Monday, March 2, 2015

Pending Home Sales, Consumer Confidence Looking Better

The Mortgage Corner

Oh, the winter is freezing consumers, as I’ve said! It affected January existing-home sales, but the NAR’s January Pending Home Sales index rose sharply 1.7 percent. So pending sales of contracts signed may give a boost to existing-home sales in coming months that fell slightly in January.

Part of the reason for slightly lower home sales, according to the NAR, is that homeowners aren’t changing homes every 7 years on average as they used to. It’s now 10 years, probably due to the busted housing bubble, loss of so much housing equity, and the Great Recession, of course.


Graph: Econoday

But this marks the fifth consecutive month of year-over-year gains for pending sales with each month accelerating the previous month's gain, said the NAR.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says for the most part buyers in January were able to overcome tight supply which highlights the underlying demand that exists in today's market. “Contract activity is convincingly up compared to a year ago despite comparable inventory levels,” he said. “The difference this year is the positive factors supporting stronger sales, such as slightly improving credit conditions, more jobs and slower price growth.”

“All indications point to modest sales gains as we head into the spring buying season,” says Yun. “However, the pace will greatly depend on how much upward pressure the impact of low inventory will have on home prices. Appreciation anywhere near double-digits isn't healthy or sustainable in the current economic environment.”

He is right, of course. With consumer confidence is at an all-time, post-recession high, which also bodes well for housing demand—though February's consumer confidence index fell 7.4 points to 96.4 from a revised 103.8 in January which was a 7-1/2 year high.

The dip was centered in the expectations component which fell a very steep 9.8 points to 87.2. Could it just be the winter blahs, when jobs are harder to find in part because winter weather keeps consumers from spending more?


The second main component of the confidence index, consumers’ present situation, also dipped but less severely, down 2.7 points to 110.2. Here, a closely watched sub-component, jobs currently hard to get, rose 1.6 percentage points to 26.2 percent which is mild indication of weakness for the monthly employment report that comes out this Friday, let us not forget.

The employment consensus is for 230,000 (Wrightson ICAP) to 235,000 (Bloomberg) jobs, a decline in the unemployment rate to 5.6 percent (reversing last month’s surprise uptick), a 0.2 percent increase in average hourly earnings and an unchanged 34.6-hour workweek.

February unemployment reports tend to start out slow and be revised in coming months, as it has in past years—by as much as 50,000 additional jobs, which would boost consumers’ attitudes.

Reuter’s Wrightson ICAP Research says February nonfarm payrolls have been revised over the subsequent two reports in each of the past five years by an average of more than 50K. Their forecast assumes that February nonfarm payroll growth this year will end up somewhere around 280K, so the preliminary estimate probably won’t be quite as strong as the final value. (Their forecast also assumes that the net revision to December and January this month will be positive but probably 25K or less).

Harlan Green © 2015

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