For the week of March 15, 2010 – Vol. 8, Issue 11
|>> Austin Mortgage Market Update
INFO THAT HITS US WHERE WE LIVE There wasn’t a ton of housing news last week, but one can always find a few significant items. For example, foreclosure filings in February were down 2% from January and up just 6% from a year ago — their smallest increase in four years. Most significantly, in the six states that made up 61% of the national total for February, foreclosure filings were down 15% from a year ago. We’re definitely heading in the right direction.
On the mortgage front, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported applications for purchase loans were up a seasonally adjusted 5.7% from the week before. It looks like people are trying to take advantage of today’s historically low rates before the end of the month. That’s when the Fed stops buying mortgage bonds, which has helped keep rates low, and no one knows what will happen once that Fed buying program ends. Mortgage applicants also have their eye on the homebuyer’s tax credit, which requires a signed contract by April 30.
Finally, current buyers are getting today’s great prices, which may not be headed much lower. One property search site announced that sellers had lowered prices on less than 20% of their listed homes, for the first time since they started tracking price reductions last April.
>> Review of Last Week
SLOWLY RISING… Like bread dough in the pan, the markets kept rising, though ever so slowly, last week. Basically, investors remained positive if not exactly exuberant. There were no big market moves to speak of, the result of no big news coming out of a fairly sparse economic calendar.
Economic readings included January’s trade deficit shrinking to $37.3 billion, with the total volume of imports plus exports finally falling after months of rebounding. But experts weren’t worried, since this happens in normal times and total trade volume remains up at a 26% annual rate since last Spring’s bottom. We had new unemployment claims down by 6,000 last week. Continuing claims increased 37,000, but the four-week average stayed at its lowest level in around fourteen months. Some observers expect a large payroll increase in March. Let’s hope they’re right.
Friday’s February Retail Sales report was a stunner. Overall retail sales were UP 0.3% — way better than expected — and sales excluding autos were UP 0.8% — way WAY better than expected! These are amazingly strong numbers, considering they’re for the year’s shortest month, whose shopping days were shortened even more by record snow storms and other forms of harsh weather in several regions of the country. Those worried about the consumer’s participation in this recovery, please take note!
For the week, the Dow headed UP 0.6% to 10624.69; the S&P 500 hiked UP 1.0%, to 1149.99; while the Nasdaq climbed UP 1.8%, to 2367.66.
A ton of supply hit the bond market last week, but demand was pretty strong too. Treasuries did well selling at lower-than-expected yields. There were also successful offerings in the municipal and corporate markets. The FNMA 30-year 4.5% bond we watch ended the week down just a tad, 31 basis points, closing at $100.88. On average, mortgage rates remain at their historically low levels, dipping slightly in last week’s Freddie Mac Survey.
>> This Week’s Forecast
HOME BUILDING, MANUFACTURING, INFLATION AND, OH YES, THE FED… A few useful economic indicators this week, highlighted by the Fed’s latest pronouncement on the funds rate come Tuesday. No one expects any movement on the rate just yet. Also Tuesday will be another take on the mindset of homebuilders, with Housing Starts and Building Permits. Lots of data on the manufacturing sector that’s been leading the recovery, with the Empire State and Philadelphia Fed indexes bracketing Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization. Finally, let’s keep an eye on inflation, with PPI wholesale numbers on Wednesday and CPI consumer figures the next day.
>> 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 15 – March 19
>> Federal Reserve Watch
Forecasting Federal Reserve policy changes in coming months Coming out of the Fed meeting on Tuesday, virtually no economists expect to see a hike in the benchmark Fed Funds Rate. With inflation always a concern, some experts are beginning to think we may see a hike in the rate in the second half of the 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: