The Housing Chronicles Blog: 2/1/18 - 3/1/18

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Initial unemployment claims fall 7,000 in latest report

In the week ending February 17, initial unemployment claims were 222,000, a decrease of 7,000 from the previous week's revised level. The 4-week moving average was 226,000, a decrease of 2,250 from the previous week's revised average.

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Mortgage applications decline 6.6 percent as rates continue to rise

The Market Composite Index decreased 6.6 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans down 6.0 percent and refinances falling 7.0 percent. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to its highest level since January 2014, 4.64 percent.

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February Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rises to second-highest level since March 2002

Americans' outlook for the U.S. economy improved in February to 54.5, the second-highest level since March 2002, indicating lower taxes are resonating.  The weekly comfort index was little changed at 56.6, falling from 57.0 the previous week.

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January Leading Economic Index rose for fourth straight month to 108.1

The U.S. LEI accelerated further in January and continues to point to robust economic growth in the first half of 2018. While the recent stock market volatility will not be reflected in the U.S. LEI until next month, consumers' and business' outlook on the economy had been improving for several months and should not be greatly impacted.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

January existing home sales down 3.2 percent from December and 4.8 percent year-on-year

Due largely to a shortage of affordable inventory, total existing-home sales sank 3.2 percent in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.38 million from December 2017. After last month's decline, sales are 4.8 percent below a year ago (largest annual decline since August 2014 at 5.5 percent) and at their slowest pace since last September.

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IHS: February U.S. PMI Output Index rises to 55.9, highest reading in almost 2.5 years

U.S. private sector companies experienced a marked improvement in business activity growth during February. This was highlighted by a rise in the seasonally adjusted IHS Markit Flash U.S. Composite PMI Output Index to 55.9, up from 53.8 in January and the highest reading for almost two-and-a-half years.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

4Q 2017 services revenue grew 2.4 percent from previous quarter and 5.2 percent year-on-year

Advance U.S. selected services total revenue for the fourth quarter of 2017 rose 2.4 from the third quarter of 2017 and was up 5.2 percent from the fourth quarter of 2016.

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4Q 2017 e-commerce sales grew 3.2 percent from previous quarter and 16.9 percent year-on-year

U.S. retail e-commerce sales for the fourth quarter of 2017 were $119.0 billion, up 3.2 percent from the third quarter of 2017, and up 16.9 percent year-on-year. Total e-commerce sales for 2017 were estimated at $453.5 billion, up 16.0 percent from 2016.

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January building permits rose to 10.5-year high, up 7.4 percent year-on-year

Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in January rose to a 10.5-year high of 1,396,000. This is 7.4 percent above both the revised December 2017 rate and the January 2017 rate.

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January housing starts rebounded 9.7 percent from December to second-highest rate since Great Recession

Privately-owned housing starts in January rebounded sharply from weather-related dips in December to  1,326,000. This is 9.7 percent above the revised December estimate, 7.3 percent above the January 2017 level, and is the second-highest annual rate since the Great Recession.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Gallup: 2017 Economic Confidence Index varied greatly by state, but average rating rose by 20 points

Residents in three states -- Wyoming, North Dakota and Utah -- essentially tie as the most confident in the U.S. economy, based on their scores on Gallup's Economic Confidence Index throughout 2017. In contrast, Vermont residents were least confident.


Several bottom-ranking states this past year -- including California, Hawaii, Maryland and Rhode Island -- ranked among the top states in 2016 but were surpassed by most other states because their confidence scores did not improve in 2017.

Massachusetts was the only other state that did not show gains in economic confidence last year, and it finished just outside the bottom 10 after ranking first overall in 2016 with an identical score of +2. 

On average, economic confidence improved by 20 points in each state.


Gallup: Half of U.S. states saw well-being scores decline in 2017

Nearly half of U.S. states saw their well-being scores decline by a statistically significant margin in 2017, according to the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index. And, for the first time in nine years of tracking changes in state well-being, no state saw statistically significant improvement from the year before.

The Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index score for the nation and for each state is based on metrics that make up five essential elements of well-being:

1.  Purpose: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
2.  Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life
3.  Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
4.  Community: liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community
5.  Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

For the nation as a whole, the Well-Being Index score for the U.S. in 2017 was 61.5, a decline from 62.1 in 2016 and the largest year-over-year decline since the index began in 2008.

Gallup: U.S. leadership ratings fall during first year of Trump's presidency to record-low 30 percent

Ratings of U.S. leadership fell in nearly every part of the world in the first year of Donald Trump's presidency, dragging median approval to a record-low 30%.

Approval of U.S. leadership dropped across all demographic groups during Trump's first year, but groups that typically give U.S. leadership higher approval ratings -- those with more education, those earning higher incomes and those who live in urban areas -- registered the largest declines.

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Initial unemployment claims rose 7,000 in weekly report

In the week ending February 10, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 230,000, an increase of 7,000 from the previous week's revised level. The 4-week moving average was 228,500, an increase of 3,500 from the previous week's revised average.

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Mortgage applications dip 4.1 percent as rates right to highest level since January 2014

The Market Composite Index decreased 4.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans down 6.0 percent and refinances falling 2.0 percent.  The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to its highest rate since January 2014, 4.57 percent, from 4.50 percent.

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Bloomberg: Consumer comfort index shakes off stock market turmoil to highest level since February 2001

U.S. consumer sentiment jumped 2.6 points last week to 57, or the highest level since February 2001, indicating Americans were shaking off turbulence in the stock market.  This weekly gain was the highest since 2009.

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December business inventories up 0.4 percent, sales rose 0.6 percent

Business inventories in the U.S. rose 0.4% in December after a similar gain in the prior month. Sales rose 0.6% in December. The ratio of inventories to sales held steady at 1.33.

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Builder confidence remains at 72 in February

Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes remained unchanged at a healthy 72 level in February. The HMI component charting sales expectations in the next six months rose two points to 80, the index measuring buyer traffic held steady at 54, and the component gauging current sales conditions dropped one point to 78.

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January Producer Price Index rose 0.4 percent and 2.7 percent year-on-year

The Producer Price Index for final demand increased 0.4 percent in January. Final demand prices were unchanged in December and moved up 0.4 percent in November.  The final demand index rose 2.7 percent for the 12 months ended in January.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February Business Inflation Expectations steady at 2.0 percent in the year ahead

According to the Atlanta Federal Reserve monthly survey, firms' inflation expectations were unchanged at 2.0 percent over the year ahead.

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January retail sales fell 0.3 percent, largest decline in 11 months

Americans cut back on purchases of cars, furniture and a variety of other products in January, pushing retail sales down by 0.3%, the biggest decline in 11 months. The January decline, following no change in December, was the largest setback since a 0.5% fall in February of last year.

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CPI up 0.5 percent in January and 2.1 percent year-on-year

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.5 percent in January, and was up 2.1 percent year-on-year. The index for all items less food and energy (i.e., core inflation) increased 0.3 percent in January, and was up 1.8 percent year-on-year.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

November foreclosure rate down 0.1 percent year-on-year to 5.1 percent

Nationally, 5.1 percent of mortgages were in some stage of delinquency (30 days or more past due including those in foreclosure) in November 2017. This represents a 0.1 percentage point year-over-year decline in the overall delinquency rate compared with November 2016 when it was 5.2 percent.

As of November 2017, the foreclosure inventory rate, which measures the share of mortgages in some stage of the foreclosure process, was 0.6 percent, down 0.2 percentage points from 0.8 percent in November 2016. The foreclosure inventory rate has held steady at 0.6 percent since August 2017, the lowest level since June 2007 when it was also at 0.6 percent.

This past November's foreclosure inventory rate was the lowest for the month of November in 11 years, since it was also 0.6 percent in November 2006.

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January Small Business Optimism Index jumped two points to 106.9

The Small Business Optimism Index jumped two points to 106.9 in January and set a record with the number of small business owners saying Now Is a Good Time to Expand.

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The Future of Architecture in a High-Tech World

When “The Jetsons” first premiered in the fall of 1962, it was the first show ever broadcast in color on ABC. Promising a high-tech future originally set 100 years ahead in 2062, the fictional Orbit City’s architecture borrowed heavily from the ‘googie’ style of modern architecture first popularized in the 1940s.

By the early 1960s, the Space Age was in full swing, giving us not just Orbit City’s flying cars and maid robots, but also the famous Theme Building at LAX, still recognized today as a uniquely Los Angeles landmark.

Peering ahead from 2018, a variety of practical improvements in technology and design will similarly foster ongoing changes in today’s architecture, in the process expanding not just the look of buildings, but also how they get built and funded.

That will be important in a rapidly expanding world in which the population is expected to hit 10 billion by 2056, with over 70 percent of us living in cities.  Moreover, since an estimated three billion people will require new housing by 2030, sustainable solutions less reliant on energy-intensive steel and concrete will need to take center stage.

Some futurists are looking to wood, which not only creates oxygen while growing, but traps carbon dioxide even when used as a building material.  While the idea of wooden skyscrapers seems implausible, it’s not a new idea, as multi-story pagodas up to 450 feet were already being built in Asia over 1,500 years ago.

Today, the world’s first residential building built exclusively from pre-fabricated timber pieces rises nine stories in the Hackney neighborhood of London, England, while the Bali-based company Ibuku uses fast-growing, specially treated bamboo to build custom homes, resorts, restaurants and other public spaces throughout Indonesia.

Notably, wood is better for regulating indoor temperatures, can be exposed openly, and, with its water content of 15 percent, can surprisingly be more fire-resistant than concrete or steel.

The advent of 3D modeling will also help designers further unleash their creativity, whether it’s a curving bamboo roof to act as a natural air conditioner, the twisted stainless steel of Los Angeles’ Disney Hall or a new stadium in England which can be used for both soccer and football due to the ingenious use of a mechanism to slide one entire field under the surrounding seats.

Another huge change will occur to the staid and reliable elevator. If you look at today’s skyscrapers, they’re built vertically to surround elevator shafts, with their elaborate systems of pulleys and pistons.

Tomorrow, however, the same type of mag-lev propulsion systems used in bullet trains in Europe and Asia will be able to move elevator cars not just up and down, but also side to side. Unconstrained from the need to build up, buildings will be able to extend out in as many directions as seems commercially feasible.

Helping to build these odd new structures could be the infamous drone, used not just for warfare or delivering Amazon packages, but also eventually capable of building high-rises with greater precision and safety than current methods. During 2011 in France, the first Flight Assembled Architecture installation tapped several ‘quadcopter’ drones to install 1,500 different pieces into a 60-meter model. Built at a 1:100 scale, this design could one day soar up to 600 feet and house up to 30,000 people.

Working alongside the new drones could be industrial-scale 3D printers.  In 2014, a Chinese company unveiled such a printer which is capable of producing ten homes per day for a fraction of traditional methods. In addition to lower costs, new ways of mixing building materials could lead to substantial changes in the very aesthetics of home building.

In our increasingly inter-connected world, social media will also play a role, whether it’s using photorealistic renderings to gather community feedback for a new project, or tapping a crowd-funding platform to go where traditional lenders dare not tread.

In 2015, a trio of young architects took their Thames Baths concept to Kickstarter, where they soon eclipsed their fundraising goal with nearly 1,300 contributors. Based on similar projects installed elsewhere in Western Europe, the idea was to create a series of floating pools on an existing waterway usually considered hazardous to bathers and swimmers, in this case the River Thames.

Using treated and heated genuine Thames water, the total price of 10 million pounds is expected to be raised with sponsorships, grants as well as traditional, private investors.  Yet without the crowd-funding platform, this idea might have not seen the light of day.

Even George Jetson might have been impressed.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Initial unemployment claims dip to lowest 4-week average since March 1973

In the week ending February 3, initial unemployment claims were 221,000, a decrease of 9,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 230,000. The 4-week moving average was 224,500, a decrease of 10,000 from the previous week's unrevised average of 234,500. This is the lowest level for this average since March 10, 1973 when it was 222,000.

