The Housing Chronicles Blog

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Initial unemployment claims fall 11,000 in latest report

In the week ending December 9, initial unemployment claims were 225,000, a decrease of 11,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 236,000. The 4-week moving average was 234,750, a decrease of 6,750 from the previous week's unrevised average of 241,500.

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Mortgage applications dip 2.3 percent in weekly survey

The Market Composite Index decreased 2.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans down 1 percent and refinancing down 3 percent.  The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 4.20 percent.

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Business inventories fell in October as sales grew, cramping inventory investment

U.S. business inventories fell 0.1 percent in October amid strong sales growth of 0.6 percent, suggesting that inventory investment will probably not provide a large boost to economic growth in the fourth quarter.

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Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index drops one point but still at elevated levels

Even though it eased by one percentage point to 51.3, the measure of consumer comfort for the latest reporting week was still the highest for any comparable period since 2000, suggesting holiday sales will be robust.

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November retail sales up 0.8 percent as strong holiday shopping season begins

U.S. retail sales rose by 0.8 percent in November and the previous month was revised higher to a gain of 0.5 percent, indicating a broad strengthening of consumer demand as the holiday shopping season got under way.

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Federal Reserve hikes interest rates another quarter point

Hurricane-related disruptions and rebuilding have affected economic activity, employment, and inflation in recent months but have not materially altered the outlook for the national economy. In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 percent.

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A Look Ahead to 2018: All systems go, but tax reform impact unknown

In 2017, we saw an economy and a housing market gaining momentum, for one of the longest rebounds in modern history. For 2018, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is projecting global growth of 3.7 percent, for a slight improvement over 3.6 percent in 2017.

Here in America – and due to a second half of 2017 that was much stronger than the first – the Federal Reserve is projecting the U.S. economy to grow by 2.5 percent in 2018 after finishing 2017 with the same growth rate.

For housing, although tax reform is likely to negatively impact the housing market in both high-priced and second-home markets moving forward, both the overall U.S. economy and new home sales are expected to continue strengthening in the year head.  To combat future inflation, the Federal Reserve is planning on three more rate hikes in 2018, and has stated that it sees some moderate additional growth of about 0.4 percentage points in GDP resulting from tax reform.

However, what may be good for housing demand in terms of low unemployment has also meant tighter labor market conditions, especially for skilled construction trades.  As of October 2017, open jobs in the building industry rose to nearly 230,000, likely setting the stage for higher wage growth ahead.

In addition, the cost of building materials continues to rise, especially for wood products and for Canadian lumber subject to a 21 percent excise tax.

Although an analysis funded by the National Association of Realtors has suggested that tax reform could lower housing prices throughout the country, a larger problem may be that it could discourage existing homeowners from selling to take on pricier non-grandfathered mortgages, or even stay in place for five rather than two years to save on capital gains taxes.  In both of these scenarios, the pace of sales could slow at a time when more supply is needed.

Of course one question mark will be the mindset of Millennials, some of whom are now at that age where they’re starting to form new households, and even leaving urban areas in search of more affordable options in the suburbs.

According to NAR’s 2017 Profile of Buyers and Sellers, the share of sales to first-time buyers averaged 34 percent during the year, down one percentage point of 35 percent.  Still, given that the share of first-time buyers since 1981 has averaged 39 percent, builders have a unique opportunity to fill in the gap by focusing more on the Milllennial cohort.

One way builders are responding to Millennial demand includes building smaller single-family homes, with the median size falling by nearly four percent to 2378 square feet between the third quarters of 2014 and 2017. For multi-family homes, median home sizes fell by 1.5 percent during the same time period to 1168 square feet.

Even with these changes, however, the industry is still catching up from the Great Recession in many areas.  According to the National Association of Home Builders/First American Leading Markets Index (LMI) for the third quarter of 2017, markets in just 58 percent of the 337 metro areas nationwide returned to or exceeded their last normal levels of economic and housing activity, for a net gain of about 40 markets over the previous year.  Nationally, the index stood at 1.03, meaning that the nationwide average is running at 103% of normal economic and housing activity.

Nonetheless, the individual components of the LMI have not recovered equally: While employment has reached 99 percent of normal activity and home prices have rebounded to 155 percent of normal, single-family permits are running at just 56 percent of historic norms.

In order to address this disconnect between supply and demand, the Rosen Consulting Group recently conducted its own study for the NAR.  In its recent white paper “Rebuildingthe American Dream: Strategies to Sustainably Increase Homeownership,” Rosen’s team identifies 25 ideas to bolster homeownership.

While some suggestions are repeats of past ideas – such as addressing restrictive zoning laws, offering down payment savings programs, tackling the burden of student debt, and a nationwide counseling program for homeowners who previously experienced foreclosure and may be hesitant to consider buying a home again – others are more focused on emerging technologies in the industry or even re-thinking land use strategies.  These include promoting more pre-fabricated or modular housing, boosting training and apprenticeship programs, and more liberal use of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), such as granny flats, on single-family lots in high-cost areas.

With new supply seemingly under assault from multiple causes, multiple solutions will likely be required.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

November Consumer Price Index up 2.2 percent year-on-year

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) rose 0.4 percent in November and 2.2 percent year-on-year. The index for all items less food and energy increased 0.1 percent in November and 1.7 percent year-on-year.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

November Small Business Optimism Index rises to highest level in 34 years

Not since the roaring Reagan economy has small business optimism been as high as it was in November, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Index of Small Business Optimism, rising another 3.7 points in November to 107.5.

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November Producer Price Index up 3.1 percent year-on-year, highest rate since January 2012

The Producer Price Index for final demand increased 0.4 percent in November. On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index rose 3.1 percent for the 12 months ended in November, the largest advance since a 3.1-percent increase for the 12 months ended January 2012.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Job openings fell 2.9 percent in October as hires rate rose more than separations

The number of job openings fell by nearly three percent to 6.2 million on the last business day of October. Over the month, hires increased 4.4 percent to 5.6 million and separations fell 1.3 percent to 5.2 million.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rises to 13-week high

Improved sentiment about the buying climate and personal finances helped carry household optimism to a 13-week high to 52.3. One sign of the stock market’s effect on optimism was that confidence among those who are unemployed, which includes retirees, reached a new 16-year high as the values of retirement accounts climbed.

Consumer sentiment index dips to 96.8 in early December reading

Consumer sentiment has remained quite favorable although it continued to slowly recede in early December from its October cyclical peak. Most of the recent decline was concentrated in the long-term prospects for the economy, while consumers thought current economic conditions have continued to improve.

November consumer credit use rose at highest rate in 11 months

American consumers increased their borrowing by $20.5 billion in October. It was the biggest gain in 11 months and reflected strong increases in the use of credit cards and in auto and student loans.

Job growth dipped slightly in November to 228,000, unemployment rate remains at 4.1 percent

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 228,000 in November, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.1 percent. Employment continued to trend up in professional and business services, manufacturing, and health care.

The labor force participation rate remained at 62.7 percent in November and has shown no clear trend over the past 12 months. The employment-population ratio, at 60.1 percent, changed little in November and has shown little movement, on net, since early this year.

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