB provides a three-month rolling average for its four U.S. regions. In November, the Northeast region reported a reading of 50 which was three points higher than October’s reading. The Midwest region was unchanged from October’s reading of 60; the South also reported no change from its October reading of 65. The Western region posted an increase of 69 to 73 over the three months between August and November.
Housing Starts Lowest Since Spring Floods
According to the Commerce Department, housing starts fell by 11 percent to an annualized reading of 1.06 million in October. This was the lowest reading since last spring, when construction was adversely impacted by flooding. September’s reading was adjusted to 1.19 million starts. Meanwhile, building permits issued rose by 4.10 percent to an annual rate of 1.15 million starts in October.
While housing starts fell by 18.60 percent in the South, permits issued rose to their highest level since 2007. The South is the most active region for home construction and accounts for half of all new home construction in the U.S.
Mortgage Rates, New Jobless Claims Lower
Mortgage rates fell across the board last week according to Freddie Mac. The average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell by one basis point to 3.97 percent; the average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage fell two basis points to 3.18 percent and the average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage was five basis points lower at 3.03 percent. Discount points averaged 0.60 percent for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage and 0.50 percent for 15-year fixed rate mortgages and 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages.
New jobless claims also fell last week to a reading of 271,000 new claims filed as compared to expectations of 270,000 new claims filed and the prior week’s reading of 276,000 new claims filed. Lower jobless claims indicate further strengthening of labor markets, but seasonal hiring may have positively impacted the reading for new jobless claims.
Next week’s scheduled economic news releases include several housing reports. Existing Home Sales, the S&P Case-Shiller Housing Market Index, FHFA House Prices and New Home Sales will be posted along with regularly scheduled reports on mortgage rates and new jobless claims. There will be no economic reports released on Thursday or Friday due to the Thanksgiving holiday.
Last week’s scheduled economic news was sparse due to no scheduled releases on Monday and the Veterans Day Holiday on Wednesday. A report on job openings was released on Thursday along with regularly scheduled weekly reports on jobless claims and Freddie Mac’s report on mortgage rates.
Mortgage Rates, Weekly Jobless Claims Rise
Mortgage rates rose last week according to Freddie Mac. The average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage rose to 3.98 percent from last week’s reading of 3.87 percent. The average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage rose to 3.20 percent from the prior week’s reading of 3.09 percent; the average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage was also higher at an average of 3.03 percent as compared to the prior week’s average rate of 2.96 percent. Discount points were unchanged for all three types of mortgages at 0.60 percent for fixed rate mortgages and 0.40 for 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages.
New jobless claims rose last week to 276,000 claims filed against the expected reading of 268,000 new claims and the prior week’s reading of 276,000 new jobless claims filed. The Labor department reported 5.53 million job openings on September, which was the second highest reading since the inception of the job openings report in 2000.
The Labor Department also reported that the quits rate held steady at 1.90 percent for the sixth consecutive month. Fed Chair Janet Yellen has said that the Fed considers the quits rate an indicator of economic strength; if workers have enough confidence to quit their jobs for new jobs, this a strong economy. The quits rate has held steady for six months, which could signal to the Fed that the economy is not yet ready for a rise in interest rates that analysts expect to occur in December.
U.S. News recently cautioned that a combination of rising home prices and interest rates could quickly cool housing markets as first-time and moderate income buyers are priced out of the market and other would-be buyers find it difficult to qualify for the mortgages they need to finance home purchases. Recent hikes in mortgage rates are a likely response to the anticipated Fed rate hike in December.
Next week’s scheduled economic reports include the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index, Housing Starts and minutes from the most recent meeting of the Fed’s Federal Open Market Committee. The minutes may provide additional insight into how Fed policymakers are approaching the decision about raising the target federal funds rate.
From Jonathan Lansner, Staff Columnist of the Orange County Register:
Various economic anxieties, from a fear of higher interest rates to the possible negative ramifications of Chinese economic problems, raised doubts about the durability of the housing market’s long-running recovery.
So before autumn takes hold of the Orange County housing market (we’ll leave the weather to others), it’s a good time to review how summer treated the local market
When I tossed CoreLogic’s third-quarter homebuying report into my trusty spreadsheet a few surprising trends emerged. Here is the fourth key thing you should know about the summer of ’15 in Orange County housing.
Yes, Orange County’s median home price is up 5 percent in a year. But when you look at prices from spring to summer, a mild cooling trend can been seen.
The Orange County median dipped 2.1 percent from June to September. That’s not terribly unusual. Last year, prices fell 2.7 percent in summer. The median has fallen from the second quarter to the third quarter in eight of the last 12 years.
Part of the seasonal dip is market reaction to the end of the traditional spring rush and the family orientation of earlier-in-the-year homebuyers. These shoppers tend to buy larger – thus pricier – housing.
Since 1988, the Orange County median has dipped an average of 0.6 percent in the third quarter – the weakest three-month period – after rising on average of 4.1 percent in the second quarter – the strongest three months, historically speaking.
Even if softer summertime prices are to be expected, I’m not going to totally ignore this midyear stagnation of what Orange County homebuyers are willing to pay when the local job market is the strongest it’s been in roughly 15 years.
