The Housing Chronicles Blog: 8/1/17 - 9/1/17

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Richmond Fed: Regional manufacturing activity unchanged in August

Reports on Fifth District manufacturing activity were largely unchanged in August, according to the latest survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. The composite index remained at 14 in August, with an increase in the employment index offsetting a decrease in the shipments index and a very slight decline in the new orders metric. Although the employment index rose from 10 to 17 in August, other measures of labor market activity — wages and average workweek — were largely unchanged.

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FHFA: House prices up 1.6 percent in 2Q 2017 and 6.6 percent year-on-year

U.S. house prices rose 1.6 percent in the second quarter of 2017 according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI). House prices rose 6.6 percent from the second quarter of 2016 to the second quarter of 2017.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Chicago Fed National Activity Index declined in July, but growth still within historical trend

The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) moved down to -0.01 in July from +0.16 in June. The index's three-month moving average moved down to -0.05 in July from +0.09 in June.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

2Q 2017 service sector revenue up 3.2 percent from 1Q and 6.2 percent year-on-year

The estimate of U.S. selected services total revenue for the second calendar quarter of 2017 was $3,685.1 billion, an increase of 3.2 percent from the first quarter of 2017 and up 6.2 percent from the second quarter of 2016.

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Consumer confidence rises in first half of August

Consumer confidence rose in the first half of August to its highest level since January due to a more positive outlook for the overall economy as well as more favorable personal financial prospects. Too few interviews were conducted following Charlottesville to assess how much it will weaken consumers' economic assessments.

The fallout is likely to reverse the improvement in economic expectations recorded across all political affiliations in early August. Moreover, the Charlottesville aftermath is more likely to weaken the economic expectations of Republicans, since prospects for Trump's economic policy agenda have diminished. Nonetheless, the partisan difference between the optimism of Republicans and the pessimism of Democrats is still likely to persist, with Independents remaining as the bellwether group.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Initial unemployment claims fall by 12,000 in latest report

In the week ending August 12, initial unemployment claims were 232,000, a decrease of 12,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 244,000. The 4-week moving average was 240,500, a decrease of 500 from the previous week's unrevised average of 241,000.

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Mortgage applications rise 0.1 percent in weekly survey, rates dip

The Market Composite Index increased 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans down 2 percent and refinances rising 2 percent. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to its lowest level since November 2016, 4.12 percent.

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Industrial production up 0.2 percent in July and 2.2 percent year-on-year

Industrial production rose 0.2 percent in July following an increase of 0.4 percent in June. At 105.5 percent of its 2012 average, total industrial production was 2.2 percent above its year-earlier level. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector was unchanged in July at 76.7 percent, a rate that is 3.2 percentage points below its long-run (1972-2016) average.

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E-commerce retail sales rose 4.8 percent in 2Q 2017, with market share rising to 8.9 percent

Accounting for 8.9 percent of the total, U.S. retail e-commerce sales for the second quarter of 2017 were $111.5 billion, an increase of 4.8 percent from the first quarter of 2017. Total retail sales for the second quarter of 2017 were estimated at $1,256.2 billion, an increase of 0.5 percent from the first quarter of 2017.

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Fed meeting minutes reveal concern about weak inflation and possible halt to interest rate hikes

Federal Reserve policymakers appeared increasingly wary about recent weak inflation and some called for halting interest rate hikes until it was clear the trend was transitory.  The minutes also indicated the Fed was poised to begin reducing its $4.2 trillion portfolio of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities.

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July Leading Economic Indicators rose another 0.3 percent

The U.S. LEI improved in July, suggesting the U.S. economy may experience further improvements in economic activity in the second half of the year. The decline in building permits, a reversal from June, was more than offset by gains in the financial indicators, new orders and sentiment.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Year-ahead business inflation expectations rose to 1.9 percent in August

Inflation expectations: Firms' inflation expectations increased to 1.9 percent over the year ahead.

Current economic environment: Sales levels were virtually unchanged, and profit margins declined somewhat over the month.

Quarterly question: Overall, firms expect margin adjustments to exert more upward pressure on prices over the next 12 months. The year-ahead influence of labor and non-labor costs on prices remained roughly unchanged, as did the influence of sales levels and productivity.

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July building permits dipped 4.1 percent from June but still up 4.1 percent year-on-year

Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in July were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,223,000. This is 4.1 percent below the revised June rate of 1,275,000, but is 4.1 percent above the July 2016 rate of 1,175,000.

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July housing starts down 4.8 percent from June and 5.6 percent year-on-year

Privately-owned housing starts in July were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,155,000. This is 4.8 percent below the revised June estimate of 1,213,000 and is 5.6 percent below the July 2016 rate of 1,223,000.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

CoreLogic: Delinquent mortgages fell to 4.5 percent in May

Nationally, 4.5 percent of mortgages were in some stage of delinquency (30 days or more past due including those in foreclosure) in May 2017. This represents a 0.8 percentage point decline in the overall delinquency rate compared with May 2016 when it was 5.3 percent.


