Week in Review
Last week’s scheduled economic news included reports on pending home sales, construction spending and several jobs related readings including ADP Payrolls, the government’s Non-Farm Payrolls and the national unemployment rate.
Mortgage Rates, Weekly Unemployment Claims Rise
Mortgage rates rose across the board according to Freddie Mac’s weekly report. The average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage rose two basis points to 3.64 percent; the average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage rose by one basis point to 2.94 percent and the average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage rose five basis points to 2.84 percent. Discount points were consistent at 0.50 percent for all three types of home loans.
Weekly jobless claims also rose to 278,000 new claims as compared to expectations of 270,000 new claims and the prior week’s reading of $272,000 new jobless claims. While an increase in new unemployment claims may seem discouraging, new claims for unemployment remain near pre-recession lows.
The four-week rolling average of new jobless claims dropped by 1750 claims to 270,250 and reached its lowest reading in three months. Analysts view the four-week reading as more reliable than week-to-week readings that can be volatile.
Pending Home Sales and Construction Spending
In other news, pending home sales fell by 2.50 percent as compared to December’s reading. Analysts expected an increase in pending sales of 0.50 percent; December’s reading was 0.10 percent higher than for November. Pending home sales represent sales contracts that have not yet closed and are considered an indicator of future closings and mortgage activity.
Home sales have been impacted in recent months by a shortage of available homes; this creates a backlog of would-be buyers who can’t find homes they want to buy and also causes rapidly escalating home prices in desirable areas. Bidding wars and cash sales can sideline buyers who can’t pay cash or are whose offers are outbid.
Analysts say that new home construction is a key component of easing the housing shortage. Construction spending increased by 1.50 percent in January, but month-to-month spending for residential projects was flat in January. Spending for residential projects was 7.60 percent higher year-over-year.
Labor Reports Reflect Stronger Economy
Federal and private sector reports on jobs indicate that job growth continues. The Department of Commerce reported that Non-Farm Payrolls grew by 242,000 jobs in February, which was higher than expectations of 195,000 new jobs and January’s reading of 172,000 new jobs. According to ADP, which tracks private sector payrolls, 214,000 new jobs were created in February as compared to expectations of 185,000 new jobs and January’s reading of 193,000 new jobs.
Improving jobs markets are a positive indicator for housing markets as stable employment is important to home buyers’ ability to qualify for mortgages. The National Unemployment Rate remained stable in February with a reading of 4.90 percent; the expected reading and prior month’s reading were also 4.90 percent.
Next week’s scheduled economic reports include the NFIB Small Business Index and February’s Federal Budget along with regularly scheduled weekly reports on mortgage rates and new unemployment claims.
Mortgage Debt Rises For First Time Since Recession
Last week was relatively quiet concerning scheduled housing-related news, but the Federal Reserve’s financial accounts report, released on Monday, indicated that mortgage debt in the U.S. had increased for the first time since the first quarter (Q1) of 2008.
Mortgage debt increased by a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of $87.4 billion, or 0.90 percent. Mortgage debt remains approximately 12.00 percent below pre-recession levels.
Increasing debt is not often considered good news, but in the case of mortgage debt in today’s economy, it suggests economic recovery in the form of higher home prices and fewer foreclosures.
Another instance of counter-intuitive economic results was released Tuesday. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report for October.
JOLTS indicated that 2.39 million workers quit their jobs in October. This was the highest number of jobs quit since 2008. While this may appear counter-productive to a growing economy, it indicates that workers are leaving their jobs for better positions.
Mortgage Rates Fall, Federal Budget Deficit Shrinks
On Wednesday the U.S. Treasury announced that November’s federal budget deficit had shrunk to -$135 billion from November 2012’s deficit reading of -$172 billion. This represents a year-over-year deficit decrease of 21 percent.
Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey (PMMS) report provided good news as average mortgage rates fell last week. The average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell from 4.46 percent to 4.42 percent. Discount points rose from the previous week’s reading of 0.50 percent to 0.70 percent.
15-year fixed rate mortgage rates fell from 3.47 percent to an average reading of 3.43 percent, with discount points rising from the prior week’s reading of 0.40 percent to 0.70 percent.
The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage dropped from 2.99 percent to 2.94 percent with discount points unchanged at 0.40 percent.
Lower mortgage rates are good news for home buyers facing higher home prices.
Weekly jobless claims rose last week. The previous week’s reading of 300,000 new jobless claims was short-lived as the reading for new jobless claims rose to 368,000 last week and surpassed a consensus of 335,000 new jobless claims.
Financial analysts cautioned that employment data can be volatile during the holidays, and noted that the four-week average of new unemployment claims rose by 6000 to 328,750.
What‘s Coming Up
There are several significant releases set for housing-related news. The NAHB housing market index, Housing Starts, and Building permits indicate how current builder confidence and new construction may impact the supply of available homes.
On Wednesday, the FOMC will issue its usual statement at the conclusion of its two-day meeting. Some analysts expect an announcement concerning the Fed’s quantitative easing policy; Outgoing Fed Chair Ben Bernanke is set to give a press conference after the FOMC statement.
In addition to the weekly jobless claims report and Freddie Mac’s PMMS, Reports on Existing Home Sales and Leading Economic Indicators will also be released.
Mortgage rates and the major stock market indices rose last week in response to a strong jobs report and lower national unemployment rate.
The Department of Labor’s Non-farm Payrolls report for February surpassed expectations with 236,000 new jobs reported against expectations of 170,000 new jobs expected by Wall Street.
This stronger than expected showing in jobs numbers points to a stronger economy and may lead to less pressure to hold mortgage interest rates lower.
The Dow Jones Index also reached record levels last week. This strong stock market performance is to be expected with better than expected employment reports.
February’s numbers also exceeded January’s reading of 157,000 new jobs added to the economy.
Lower Unemployment Rates Help Economy, May Push Interest Rates Higher
The Unemployment Report for February also provided good news as February’s reading dropped to 7.7 percent from January’s unemployment rate of 7.9 percent.
While good news, it’s important to bear in mind that the Fed has established and unemployment rate of 6.5 percent as a benchmark for ceasing its monetary stimulus program.
The Federal Reserve released its Beige Book Report for March on Wednesday, and summarized reports from its 12 districts by noting modest to moderate economic improvement in 10 districts and slower economic growth in 2 districts.
Residential real estate markets are improving in most districts with home prices rising and inventories of available homes shrinking.
This news, coupled with last week’s rising mortgage rates is further emphasizes the upward trend in home prices in many areas and the rising cost of financing or refinancing a home.
While rising home prices are good for the economy, they impact affordability of homes, particularly for first-time home buyers.
Busy Upcoming Week In Financial News
Next week has a busy calendar of scheduled economic news; here are a few highlights:
- Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: Treasury Auctions
- Wednesday: Retail Sales, and Retail Sales without Auto Sales
- Thursday: Producers Price Index (PPI) and Core PPI (PPI without volatile food and energy sectors)
- Thursday: Weekly Jobless Claims, Consumer Price Index (CPI) and Core CPI (without food and energy sectors)
- Friday: Consumer Sentiment
It will be interesting to see how or if Consumer Sentiment reacts to recent signs supporting progress toward economic recovery.
If you’ve been watching interest rates to see when the best time is to lock in, this may be a good opportunity.
As the economy continues to improve, mortgage interest rates will continue an upward climb.
Mortgage rates worsened last week in response to more indications that the U.S. economy and global economic trends are improving. Global economic data was stronger than expected; which generally boosts investor confidence and leads to higher mortgage rates in California and across the country.
According to Freddie Mac, the average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 3.53 percent with borrowers paying all of their closing costs and 0.8 percent in discount points along with a full complement of closing costs.
The U.S Department of Commerce reported that Factory Orders for December improved over November; they rose from 0.0 percent in November to 1.89 percent in December, but fell short of Wall Street’s expectation of 2.5 percent.
The ISM Services Index for January was released Tuesday and fell to 55.2 from December’s reading of 56.1 and was slightly higher than against investors’ expectations of 55.0. Readings above 50 indicate expansion of the service sector of the economy. The ISM Services Index is also an indicator of future inflationary pressure.
Homebuilders Say Markets Improve For 6th Consecutive Month
On Wednesday, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) released its NAHB/First American Improving Markets Index (IMI), which provided good news for housing markets in all 50 states and Washington, D. C. Metro housing markets surveyed showed expansion of improving markets for the sixth consecutive month.
259 of the 361 metro areas surveyed in the IMI showed improvement in February. By comparison, only 12 improving metro markets were reported for September of 2011.
Increasing home prices and mortgage rates suggest that now may be the time for buying a home.
The weekly Jobless Claims report released on Thursday indicated that 366,000 new claims were filed, which was higher than Wall Street’s estimate of 360,000 new jobless claims, but lower than the previous week’s 368,000 new jobless claims.
Falling U.S. Trade Deficit Signals Economic Uptick
The best economic news for last week came on Friday, when the U.S. trade deficit fell to its lowest level since January 2010. The Trade Balance Report for December shows the trade deficit at -$38.5 billion against expectations of -$46 billion and November’s deficit of -$48.7 billion. While a great boost for the economy, this is another indicator that recent low mortgage rates and home prices may soon become history.
Economic News scheduled for this upcoming week includes U.S. Treasury Auctions set for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Retail Sales for January will be released on Wednesday and watched closely by investors. Retail sales account for approximately 70 percent of the U.S. economy and are viewed as a strong indicator of the economy’s direction.
Jobless Claims on Thursday, Industrial Production and Consumer Sentiment on Friday round out the week’s economic reports.
It’s no secret. Rates are low right now. And, it’s not just mortgage rates, either — all types of rates are scraping rock-bottom. Borrowing rates, lending rates and savings rates are at or near their all-time lowest levels.
As a homeowner in Coto de Caza , one way to take capitalize on today’s low rates is to apply to refinance your home. But there are other ways to take advantage, too.
In this 5-minute piece from NBC’s The Today Show, you’ll learn of a half-dozen ways to exploit the current rate environment, including:
- Refinance a car loan from a high rate to a low rate, for cheap, in an hour
- Balance transfers between credit cards with teaser rates lasting up to 20 months
- Move some savings to an “online” bank where savings rates are higher
The interview’s theme is to examine both where you’re spending and saving your money, and make sure you’re doing what’s best for your budget.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has pledged to hold the Fed Funds Rate near 0.000% until at least 2013. So long as the Fed Funds Rate is low, there will be places you can save.