Monday, September 22, 2014

A Case of Cognitive Dissonance?

Keeping you updated on the market for the week of September 22, 2014

A Case of Cognitive Dissonance?
Home builders are feeling as perky as they have in nearly a decade. Indeed, the National Home Builders Sentiment Index posted at 59 this month. That's a number last seen in 2005 when the housing market was in full-bore mode.
Of course, real estate markets are local markets, and some home builders are feeling more perky than others. Home builders in the South, Mid-West, and West are more optimistic than the national 59 reading would lead you to believe, while builders in the Northeast are feeling less optimistic, if not dour. (The Northeast reading posted at 44.)
Home builders when aggregated are obviously anticipating a brighter future, even if the immediate past offers scant reason to break out the bubbly.
Housing starts drooped 14.4% in August to an annualized rate of 956, 000 units. The consensus estimate was for 1.03 million units. The mitigating takeaway was that most of the droop was seen in the volatile multifamily component, which fell 31.7% month over month. The more important single-family component was down a more modest 2.4%, which follows an 11.1% surge in July.
When we step back to view the big picture, we see housing starts are up 8% year over year. And if we step back even further and remove volatility by looking at the five-month moving average, we see a strong uptrend and significant improvement over the past five years.
The long-term trend in housing starts is good news for the economy in full. So many ancillary businesses are dependent on starts – home improvement companies, finance providers, commodity producers, retail merchants, and on and on. The uptrend in starts is nothing but a positive that is worth highlighting because of its importance to overall economic health.
Now, we'd like to see an uptrend established in mortgage purchase activity.
CoreLogic reports that cash sales have dropped to 33% of total home sales, down from 36.3% a year ago. To be sure, a large percentage of the drop is the result of fewer REO sales and short sales – many of which were cash transactions. Prior to the bursting of the housing bubble, 25% of sales were cash transactions. So, we expect a further reduction in cash transactions in the future. Therefore, to keep sales volume growing, mortgage financing will need to play a bigger role.
On that front, the Mortgage Bankers Association purchase index rose 5% last week. Could this be the beginning of a positive financing trend? We hope so, but we're not holding our breath. We've been disappointed too many times in the past to do that.


Date and Time
Exiting Home Sales
Mon., Sept. 22,
10:00 am, ET
5.22 Million (Annualized)
Important. Given recent positive pricing and supply trends, an upward trend in sales appears sustainable.
Mortgage Applications
Wed., Sept. 24,
7:00 am, ET
Important. Purchase activity is showing some life, but the trend toward more activity remains elusive.
New Home Sales
Wed., Sept. 24,
10:00 am, ET
435,000 (Annualized)
Important. Rising home builder optimism points to rising new-home sales.
Gross Domestic Product
(2nd quarter 2014 revised)
Fri., Sept. 26,
8:30 am, ET
4.7% (Annualized Growth)
Important. GDP growth is expected to be revised higher, which points to stronger economic growth through 2014.


The Fed Speaks, Everyone Listens
On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve released the long-awaited minutes of the latest meeting of the Fed governors. The minutes revealed what we expected they would reveal: The Fed will wrap up quantitative easing next month, so it will cease new purchases of Treasury notes and bonds and mortgage-backed securities (MBS). (The Fed will maintain its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments in MBS and rolling over existing Treasury debt.)
The minutes also revealed that the Fed intends to wait "a considerable time" before raising the influential federal funds rate (the rate banks lend to each other). The idea is that the Fed wants interest rates to remain low until “structural” issues related to the job market are rectified. In other words, the Fed would like to see more job growth in better-paying jobs before raising the federal funds rate.
If maintaining the low rates that materialized in the past month is what the Fed wanted, that's not what it got. After we learned the federal funds rates (which is at zero) is unlikely to rise until next year, the rate on the influential 10-year Treasury note rose nearly 10 basis points. Mortgage rates, unsurprisingly, also moved higher. In short, rates on the longer end of the yield curve rose. We doubt this is what the Fed was anticipating.
We're not predicting a steady rise in long-term interest rates – including mortgage rates. But it's worth keeping in mind that even if the Fed wants something, there is no guarantee it will get it. Markets are powerful and unpredictable forces. Mortgage rates might hang low for another six months, or even another year, but there are no guarantees.

Article Courtesy of Patti Wilson, American Momentum Bank

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