As of May 2017, the foreclosure inventory rate, which measures the share of mortgages in some stage of the foreclosure process, was 0.7 percent compared with 1 percent in May 2016. The serious delinquency rate, defined as 90 days or more past due including loans in foreclosure, was 2 percent, unchanged from April 2017 and down from 2.6 percent in May 2016. The 2 percent serious delinquency rate in April and May this year was the lowest since November 2007 when it was also 2 percent.

June business inventories rose by largest amount in seven months

U.S. businesses increased their stockpiles in June by the largest amount in seven months – rising by 0.5 percent -- while sales also rose by 0.3 percent.  It was the best showing since inventories had risen 0.9% in November.

August Empire State Manufacturing Survey jumps to highest level in 15 years

Business activity grew strongly in New York State, according to firms responding to the August 2017 Empire State Manufacturing Survey. The headline general business conditions index climbed fifteen points to 25.2, its highest level in nearly three years. Indexes assessing the six-month outlook suggested that firms were very optimistic about future conditions.

July retail sales post largest increase in seven months

U.S. retail sales recorded their biggest increase in seven months in July – rising by 0.65 percent -- as consumers boosted purchases of motor vehicles as well as discretionary spending. The data suggested the economy continued to gain momentum early in the third quarter.

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Builder confidence rebounds four points in August to 68

Builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes rose four points in August to 68 on the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI).

All three HMI components posted gains in August. The component gauging current sales conditions rose four points to 74 while the index charting sales expectations in the next six months jumped five points to 78. Meanwhile, the component measuring buyer traffic increased a single point to 49.


Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast rose one point to 48. The West, South and Midwest all remained unchanged at 75, 67 and 66, respectively.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Non-Employment Index edged down slightly to 7.9 percent of all workers in July

The Hornstein-Kudlyak-Lange Non-Employment Index (NEI) was 7.9 percent in July 2017, edging down from 8 percent in June. It has declined by 0.4 percentage points since July 2016. The NEI including workers who are part time for economic reasons (PTER) was 9 percent in July 2017, edging down from 9.1 percent the previous month. That index has declined by 0.5 percentage points since July 2016.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

July CPI up 0.1 percent from June and 1.7 percent year-on-year

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) rose 0.1 percent in July on a seasonally adjusted basis. Over the last 12 months, the all items index rose 1.7 percent.

The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.1 percent, the fourth month in a row it increased by that amount and up 1.7 percent over the previous 12 months.



Thursday, August 10, 2017

Initial unemployment claims rise by 3,000 in latest report

In the week ending August 5, initial unemployment claims were 244,000, an increase of 3,000 from the previous week's revised level. The 4-week moving average was 241,000, a decrease of 1,000 from the previous week's revised average.

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Mortgage applications rise three percent in latest survey as rates dip

The Market Composite Index increased 3.0 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans up one percent and refinances rising five percent. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 4.14 percent from 4.17 percent.

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July applications for new home mortgages rose 5.1 percent year-on-year

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) Builder Applications Survey (BAS) data for July 2017 shows mortgage applications for new home purchases increased 5.1 percent compared to July 2016. Compared to June 2017, applications decreased by 12 percent. This change does not include any adjustment for typical seasonal patterns.

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Producer Price Index fell 0.1 percent in July, for the largest fall in 11 months

The Producer Price Index for final demand declined 0.1 percent in July. On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index increased 1.9 percent for the 12 months ended in July.

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Labor productivity up 0.9 percent during 2Q 2017 and 1.2 percent year-on-year

Nonfarm business sector labor productivity increased 0.9 percent during the second quarter of 2017, as output increased 3.4 percent and hours worked increased 2.5 percent. From the second quarter of 2016 to the second quarter of 2017, productivity increased 1.2 percent, reflecting a 2.7-percent increase in output and a 1.5-percent increase in hours worked.

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Job openings rose 8.1 percent in June as both hires and separations slipped

The number of job openings increased 8.1 percent to 6.2 million on the last business day of June. Over the month, hires and separations slipped 1.9 and 0.4 percent to 5.4 million and 5.2 million, respectively.

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Small Business Optimism Index rose 1.6 points in July

The Index of Small Business Optimism rose 1.6 points to 105.2 in July, preserving the surge in optimism that started the day after the election. Seven of the 10 Index components posted a gain, two declined, and one was unchanged.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Consumer debt rose in June at a slower pace to record level

American consumers increased their borrowing at a slower pace in June, as the category that includes auto and student loans posted the smallest gain in a year.

Still, the June increase brought overall consumer credit -- not including mortgages or other debt secured by real estate, including home-equity loans -- to a fresh record of $3.86 trillion.

In addition, the total for the category of "revolving debt," primarily credit card balances also hit a new record high of $1.027 trillion.

Small Business Optimism Index rose 1.6 points in July

The Index of Small Business Optimism rose 1.6 points to 105.2 in July, preserving the surge in optimism that started the day after the election. Seven of the 10 Index components posted a gain, two declined, and one was unchanged.

Job openings rose 8.1 percent in June as both hires and separations slipped

The number of job openings increased 8.1 percent to 6.2 million on the last business day of June. Over the month, hires and separations slipped 1.9 and 0.4 percent to 5.4 million and 5.2 million, respectively.

Friday, August 4, 2017

IHS Markit: July services sector index grew at fastest pace since January

The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit U.S. Services Business Activity Index registered 54.7 in July, up from 54.2 in June. The latest reading signalled the largest expansion of business activity since January and the fourth consecutive month of accelerated growth.

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Durable goods orders jumped 3.0 percent in July, largest gain in 8 months

Factory goods orders jumped 3.0 percent in July.  This was the largest gain since October 2016 and followed two straight monthly declines.

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July jobs grew by 209,000 as unemployment ticked down to 4.3 percent

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 209,000 in July, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 4.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment increased in food services and drinking places, professional and business services, and health care. 

The labor force participation rate, at 62.9 percent, changed little in July and has shown little movement on net over the past year. The employment-population ratio (60.2 percent) was also little changed in July but is up by 0.4 percentage point over the year.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Initial unemployment claims fall 5,000 in most recent report

In the week ending July 29, initial unemployment claims were 240,000, a decrease of 5,000 from the previous week's revised level. The 4-week moving average was 241,750, a decrease of 2,500 from the previous week's revised average.

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Service sector index dipped 3.5 points in July to 53.9

The NMI® registered 53.9 percent, which is 3.5 percentage points lower than the June reading of 57.4 percent. The majority of respondents’ comments were mostly positive about business conditions and the state of the economy.

Manufacturing sector index dipped 1.5 points in July to 56.3

The July PMI® registered 56.3 percent, a decrease of 1.5 percentage points from the June reading of 57.8 percent. Comments from the panel generally reflect expanding business conditions, with new orders, production, employment, backlog and exports all growing in July compared to June.

Gallup: July Good Jobs rate rose to 47.0 percent, tie for highest point since 2010

The Gallup Good Jobs (GGJ) rate rose nearly a percentage point to 47.0% in July, from 46.3% in June. The GGJ rate now ties the highest point for the measure since 2010, 47.1% in July of last year.

Mortgage loan applications fall 2.8 percent in latest survey

The Market Composite Index decreased 2.8 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans down 2.0 percent and refinances falling 4.0 percent. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($424,100 or less) remained unchanged at 4.17 percent.

July planned job cuts dropped to lowest level since last November; hiring announcements surged

U.S.-based employers announced plans to cut payrolls by 28,307 jobs in July, the lowest monthly total since November 2016. Meanwhile, over 88,000 hiring announcements were recorded last month, the third-highest hiring month of the year and highest July total on record.

The July job-cut total is 9 percent lower than the 31,105 cuts recorded in June, and 37.6 percent lower than the same month last year, when 45,346 cuts were recorded. Last month’s job cuts were the lowest monthly total since November 2016, when 26,936 cuts were announced.


So far this year, employers announced 255,307 planned job cuts, down 28.9 percent from the 359,100 cuts announced through the first seven months of 2016.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Conference Board: Online Job Vacancies fell 3.3 percent in July

Online advertised vacancies decreased 157,700 (3.3 percent) to 4,605,700 in July, according to The Conference Board Help Wanted OnLine® (HWOL) Data Series,released today. The June Supply/Demand rate stands at 1.46 unemployed for each advertised vacancy, with a total of 2.2 million more unemployed workers than the number of advertised vacancies. The number of unemployed was approximately 7.0 million in June.

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Gallup: Economic Confidence Index steady in July at +4, in positive territory for nine straight months

Americans' confidence in the economy was steady last month, with Gallup's U.S. Economic Confidence Index averaging +4 in July. This score is nearly identical to the 2017 low of +3 registered in May and June. Still, July marked the ninth consecutive month that Americans rated the economy more positively than negatively -- the longest such streak since Gallup began tracking economic confidence in 2008.

Gallup: Job Creation Index rebounded to record high in July

Gallup's U.S. Job Creation Index returned to its all-time high of +37 in July, a sign that the job market remains strong relative to the past decade. This is one point higher than the index score in June and the third time it has been at +37 in 2017.

ADP: Private sector jobs grew 178,000 in July

Private sector employment increased by 178,000 jobs from June to July according to the July ADP National Employment Report.  This compares to 191,000 jobs the previous month and 229,000 jobs a year ago.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

CoreLogic: June home prices up 6.7 percent year-on-year, some markets becoming over-valued

According to CoreLogic, June home prices nationally increased year over year by 6.7 percent and by 1.1 percent from May.   Looking ahead, the CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicates that home prices will increase by 5.2 percent on a year-over-year basis from June 2017 to June 2018.

As of Q2 2017, the unsold inventory as a share of all households is 1.9 percent, which is the lowest Q2 reading in over 30 years.

Of the nation’s 10 largest metropolitan areas measured by population, four were overvalued in June according to CoreLogic Market Conditions Indicators (MCI) data. These four metros include Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO, Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX, Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall, FL and Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV.

Personal income, spending and price index all remained fairly flat in June

Personal income fell less than -0.1 percent in June while personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased by 0.1 percent.  The PCE price index increased less than 0.1 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.1 percent.

June construction spending dipped slightly from May, but YTD is up 4.8 percent over 2016

Construction spending during June 2017 was estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,205.8 billion, 1.3 percent below the revised May estimate of $1,221.6 billion. The June figure is 1.6 percent above the June 2016 estimate of $1,186.4 billion. During the first 6 months of this year, construction spending amounted to $577.0 billion, 4.8 percent above the $550.5 billion for the same period in 2016.

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Gearing Up for the 2020 Census: Lack of Funding and Leadership Vacancies Imperil Crucial Update

It’s hard to over-state the importance of the decennial census, which has been undertaken every decade since 1790.

Indeed, this key accounting of the American population was deemed important enough to be listed in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution.

Today, however, with the departure of the Census Bureau’s director in June and a refusal by Congress to adequately fund important tests of the first Internet-based count in advance of 2020, alarm bells are going off at The Census Project, which counts among its 200 members the NAHB, the NAR and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

They certainly have reason to be worried. Several months before the departure of former director John Thompson, the Government Accountability Office had added the Census Bureau to its ‘high-risk list’ of imperiled agencies and programs.  If there is any economic sector which would be negatively impacted by the Bureau being under-funded and rudderless, it would be the building industry.

That’s because, besides the decennial census, the Bureau also collects monthly data critical for homebuilders such as building permits, starts, completions and new single-family home sales at various geographical levels.

Each quarter, the Bureau releases data on homeownership and residential vacancy rates by state and many MSAs.  The Bureau’s data can even move the stock market in either direction because it’s regularly tracking the health of retail stores, wholesale trade, manufacturing, domestic and international trade and even construction spending by sector.

Because a country as large and vibrant as the U.S. can change a lot between decades, the Bureau also conducts the American Community Survey (ACS), which provides annual information to better determine how over $400 billion in federal and state funds are spent based on local jobs, education levels and homeownership levels.

For demographers and market researchers looking at development opportunities, the Bureau’s data allows them to cobble together datasets to compare the risk profile of one city or town versus another.  If a small city is seeing a boom in new jobs that isn’t being met with new population or housing growth, that’s an opportunity the Bureau can help unearth. The Census Bureau may be one of the most important federal government agencies we have.

Although various state agencies also gather their own data on population, employment and housing trends – and have served as official State Census Data Centers since 1978 – they still must ‘benchmark’ their estimates against the latest decennial census data when it is released.  Sometimes this process can unveil a large discrepancy, which can deprive a large state of its share of numerous federal programs and even cost it a Congressional seat.  In some cases, the loss of a seat could potentially swing an election.

The private sector is also impacted, because when you order a demographic report from a company such as ESRI or Claritas, their analysts are basing their current-year estimates and projections on the most recent decennial census.  Consequently, if the 2020 update is under-funded, that could lead to another decade of bad guesses based on incomplete data.  Given the impact that under-building housing is having on home prices in many areas of the country, ensuring an accurate update in 2020 should be a rallying cry for our industry.

There are two reasons for this Census Bureau under-funding: (1) Because the budget is set at the same level as the 2010 Census, it is not accounting for either a decades’ worth of inflation or another estimated 25 million people to count by 2020; and (2) Because the Bureau is attempting to harness the Internet and new technology for the first time to reduce the need for door-to-door counting, it needs additional funds for tests originally scheduled to start in 2018.

According to The Census Project, the Bureau needs an additional $300 million in 2018 to extensively test this new technology for an accurate count, but the White House and Congress have approved just over 10 percent of that amount.  This puts the 2020 Census in danger of a botched count, which could lead to undercounts of rural and minority populations while over-counting whites, especially those with multiple homes.

There are fears that the 2020 Census could be the victim of politics, and be used as a means to shift federal spending from blue to red states – or vice versa if such a myopic precedent is set.  At a time when just agreeing on facts is a challenge, there’s a reason the Founding Fathers inscribed the decennial census into the Constitution.

Let’s at least honor their wishes by fully funding it.