For the week of March 21, 2011 – Vol. 9, Issue 12
|>> Austin Mortgage Market Update
QUOTE OF THE WEEK…“To a journalist, good news is often not news at all.”–Phil Donahue
INFO THAT HITS US WHERE WE LIVE…Well, journalists had plenty of their kind of news to write about with last week’s housing reports. The bad stuff began with February Housing Starts dropping 22.5% to a level close to the April 2009 low, which was the lowest on record. Most of the drop was from multi-family starts, which are volatile on a monthly basis. Single-family starts were down 11.8%. New Building Permits fell 8.2% for February. This gauges activity a few months out, indicating starts in the Spring ought to be up a bit from now.
Nonetheless, experts feel building and sales activity should normalize to much higher rates in the next few years. The population is growing and aging housing stock needs to be replaced. Analysts say builders usually need to put up at least one million homes a year to keep up with these demands. Maybe that’s why an industry index of builder sentiment actually ticked up a point for March, putting it at its highest level since May 2010, when the homebuyer tax credits were making everyone feel good.
BUSINESS TIP OF THE WEEK…Don’t forget to smile. You may think people buy from you because of price, quality and the fact you stand behind your work. Those factors count, but ultimately, people buy because they like you.
>> Review of Last Week
MELTDOWN ON WALL STREET…As of Friday, a nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima complex had been averted, but that didn’t stop stocks from having their own meltdown. Investors sold off holdings, worried over Japan’s nuclear crisis, Libya’s civil war spreading to other oil producers, as well as the European Union’s lingering sovereign debt problems. The market did manage two good days at the end, but they weren’t good enough to prevent another weekly drop in all three major indexes, although many people felt things could have been a lot worse.
Economic news was mixed, the negative part being Housing Starts and Building Permits, covered above. On the very positive side was the Philadelphia Fed Index for March showing solid manufacturing growth in that region. Wholesale (PPI) and Consumer (CPI) Inflation were both up more than expected, thanks to higher energy and food prices. But the Fed focuses on Core CPI, which eliminates food and energy, and remains within an acceptable range. It seems like almost everyone but the Fed is concerned about inflation picking up. Homebuyers should note that real estate is still, even now, an excellent hedge against inflation over the long term.
For the week, the Dow ended down 1.5%, at 11,859; the S&P 500 was down 1.9%, to 1,279; and the Nasdaq was down 2.6%, ending at 2,644.
With Japan’s nuclear fears prominent in the news all week, investors’ “flight to safety” in bonds became a flat-out run. The FNMA 4.0% bond we watch ended up .95 for the week, closing at $99.10. In line with this, Freddie Mac’s weekly survey of conforming mortgages showed national average mortgage rates easing a little more in their historically low range. Many economists forecast mortgage rates to rise this year as the economy recovers, but now feel low rates may remain a tad longer than expected.
DID YOU KNOW?…This week’s GDP estimate refers to our nation’s Gross Domestic Product. This is the total final value of all U.S. goods and services produced in a year: all consumer, investment and government spending, plus the value of all exports, minus the value of all imports. GDP growth is what counts, with 2.5% to 3.0% the historical average.
>> This Week’s Forecast
FEBRUARY HOME SALES AND ANOTHER LOOK AT Q4 GDP…February isn’t usually a top month for home sales and the experts don’t expect that situation to change. Monday’s Existing Home Sales for February are expected to be down from January, coming in at a 5.05M annual rate. But Wednesday’s New Home Sales for February should be up slightly from the prior month, at a 288K annual rate.
But the overall economic picture appears to be picking up. The Third Estimate of Q4 GDP is forecast up another 0.1%, to 2.9%, showing that the overall economy continues to grow. Consumers’ attitudes are holding steady in the University of Michigan’s Sentiment Index for March.
>> 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 21 – March 25
>> Federal Reserve Watch
Forecasting Federal Reserve policy changes in coming months…The Fed’s FOMC Policy Statement last week said that they weren’t worried about inflation and that although the economy is improving, the recovery isn’t strong enough to withstand a rise in interest rates. So economists are forecasting the Funds Rate to stay where it is well into 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: