|For the week of March 1, 2010 – Vol. 8, Issue 9|
|>> Austin Mortgage Market Update
INFO THAT HITS US WHERE WE LIVE New home sales fell 11.2% in January to a record low level. Existing home sales weren’t very pretty either, down 7.2%, though they’re UP 11.5% over a year ago. Let’s remember that last Fall we all thought the tax credit was going away at the end of November. Many sales got pushed into October and November, causing sales drops the next two months. But the median new home price is down just 2.4% year over year and the average price is now UP 3.7%. For an existing home, the median price is unchanged from a year ago and the average price is UP 2.6%. More evidence home prices are stabilizing, with some analysts expecting modest gains for the year. Supporting this, the Case-Shiller home price index was UP 0.3% in December, its seventh straight monthly rise.
Even more interesting was the news that this has actually been a very good decade for home prices. From January 2000 to December 2009, prices were UP 46%, making residential real estate a clearly profitable investment. And that’s not even factoring in the mortgage interest and real estate tax deductions homeowners get!
Finally, we’ve reported that the Fed will stop buying mortgage bonds at the end of this month and experts feared rates may edge up. Now analysts say mortgage rates might not move much at all. This stems from the fairly calm market reaction to last week’s hike of the Fed’s discount lending rate (which is NOT the key Fed funds rate). Seeing little or no move in today’s low mortgage rates is good news for the near term.
>> Review of Last Week
MINOR SLIP… Another volatile week on Wall Street, as investors drove stock prices down two days, then up two days, with all three major indexes slipping just slightly for the week. Things got off to a weak economic start with Consumer Confidence dropping sharply in February, much like the temporary drop in January 1996 when, curiously, there was another big blizzard on the East Coast.
Folks didn’t much like the drop in new home sales either, but good news did come with the Richmond Fed Index, which showed that manufacturing in the mid-Atlantic region went from -2 in January to +2 in February. Then there was Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s monetary policy report to Congress, which he serves up every six months. Bernanke assured everyone rates will remain low, a message loved by investors.
The up-and-down news continued with durable goods UP a solid 3.0% for January, showing business is investing in equipment, usually a precursor to their investing in jobs. Not just yet, though, as weekly unemployment claims edged up a tad. Then Friday we had the blockbuster news that real GDP for Q4 was revised UP to a 5.9% annual growth rate. People who still can’t see a recovery should also look at the Chicago PMI. This gauge of Midwest manufacturing hit a five-year high of 62.6 for February.
For the week, the Dow was down 0.7%, to 10325.26; the S&P 500 was down 0.4%, to 1104.49; while the Nasdaq skidded down 0.3%, to 2238.26.
Bonds ended the week pretty nicely as investors sought safety in a week featuring strong Treasury auctions. The FNMA 30-year 4.5% bond we watch ended UP 87 basis points, closing at $101.09. As a national average, mortgage rates inched up a little, but still remain at very low levels.
>> This Week’s Forecast
INFLATION, MANUFACTURING, HOMES, JOBS… This week has everything! We start off with PCE, the Fed’s favorite reading on inflation, followed by the ISM take on the state of manufacturing, a sector that’s been leading the recovery. Thursday, Pending Home Sales looks to the near future of the housing market. Then the week ends with the all-important February jobs report. We will be looking for some encouraging signs on that front.
>> 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 March 1 – March 5
>> Federal Reserve Watch
Forecasting Federal Reserve policy changes in coming months In Congressional testimony last week, Fed Chairman Bernanke recited his familiar mantra that interest rates should stay low for “an extended period of time.” Now very few economists feel the Fed funds rate will rise during the first half of this year. 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%
Probability of change from current policy: