Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Market Recap end of August 2011

The woes of homebuilders and anyone dependent on home building continue. The July report on new home sales shows that the annual sales rate has fallen to 298,000 units, hitting a five-month low. The good news is that supply isn't expanding. In fact, only 165,000 homes are in inventory. This is a record low and a 6.6-month supply at the going sales pace.
Homebuilders face a cluster of problems: bargain-priced foreclosures; higher lending standards; and skittish buyers, many of whom have been further put off by the recent stock market sell-off. Mounting concerns of a double-dip recession and rising cancellation rates have only exacerbated homebuilder worries. The chief concern now is that builders could be forced to cut prices, something they've been fighting tooth-and-nail.
Despite the recent spat of bad news, home prices continue to hold their own, and in many instances are moving higher – at least month-over-month. The FHFA home price index for June increased 0.9 percent after posting 0.4 percent and 0.3 percent increases in May and April respectively.
However, does the slump in new and existing home sales portend falling home prices? We remain optimistic that prices will hold. People are understandably wary about big-ticket purchases, like a home, because of slow job growth and stagnating economic activity. But all have a reservation price (a price they will not sell below). Houses (that is, habitable houses) won't be given away, they'll be taken off market if the sales price doesn't exceed the reservation price.
Reservation prices could fall and the monthly price trend could reverse, of course. That said, we think most of the bad news is baked into the system, so we don't think there will be any heavy discounting. In short, we still think a home is a worthwhile investment in today's market.
Mortgages have also been holding a price trend. Bankrate reported that its weekly survey on rates posted another all-time low. It's worth noting, though, that after the survey was released, yields on the 10-year Treasury note spiked 10 basis points, which points to higher mortgage rates in the next survey.
A surfeit of negative news has kept mortgage rates low. This has lead many analysts to opine that ultra-low mortgage rates are the new norm. We think this is a dangerous way of thinking (which we'll explain below) and that it is still best to take advantage of rates unseen in over 50 years.

Economic Indicator
Release Date and Time
Consensus Estimate
Personal Income & Outlays(July)
Mon., Aug. 29,8:30 am, et
Income: 0.3% (Increase)Outlays: 0.5% (Increase)
Moderately Important. Income and outlay growth are sluggish, but both categories continue to post gains.
Pending Home Sales Index(July)
Mon., Aug. 29,10:00 am, et
90 Index
Important. July should hold gains posted in June, but recent data suggest some regression in August.
S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index(June)
Tues., Aug. 30,9:00 am, et
1.0% (Increase)
Moderately Important. Early summer sales prices have shown modest improvement.
Mortgage Applications
Wed., Aug. 31,7:00 am, et
Important. Purchase activity hit a 15-year low, which points to lower near-term home sales.
Factory Orders(July)
Wed., Aug. 31,8:30 am, et
Moderately Important. The yearlong trend in orders still suggests overall economic growth.
Productivity & Costs(2nd Quarter)
Thurs., Sept. 1,8:30 am, et
Productivity: 0.7% (Decrease)Costs: 2.6% (Increase)
Important. Falling productivity and rising costs are indicative of a sluggish labor market.
Construction Spending(July)
Thurs., Sept. 1,8:30 am, et
0.2% (Increase)
Important. Government and commercial spending are pacing any growth.
Employment Situation(August)
Fri., Sept. 2,8:30 am, et
Unemployment Rate: 9.1%Payrolls: 110,000 (Increase)
Very Important. Unexpected job strength (like in July) could move interest rates higher.

Is This the New Norm?
We've gone down the higher-inflation, higher-interest rate road many times in the past, only to find ourselves doubling back. There is an interesting trend occurring with banks, though, that could persuade us to go down it once again.
One of the more vocal criticisms of banks is that they haven't been lending as much as they should. There is some validity to the criticism; banks have been squirreling away a higher amount of reserves with the Federal Reserve, which has attenuated loan supply and, therefore, money supply, thus keeping inflation in check.
Data released by the Federal Reserve show this period of containment appears to be ending. In other words, excess bank reserves are leaking into the economy and money supply is growing. Because we operate in a fraction-reserve banking system, which means one dollar can be sufficiently leveraged to produce nine more, more reserves put to work can quickly raise inflation pressure.
This all might seem abstruse to the layperson unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Federal Reserve and fractional-reserving banking. All we are saying is that it is folly to write off price inflation and the possibility of higher mortgage rates, because there is no “normal” when it comes to financial markets.
Courtesy of Patti Wilson, Senior Loan Officer, Mutual of Omaha Bank

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