For the week of December 6, 2010 – Vol. 8, Issue 49
>> Austin Mortgage Market Update

INFO THAT HITS US WHERE WE LIVE Last Thursday the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported Pending Home Sales for October UP 10.4% over the month before. This index is a measure of signed purchase contracts, which bodes well for Existing Home Sales a couple of months out. The NAR’s chief economist commented, “It is welcoming to see a solid double-digit percentage gain, but activity needs to improve further to reach healthy, sustainable levels. The housing market clearly is in a recovery phase and will be uneven at times, but the improving job market and consequential boost to household formation will help the recovery process going into 2011.”

Tuesday, the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index was down 0.8% in September for the 20 largest metro areas in the country. This was the third month in a row the index dipped, but national average home prices are still up 0.6% versus a year ago. Prices are also 3.2% above the May 2009 bottom and some analysts do not expect prices to go below that level. Opinions differ, however. Check out this map on the risk of price declines in various parts of the country:

>> Review of Last Week

BAD JOBS, GOOD WEEK… The week ended on a November Jobs report that delivered less-than-expected payroll gains and a slightly higher unemployment rate, but Wall Street basically shrugged it off. In fact, there was enough good economic news that investors sent all three stock market indexes UP solidly for the week.

Let’s start with those disappointing employment numbers. Non-farm payrolls grew in November by 39,000, but the consensus expected 150,000. But September and October revisions added 38,000 jobs, taking the net gain to 77,000. Payrolls in the private sector were up 50,000, their eleventh straight monthly gain, and prior months’ revisions added 6,000, for a net gain of 56,000. No one was happy to see the unemployment rate creep up to 9.8%, but with growing payrolls, more people are jumping back into an improving jobs market, so the workforce is growing. New weekly jobless claims also grew, but the four-week moving average dropped to its lowest level in over two years.

More obvious good economic news came in the form of the rising October Pending Home Sales figure reported above. Q3 Productivity was also UP 2.3% annually and UP 2.5% over last year. Both Chicago manufacturing and Consumer Confidence numbers were UP and the ISM Services index came in better than expected, as did same store retail sales. Even all the recent fears over European debt subsided, with the European Central Bank President hinting at more support for the region.

For the week, the Dow was UP 2.6%, to 11382.09; the S&P 500 was UP 3.0%, to 1224.71; and the Nasdaq was UP 2.2%, to 2591.46.

Even though bonds first benefited from the disappointing jobs report, prices eventually came under pressure from money flowing back into rallying stocks. The FNMA 30-year 4.0% bond we watch ended down 89 basis points for the week, closing at $100.20. National average rates for fixed-rate mortgages headed north a tad, according to Freddie Mac’s survey of conforming mortgage rates. They’re still at historically low levels, but wise buyers and refinancers shouldn’t wait.

>> This Week’s Forecast

TAKING A BREAK… After last week’s busy schedule of economic news, we’ll be taking a bit of a breather this week. The weekly Initial Unemployment Claims and Continuing Claims will continue to hold our interest and are expected to show a slowly strengthening jobs picture. Friday’s October Trade Balance is forecast to hold steady. Right after that, we’ll see a reading on the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index, which is expected to keep tracking upward.

>> The Week’s Economic Indicator Calendar

Weaker than expected economic data tends to send bond prices up and interest rates down, while positive data points to lower bond prices and rising loan rates.

Economic Calendar for the Week of December 6 – December 10

Date Time (ET) Release For Consensus Prior Impact

Dec 8

10:30 Crude Inventories 12/4 NA 1.07M Moderate

Dec 9

08:30 Initial Unemployment Claims 12/4 430K 436K Moderate

Dec 9

08:30 Continuing Unemployment Claims 11/27 4.250M 4.270M Moderate

Dec 10

08:30 Trade Balance Oct –$44.4B –$44.0B Moderate

Dec 10

09:55 Univ. of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Dec 72.5 71.6 Moderate

>> Federal Reserve Watch

Forecasting Federal Reserve policy changes in coming months All the experts still feel the Fed Funds Rate will stay at its super low level through the first half of next year. A threat of inflation, or a strengthening of the economic recovery, of course, could start rates back up. Note: In the lower chart, a 1% probability of change is a 99% certainty the rate will stay the same.

Current Fed Funds Rate: 0%–0.25%

After FOMC meeting on: Consensus
Dec 14 0%–0.25%
Jan 26 0%–0.25%
Mar 15 0%–0.25%

Probability of change from current policy:

After FOMC meeting on: Consensus
Dec 14 <1%
Jan 26 <1%
Mar 15 <1%