Interest Rate Roundup

Monday, November 21, 2011

Existing home sales inch up in October

We just got our latest look at existing home sales from the National Association of Realtors. Sales rose 1.4% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.97 million in October from 4.9 million a month earlier. That topped expectations for a reading of 4.8 million. We saw strength in most of the country, with sales up 2.1% in the South, 2.8% in the Midwest, and 4.4% in the West. Sales fell 5.1% in the Northeast.

Single family transactions led the way with a gain of 1.6%, while condo and coop sales were flat on the month. The supply of homes for sale dipped to 3.33 million from 3.406 million in September. That was equal to 8 months of supply at the current sales pace, down from 8.3 a month earlier. Meanwhile, the median price of a used home fell to $162,500 from $165,800 in September. That was also down 4.7% from a year earlier.

The housing market is showing a slight improvement in tone these days, with builder optimism and now, used home sales perking up. Strength was broad based in October, led by the core single-family market. That said, we're still talking about a low level of activity overall. Pricing also remains weak, and distressed inventory continues to find its way into the market courtesy of an ongoing wave of foreclosures.

We also have to watch the credit markets closely. The European chaos is spreading into more and more corners of the banking sector and capital markets. That could lead to tightening credit standards in the mortgage market, exactly what potential home buyers DON'T need right now.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New home sales rise as prices plunge

We just got the latest data on home sales and pricing, and it was a mixed bag. New home sales rose 5.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 313,000 in September from 296,000 in August. That topped forecasts, and it leaves sales at the highest level since April. Sales rose in two of four regions (the West and South), and fell in the other two (the Northeast and Midwest).

But the median price of a home fell off the table, dropping 3.1% on the month, the third straight decline. Prices were also down 10.4% from a year ago, the biggest monthly drop in more than two years. At $204,400, median prices haven't been this low since last October. The raw number of homes for sale remained at a multi-decade low of 163,000, while the "months supply at current sales pace" indicator of inventory dipped to 6.2 from 6.6.

We continue to get mixed data on housing, with sales stabilizing at relatively low levels but home prices coming under significant pressure. It seems the only way to generate volume in an era of falling consumer confidence, tighter lending standards, and stiff competition from distressed inventory is to slash prices. And that's precisely what new home builders appear to be doing.

We have managed to cut new home inventory to the bone. So once the supply of used homes falls significantly, builders will be in a stronger pricing position. But that's a process that will take a couple of years, rather than months. If you're a home builder, you have to stay lean and mean if you want to survive.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Existing home sales slump in September

We just got a look at September existing home sales figures. Total sales fell 3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.91 million from 5.06 million in August. That was right in line with the estimates of economists polled by Bloomberg. Single-family sales dropped 3.6%, while condo sales rose 1.8%.

The "months supply at current sales pace" indicator of inventory inched up to 8.5 from 8.4, while the raw number of homes for sale dipped 2% to 3.48 million. Meanwhile, the median price of an existing home fell sharply to $165,400 from $171,200 a month earlier. That was down 3.5% from a year ago.

September was another lackluster month for the housing sector, with used home sales falling slightly and home prices slipping a bit. Tighter lending standards and ongoing weakness in the labor market are combining to cap demand, while an ongoing influx of foreclosed properties is keeping the supply of homes for sale from declining sharply. The result is continued pressure on home pricing, and a stagnant buying climate.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Housing starts rise as multifamily perks up

The September housing starts figures were just released and they popped by a surprising 15%. The 658,000 seasonally adjusted annual rate of starts was well ahead the median forecast of 590,000 and the highest since April 2010. We saw broad-based regional strength as well, led by the West with a gain of 18.1%.

However, the strength was mostly in the multifamily sector, where starts surged 51.3%. The less-volatile single-family market was more subdued, with a gain of only 1.7%. On the building permits front, we saw a slide in both the multifamily (-14.5%) and single-family (-0.2%) sectors. That left permits at a five-month low, portending a slowdown in future construction. The West led with a 9% decline in permits.

Construction of multifamily properties like apartments, condos, and town homes perked up in September, helping push housing starts to the highest level in 17 months. However, permitting activity slipped and the less-volatile single-family market remains subdued. So once again, we're left with a mixed bag of news on the housing front. It will take a more vigorous rebound in the labor market, an improvement in consumer confidence, and a loosening of lending standards to really rev up the housing market's engine again. Unfortunately, those forces don't appear to be coming together.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pending home sales dip in August

The latest pending home sales figures were just released, and they showed a 1.2% drop between July and August. That was the second monthly decline in a row and it left the seasonally adjusted index at 88.6, the lowest since April. Sales fell 2.4% in the West, 3.7% in the Midwest, and 5.8% in the Northeast. Sales rose 2.6% in the South.

We already knew the new home market slipped to a multi-month low in August. Now, it appears we're seeing the same deterioration in the "used" home arena. While mortgage rates remain historically low, buyers simply lack the confidence to step up to the plate and buy homes. They're worried about losing their jobs, and rightfully so. As a result, housing continues to act like an anchor around the neck of the economy, preventing a meaningful recovery.

Monday, September 26, 2011

New home sales slump to six-month low

We just got new home sales figures for August, and they were nothing to write home about. Sales fell 2.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 295,000 from 302,000 a month earlier. That was roughly in line with the average forecast of analysts polled by Bloomberg.

The number of homes on the market continued to sink, hitting 162,000 last month. That's the lowest level in the history of the U.S., and roughly 6.6 months of supply at the current sales pace (in line with the last several months). Too bad it didn't do anything to support pricing - median home prices fell 7.7% on a yearly basis and 8.7% from a month earlier. At $209,100, new home prices are the lowest since last October.

A weakening economy, falling consumer confidence, and tighter credit standards are all weighing on housing demand. New home sales fell to a six-month low in August, with declines in three out of four regions of the country. Pricing was also weak, despite there being an extremely low level of new homes for sale. That's proof positive that competition from a glut of existing, "nearly new" homes is still weighing heavily on the market. Bottom line: The hunt for that elusive, long-lasting housing bottom continues!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Existing home sales pop in August

We just got existing home sales figures for August, and they were definitely better than expected. Sales rose 7.7% on the month to 5.03 million at a seasonally adjusted annual rate. That was the highest in five months and above the average forecast of 4.75 million. Single-family sales gained 8.5% while condo and coop sales rose 1.8%.

There was broad-based regional strength, with sales up 2.7% in the Northeast, 3.8% in the Midwest, 5.4% in the South, and 18.3% in the West. The number of homes for sale dipped 3%, while the months supply at current sales pace indicator of supply fell to 8.5 from 9.5. The median price of a home fell to $168,300 from $171,200 in July. That was also down 5.1% from a year earlier.

Sales of existing homes topped expectations in August, with widespread regional strength and a nice decline in inventory. That's the good news. The bad news is that these are lagging figures -- they reflect contracts signed a month or two prior. Other leading indicators of housing demand, including builder optimism and mortgage activity, point to future weakness. In fact, home purchase loan demand just fell to the lowest level since February.

Long story short? Housing isn't falling off a cliff. But it's not recovering either. That lack of a recovery, in turn, is impeding the broad economy's emergence from the Great Recession.

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