Sales of previously owned homes fell in August according to the National Association of REALTORS®. This was the first decline in sales in five months. Although not welcome news to homeowners and real estate pros, there is good news. Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of REALTORS®, as first-time buyers and moderate income families may now have an opportunity to find and buy affordable homes.
Bidding wars and slim inventories of available homes made buying a home difficult for many prospective buyers in recent months, but Mr. Yun said that these obstacles have subsided in many markets. Other obstacles contributing to a slowdown in housing markets are labor markets, which have shown some improvement, and stringent mortgage credit requirements that became effective in January.
Analysts had expected an annual sales rate of 5.20 million existing homes in August against July’s original reading of 5.15 million sales, which was later adjusted to 5.14 million sales of existing homes. August’s reading was 5.05 million previously owned homes sold.
FHFA Home Sales Show Fractional Gain in July
FHFA, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, reported that July sales of homes connected with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac owned mortgages rose by a tenth of a percent in July on a seasonally-adjusted basis. On a year-over-year basis, home prices were 4.40 percent higher than in July 2013. It’s important to bear in mind that FHFA reports a month behind the readings reported for existing home sales in August. Another thing to consider is that FHFA readings are based on properties connected with mortgages owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
First-Time Buyers Missing in Action
Falling home prices and sales volume may be due in part to a vortex of challenges facing first-time home buyers. The census bureau reports that homeownership rates have dropped for the 25-29 age groups; about 40.6 percent owned homes in 2007 as compared to 34.1 percent in 2013. The national unemployment rate for millennials is higher at approximately 9.00 percent as compared to the national unemployment rate for all workers at about 6.00 percent. Stricter mortgage rules and long-term under-employment are also impacting first-time buyers’ ability to purchase homes. The inability of would-be first-time buyers to buy homes can impact buyers and sellers at all levels of local housing markets as most sellers rely on selling their existing home to fund down payments and closing costs for their next homes.
Wednesday’s customary post-meeting statement issued by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the Federal Reserve provided some relief to investors and analysts concerned that the Fed may soon raise its target federal funds rate. The target federal funds rate has held steady at between 0.00 and 0.25 percent since the inception of the Fed’s current quantitative easing program. The FOMC statement indicated that the committee does not expect to raise the target federal funds rate until the Fed’s dual mandate of maximum employment and reaching its target inflation rate is achieved.
FOMC members don’t expect the wind-down of scheduled securities purchases under the quantitative easing program to cause long-term interest rates to rise quickly. The FOMC statement indicates that the Fed expects its current holdings and acquisitions of securities to hold down long-term interest rates and help with achieving the Fed’s dual mandate of achieving maximum employment and 2.00 percent inflation. As in past meetings, the FOMC statement asserted the committee’s dedication to reading and researching economic and financial reports and repeated that Fed policy is not contingent on a predetermined course, but that FOMC members make decisions based on current economic trends and developing domestic and global events.
FOMC members also re-asserted their position that after employment and inflation achieve levels consistent with the Fed’s dual mandate, the Fed will likely maintain the target federal funds rate at lower levels than the committee considers normal for “some time.”
Fed Chair Janet Yellen provided further insight into Fed policy during a press conference given after the FOMC statement. She also said that the FOMC’s view of current economic conditions has not changed over the past few months. Chair Yellen also said that the committee expects to maintain the current target federal funds rate for a “considerable time” after asset purchases under the QE 3 program cease.
Fed Chair Yellen: Gaps Between Current Data and Fed’s Mandate Shrink Modestly
In a press conference given after the FOMC policy statement was released, Fed Chair Janet Yellen emphasized that the committee’s discussions did not imply any near-term changes to the target federal funds rate. Chair Yellen cited gaps between current unemployment rates and the Fed’s mandate of achieving maximum employment and the current inflation rate and the Fed’s target inflation rate of 2.00 percent as major considerations in forming current Fed policy. She said that the respective gaps had narrowed “modestly,” and again emphasized the Fed’s commitment to constant review of economic and financial data as a significant factor in its decisions to change monetary policy.
