The Mortgage Corner
With all the bad news coming from the stock market, it’s good to know that this hasn’t affected the housing market. In fact, it’s pushing interest rates lower, so that a conforming 30-year fixed mortgage rate has dropped to 3.50 percent in California. And that will continue to boost home sales (and prices, of course). That’s why Case-Shiller shows two cities already above their bubble highs, and the Conference Board’s Index of Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) shows continued strong growth ahead.
Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased a whopping 2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.59 million in July from a downwardly revised 5.48 million in June. Sales in July remained at the highest pace since February 2007 (5.79 million), have now increased year-over-year for ten consecutive months and are 10.3 percent above a year ago.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the increase in sales in July solidifies what has been an impressive growth in activity during this year's peak buying season. "The creation of jobs added at a steady clip and the prospect of higher mortgage rates and home prices down the road is encouraging more households to buy now," he said. "As a result, current homeowners are using their increasing housing equity towards the downpayment on their next purchase."
And demand is well ahead of thin supply, at 4.8 months at the current sales rate vs 4.9 and 5.1 in the two prior months and 5.6 months in July last year. Sales are up 10.3 percent year-on-year, well ahead of the median price which, at $234,000, is up 5.6 percent.
The S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index recorded a higher year-over-year gain with a 4.5 percent annual increase in June 2015 versus a 4.4 percent increase in May 2015. The smaller 10-City Composite had marginally lower year-over-year gains, with an increase of 4.6 percent year-over-year. Denver and Dallas are the two cities now above their 2007 bubble highs, while Denver (+10.2%), San Francisco (+9.5%) and Dallas (+8.2%) had the biggest year over year increases.
This mismatch of supply vs. demand means even higher existing-home prices ahead. Especially since housing construction is just beginning to play catch up after years of low growth—no coincidence, given the rising demand for housing of any kind—rental as well as for prospective homeowners. Led by a strong jump in single-family production, nationwide housing starts inched up 0.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.206 million units in July, according to newly released data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Commerce Department. This is the highest level since October 2007.
It’s also why the Conference Board’s Index of Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) continues to show moderate growth for the next 6 months, and is up 1.7 points from January to July. “The U.S. LEI fell slightly in July, after four months of strong gains. Despite a sharp drop in housing permits, the U.S. LEI is still pointing to moderate economic growth through the remainder of the year,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, Director of Business Cycles and Growth Research at The Conference Board.
Swings in housing permits have been distorting recent LEI readings including for July. Permits, which fell 16 percent in Tuesday's housing starts report, more than offset what are a run of mostly neutral readings among other components. Given the uncertainties of measuring housing data (readings with plus or minus 11 percent variations are common) the index could have added another 0.54 points to the July indicator, instead of subtracting that amount, for a much stronger reading.
The strongest component is the rate spread which reflects the Fed's ongoing accommodative policy. Also pointing to strength are initial jobless claims, which are at rock bottom lows, and the report's credit index which points to a rise ahead for lending.
So what’s happening in China and the so-called emerging markets (including the Petro states, and Russia) will help to keep interest rates low, housing strong, and maybe the Fed from raising their short-term rates for some time to come.
Harlan Green © 2015
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