It was the hottest summer for homebuying in a decade, but those shoppers weren’t aggressively paying up. That’s a trend worth watching, especially if you’re a seller. ( End of Jonathan’s article.)
From Bob Phillips: Every year I tell my blog and mailing list readers that the fourth quarter of any given year is typically the BEST time to be a buyer, in Orange County, and this year doesn’t appear to be an exception. The primary reason this is true is because almost other buyers have already bought, closed escrow, and moved into their new homes.
This leaves an abundance of unsold homes – and their owners – waiting for ever declining numbers of buyers looking to make a purchase. THAT condition makes for any sellers who truly need to sell, to become more anxious, as they’re hoping to get their property closed sometime soon – before the market dries up completely, for the Holidays.
So, if you’re in a position to buy a new place to live, this next two, two and a half months, will be your best opportunity to get a good buy, before prices start to go up again, next Spring, like they usually do.
If you’re thinking of buying, give me a call ( 949-887-5305.) or shoot me an email, ( BobPhillipsRE@gmail.com ) and let’s go house shopping.
Last week’s economic news included the National Association of Home Builders Index, Housing Starts and FHFA’s report on August home sales. The National Association of Realtors® released its monthly report on sales of previously owned homes.
Builder Confidence and Housing Starts Post Gains
The Wells Fargo National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index for September posted its highest level of builder confidence in 10 years a higher than expected results with a reading of 64 for October. Analysts expected a reading of 62 based on September’s reading of 61.
The NAHB Wells Fargo Housing Market Index reading is based on three builder confidence readings. Builder confidence in current market conditions rose three points to a reading of 70; builder confidence in housing market conditions over the next six months rose seven points to 75 and buyer traffic in new housing developments held steady with a reading of 47. Any reading over 50 indicates that more builders are confident about market conditions than those who are not.
This news was consistent with September housing starts, which were also higher. The U.S. Commerce Department reported September’s housing starts at an annual level of 1.206 million starts against expectations of 1.139 million starts and August’s reading of 1.132 million housing starts.
Sales of Previously Owned Homes Surpass Expectations
September sales of pre-owned homes surpassed expectations according to a report released by the National Association of Realtors®. Sales of previously owned homes reached 5.55 million sales on a seasonally-adjusted annual basis against an expected reading of 5.34 million sales. August’s reading was adjusted downward from 5.31 million sales to 5.30 million sales of previously owned homes.
Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist for the National Association of Realtors®, cited lower mortgage rates, higher demand for homes and low inventories of available homes as driving higher sales. Slight easing of mortgage credit standards was also said to be driving home sales.
FHFA’s Home Price Index for August showed that home prices for properties associated with mortgages owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac increased at a rate of 5.05 percent in August as compared to a growth rate of 5.80 percent year-over-year in August 2014.
Mortgage Rates Mixed, Weekly Jobless Claims Lower
Weekly reports on mortgage rates and jobless claims yielded mixed results. Freddie Mac reported that average rates for fixed rate mortgages dipped with the average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage three basis points lower at 3.79 percent; the average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage fell by five basis points to 2.98 percent. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage ticked upward by one basis point to 2.89 percent. Average discount points were 0.60 percent for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, 0.50 percent for a a5-year fixed rate mortgage and were unchanged at 0.40 percent for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage.
Weekly jobless claims were lower than expectations with a reading of 259,000 new claims filed against expectations of 265,000 new jobless claims. New claims were higher than the previous week’s reading of 256,000 new claims. Analysts are keeping an eye on jobs reports as stronger job markets are essential to expanding home sales.
This week’s scheduled economic news includes Case-Shiller reports on home prices along with reports on new home sales, consumer confidence and consumer sentiment. Core inflation readings will be released Friday after Thursday’s releases of Freddie Mac mortgage rates and weekly jobless claims.
From Jonathan Lansner, O.C. Register Staff Columnist, 10/22/2015
Orange County housing’s upper crust finished the summer in style.
In September, home sales in the county’s 27 priciest ZIP codes – neighborhoods where the median sales price run from $722,500 to $3.65 million – were up 16.3 percent compared to a year ago, according to CoreLogic data.
Countywide, 3,282 Orange County residences sold, up 15 percent from a year ago. Orange County’s median selling price for all residences was $615,000 in the period, up 5.3 percent compared to a year ago.
In the nine Orange County ZIP codes with median selling prices above $1 million, sales totaled 222 homes, up 20 percent compared to a year ago. The most expensive ZIP codes were Newport Coast 92657 and Newport Beach 92661 at $3.65 million.
Other noteworthy trends in CoreLogic’s September report:
• Gains were not universal. Prices were up in 55 of 83 Orange County ZIP codes compared to the previous year. Sales volume rose in 63 of the 83 ZIPs.
• The latest countywide median price is 4.7 percent below the all-time high monthly price of $645,000 set in June 2007.
• Median selling price for resales of single family homes was $679,750 – up 4.6 percent from a year ago and 7.4 percent below the all-time high monthly price of $734,000 set in June 2007.
• Resale condos’ median selling price was $430,000 – up 7.9 percent from a year ago, yet 8.5 percent below the all-time high monthly price of $470,000 set in March 2007.
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.
For 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.