Ms. Yellen cautioned media representatives and analysts to avoid making economic projections too far into the future and pointed out that longer term predictions are subject to more variables. Chair Yellen also cautioned press conference attendees not to consider anything in the FOMC statement or her press conference to a definite time frame.
Media reps continued to press for definite dates and time projections, but Chair Yellen held fast to the Fed’s often-repeated position that policy changes cannot be set by a calendar and also depend on economic trends and news that influence the Fed’s monetary policies.
Last week’s housing related economic reports were slim, but an unexpected increase in weekly jobless claims gained attention. Analysts calmed concerns by noting that last week’s reading of 315,000 new jobless claims was not far removed from jobless claim levels before the recession. Expectations for last week’s reading were for 301,000 new jobless claims based on the previous week’s original reading of 302,000. The previous week’s reading was revised to 304,000 new jobless claims.
Jobless Claims: 4-Week Average for Continuing Claims Hits Lowest Level Since 2007
Prospective home buyers and current homeowners typically consider their jobs and employment prospects before seeking a home purchase mortgage or refinancing their existing home loans. Last week’s readings released by the Department of Labor suggest that while weekly jobless claims increased, overall trends in hiring and continuing jobless claims indicate a stronger labor sector.
The four-week average of new jobless claims rose from 303,250 to 304,000. The four-week average is typically less volatile than week-to-week readings. Continuing jobless claims increased by 9,000 to 2.49 million for the week ended August 30. The four-week average for continuing jobless claims fell by 15,500 claims to 2.50 million continuing jobless claims. This was the lowest reading for continuing jobless claims since 2007.
In other labor related news, job openings were nearly steady at 4.67 million in July against June’s reading of 4.68 million new job openings. The Labor Department reported that job openings increased by 22 percent year-over-year, with private sector jobs rising to 4.19 million job openings and government jobs increasing by 101,000 job openings to 485,000 in July. The number of hires in July rose from June’s reading of 4.79 million to 4.87 million in July. This was the highest number of hires since 2007. Pre-recession hiring levels were approximately 5 million; this suggests that U.S. labor trends are approaching pre-recession levels.
Mortgage Rates Rise, Discount Points Unchanged
Freddie Mac reported higher mortgage rates on Thursday, with average discount points unchanged at 0.50 across the board. Average rates for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage rose from 4.10 percent to 4.12 percent; the average rate for a 15-year mortgage was two basis points higher at 3.26 percent and the average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage rose to 2.99 percent from the prior week’s average of 2.97 percent.
This week’s scheduled news includes several reports related to housing. In addition to Freddie Mac’s usual mortgage rates report, The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) will release its Housing Market Index and the Department of Commerce will release data on housing starts in August. General economic reports include the Consumer Price Index, Core Consumer Price Index, and Leading Economic Indicators.
The Federal Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve will release its post-meeting statement on Wednesday, and Fed Chair Janet Yellen is also expected to give a press conference. The Federal Reserve may provide further indication of its intention concerning the target federal funds rate, which is currently at 0.00 to 0.250 percent. The Fed may address its intentions concerning the federal funds rate, but the FOMC has been consistently vague about details concerning its economic strategy.
Last week’s housing-related economic news was slim, likely due to the Labor Day holiday Monday. On Tuesday, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that construction spending for July increased by 1.80 percent as compared to June’s revised reading of 1.0 percent and expectations of a 1.0 percent increase for July.
The Federal Reserve released its Beige Book report Wednesday; the collection of anecdotes from business contacts within the 12 Federal Reserve districts indicated that the general economy was strengthening as well as labor markets. The Fed noted a shortage of skilled workers. New construction and home sales grew modestly, but the Fed reported that fewer than half of the districts reported growth in real estate activity.
This information appears to be consistent with recent media reports of falling home sales, mortgage originations and demand for homes. Analysts say that mortgage lenders remain wary of loosening mortgage credit standards without protection from having to repurchase faulty mortgages from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Mortgage Rates Saw Little Change
Freddie Mac reported that average mortgage rates and discount points saw little change last week. The average rates for a 30-year mortgage and a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage were unchanged at 4.10 percent and 2.97 percent respectively. Discount points were also unchanged at 0.40 percent. The average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage fell by one basis point to 3.24 percent with discount points also lower at 0.50 percent.
