For the week of February 7, 2011 – Vol. 9, Issue 6
>> Austin Mortgage Market Update

INFO THAT HITS US WHERE WE LIVE… There’s good news in the latest housing market forecast for 2011 from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). After dipping 4.8% last year, sales of existing homes are predicted to grow 7.9%  this year, to 5.3 million. The gain for 2012 is forecast to be a little less, up 4.5%, to 5.53 million. The existing home median price went up 0.3% in 2010, a nice recovery from the 12.9% price drop of 2009. For 2011, the NAR sees it rising 0.5%, to $173,000, then another 2.4%, to $177,900, in 2012.

New home sales are forecast to come back more briskly, up 17.7% in 2011, following their 15.5% drop in 2010. The 2012 projection is for a strong 51.1% sales gain, to 565,000 homes. The median price for new homes, which gained 2.2% last year, should go up another 1.8% in 2011, to $224,700, then 1.9% in 2012, to $229,000. The NAR’s chief economist says this rebound in home sales does depend on an improvement in the jobs market. Affordability also matters and in Q4 of 2010 housing was the most affordable on record, according to NAR numbers going back to 1971. The NAR feels the current situation of low home prices along with low interest rates should continue.

>> Review of Last Week

HELLO, 12,000!… Last week saw strong corporate earnings, more indications the economy is healing, and Ben Bernanke telling the National Press Club the Fed won’t be withdrawing its policy support anytime soon. The net result? The Dow shot up five days in a row, crossing the 12,000 threshold and staying there, trading near its highest levels since the middle of 2008. All three major indexes delivered impressive gains, with the S&P 500 enjoying its best January since 1997. Investors shrugged off worries the Egyptian protests might further de-stabilize the whole Mideast.

Corporate earnings are running way ahead of expectations and, even more encouraging, future earnings estimates are up. The week’s star performers included mammoth Exxon Mobil, drug biggie Pfizer, and video gamer Electronic Arts. The vast majority of companies reporting beat their Q4 earnings expectations, as retailers chimed in with better than expected monthly same store sales results for January.

Investors also liked the economic data. Q4 productivity was up 2.6%, proving that, yes, we ARE working harder. But we’re also being compensated for that extra effort, as personal income rose in December along with personal spending, which helps fire up the economy. But things aren’t overheating yet, since Core PCE Prices, the inflation number the Fed watches, was up just 0.7% the past year. ISM Manufacturing and Services indexes both showed strong economic growth. The January Employment Report showed a gain of just 36,000 jobs, but this was put to the unusually bad weather preventing people from working — several hundred thousand more than usual. Private sector payrolls were up 50,000, their 11th monthly gain in a row, which helped drop the unemployment rate to 9.0%.

For the week, the Dow ended UP 2.3%, at 12,092; the S&P 500 was UP 2.7%, to 1,311; and the Nasdaq shot UP 3.1%, ending at 2,769.

While stocks soared higher, bonds got hammered. Even the Egyptian unrest couldn’t ignite a flight to safety, as investors wanting to catch the rising wave of stock prices took their money out of bonds. The FNMA 4.0% bond we watch ended down 187 basis points for the week, closing at $97.22. In spite of this drop, news of an improving economy and low inflation kept mortgage rates at historically low levels. Freddie Mac’s weekly survey of conforming mortgages reported average fixed-rate mortgage rates pretty much unchanged.

>> This Week’s Forecast

A QUIET WEEK… We’ll have the usual weekly and continuing jobless claims, and no one is expecting huge drops in these numbers just yet. Optimistic observers expect serious declines in claims in another month or so. We’ll also see the December Trade Balance showing imports growing versus exports, although U.S. companies’ export revenues are still strong, a good thing. Finally, consumer confidence in the economy is forecast to be growing, at least the way the February Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index sees it on Friday.

>> 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 February 7 – February 11

Date Time (ET) Release For Consensus Prior Impact

Feb 9

10:30 Crude Inventories 2/5 NA 2.59M Moderate

Feb 10

08:30 Initial Unemployment Claims 2/5 413K 415K Moderate

Feb 10

08:30 Continuing Unemployment Claims 1/29 3.900M 3.925M Moderate

Feb 11

08:30 Trade Balance Dec -$40.7B -$38.3B Moderate

Feb 11

09:55 Univ. of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Feb 75.5 74.2 Moderate

>> Federal Reserve Watch

Forecasting Federal Reserve policy changes in coming months Fed Chairman Bernanke spoke before the National Press Club last week and certainly left the impression that the Funds Rate will stay at its rock bottom level for a decent while longer. This week’s economic reports shouldn’t inspire the Fed to hike the Rate any time soon. 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
Mar 15 0%–0.25%
Apr 27 0%–0.25%
Jun 22 0%–0.25%

Probability of change from current policy:

After FOMC meeting on: Consensus
Mar 15 <1%
Apr 27 <1%
Jun 22 2%