Non-Farm Payrolls Add 142,000 Jobs, Unemployment Rate Unchanged
The Bureau of Labor Statistics Reported that 142,000 new jobs were added in August. Analysts had expected 228,000 new jobs added, but many analysts said that the abrupt decline in jobs added was a fluke. A couple of short-term incidents impacted retail and automotive sectors as a supermarket chain cut hours and fewer July layoffs in the automotive sector led to fewer workers called back in August. The unemployment rate remained at 6.10 percent.
Weekly jobless claims rose to 302,000 against expectations of 300,000 new jobless claims and 298,000 new jobless claims in the prior week.
This week’s scheduled economic news is also light on housing and mortgage reports. Retail spending, consumer credit, and federal budget data are some of the reports set for release.
Last 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.
Last 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.
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.
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.
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
Last week’s economic news included a number of housing related reports. According to the National Association of REALTORS®, pending home sales dropped by 1.10 percent in June. The S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index reports for May noted that home prices are growing at a slower rate of 9.30 percent year-over-year than April’s year-over-year growth rate of 10.80 percent. Construction spending was also lower in June.
The Fed’s FOMC statement indicated that asset purchases connected to quantitative easing will cease in October, but that the current target federal funds rate is expected to stay in place “a considerable period” after asset purchases conclude. FOMC noted its concern over housing markets, which was based on slower home price growth and market activity.
Pending Home Sales, Home Price Growth Slower
Pending home sales dropped by 1.10 percent nationwide in June. This was the first decrease in four months. Pending home sales rose by 1.10 percent in the Midwest and 0.20 percent in the West, but dropped by 2.90 percent in the Northeast and 2.40 percent in the South. Pending sales are measured by signed purchase contracts and provide an indicator of future completed sales and mortgage loan activity.
The 20-city Case-Shiller Home Price Index for May fell by 1.50 percent to a year-over-year reading of 9.30 percent from April’s 10.80 percent. No cities in the 20-city index reported declining home prices.
Construction spending fell by 1.80 percent in June against projections of an 0.30 percent increase in spending and May’s reading of an 0.80 percent increase. Reasons cited for lower construction spending included builder focus on high-demand areas. Builders have also indicated concerns about rising mortgage rates and tight loan requirements that impact numbers of home buyers that can qualify for home loans.
Mortgage Rates Little Changed, Fed Continues Wind-Down of Asset Purchases
According to Freddie Mac’s weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey, rates were little changed last week. The average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 4.12 percent as compared to 4.13 percent the prior week. Discount points were unchanged at an average of 0.60 percent. The average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage fell by three basis points to 3.23 percent with discount points higher by 10 basis points at 0.70 percent. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage fell by one basis point to 2.38 percent with average discount points of 0.40 percent unchanged.
The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the Federal Reserve issued its customary post-meeting statement on Wednesday. The FOMC plans to continue reducing asset purchase under the current quantitative easing program until the purchases cease in October. Although some analysts were concerned that the Fed may consider raising its target federal funds rate based on lower than expected unemployment figures, the FOMC said it doesn’t plan to raise the target federal funds “for a considerable time” after the QE purchases cease, but no specific timeline was given.
Labor Sector News
The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Labor Statistics posted a national unemployment rate of 6.20 percent for July, which was higher than expectations of a 6.00 percent national unemployment rate and June’s reading of 6.10 percent. To put these readings in perspective, the Fed had established an unemployment rate of 6.50 percent as a benchmark for winding down its asset purchases and potentially raising the target federal funds rate.
Non-farm payrolls reported 209,000 jobs added in July against projections of 235,000 jobs added and June’s reading of 298,000 jobs added. While July’s reading was lower, analysts said that job growth suggests ongoing recovery for labor markets. Labor markets have been cited in recent months as reasons for slower demand for homes and home builder skepticism.
Next week’s scheduled economic news contains no housing-related reports other than Freddie Mac’s mortgage rates report.