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Mortgage applications rise 0.7 percent even as average rates rise to highest level in nearly 4 years

The Market Composite Index increased 0.7 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans flat and refinances up 1.0 percent. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to its highest level since April 2014, 4.50 percent.

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Bloomberg: Consumer Comfort Index holds near recent highs even with stock market volatility

U.S. consumer comfort last week held near the highest level since 2001, falling from 54.6 to 54.4, even as stocks fell on concerns about higher interest rates.

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Consumed credit growth rate dipped in December as savings rate fell to lowest level since 2005

Consumer borrowing increased $18.4 billion in December to a record seasonally adjusted $3.84 trillion, for an annual growth rate of 5.8%. This was down from a revised $31 billion rate in the prior month. For all of 2017, consumer credit rose at a 5.4% rate, down from a 6.7% rate in the prior year. Most of this slowdown was for nonrevolving credit.  Still, the U.S. savings rate fell to 2.4% in December, the lowest level since 2005, indicating that households are racking up more debt due to high consumer confidence, out of necessity, or some combination of the two.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Markit Services Business Activity Index slipped slightly in January but still in expansion mode

The seasonally adjusted final IHS Markit U.S.Services Business Activity Index registered 53.3 in January, down from 53.7 in December. The latest index reading signalled a solid expansion in business activity among service providers, albeit the slowest since April 2017. Anecdotal evidence linked the latest upturn to more favourable economic conditions.

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January Non-Manufacturing Index rose 3.9 points to 59.9

The January NMI® registered 59.9 percent, which is 3.9 percentage points higher than the seasonally adjusted December reading of 56 percent. Overall, the majority of respondents’ comments are positive about business conditions and the economy. They also indicated that recent tax changes have had a positive impact on their respective businesses.

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Job openings fell 2.8 percent in December as both hires and separations little changed

The number of job openings fell by 2.8 percent to 5.8 million on the last business day of December. Over the month, hires were flat at 5.5 million and separations rose 0.5 percent to 5.2 million.

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December CoreLogic HPI shows home prices up 0.5 percent and 6.6 percent year-on-year

Corelogic:Home prices nationally increased 0.5 percent in November and 6.6 percent year-on-year. CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicates that home prices will increase by 4.3 percent on a year-over-year basis from December 2017 to December 2018.

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Trade deficit up 1.6 percent in November and 11.6 percent YTD from 2016

The goods and services deficit was $50.5 billion in November, up $1.6 billion from $48.9 billion in October, revised. The November increase in the goods and services deficit reflected an increase in the goods deficit of $1.7 billion to $70.9 billion and an increase in the services surplus of $0.1 billion to $20.4 billion.

Year-to-date, the goods and services deficit increased $53.4 billion, or 11.6 percent, from the same period in 2016. Exports increased $112.7 billion or 5.6 percent. Imports increased $166.1 billion or 6.7 percent.

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Friday, February 2, 2018

Federal Reserve maintains current interest rates in monthly meeting

Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in December indicates that the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been rising at a solid rate. On a 12-month basis, both overall inflation and inflation for items other than food and energy have continued to run below 2 percent. In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 percent.

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December factory goods orders rose 1.7 percent, capping best year since 2011

December factory goods orders rose 1.7 percent, advancing for a fifth straight month. In 2017, U.S. factories last year had their best year for sales growth since 2011, with orders rising 6% from 2016.

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January consumer sentiment nearly flat from December, remains at high levels

Consumer sentiment has remained largely unchanged for more than a year at very favorable levels. The January Sentiment figure was just 0.2 Index-points below December's, and just 1.1 points below the 2017 average of 96.8--which was the highest yearly average since 2000. Stock price increases and the passage of tax reforms were mentioned by all-time record numbers of consumers.

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January employment rose by 200,000, unemployment rate unchanged at 4.1 percent

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 200,000 in January, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.1 percent. Employment continued to trend up in construction, food services and drinking places, health care, and manufacturing.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

January ISM manufacturing index dips 0.2 percent, but price increases widespread

The January PMI® registered 59.1 percent, a decrease of 0.2 percentage point from the seasonally adjusted December reading of 59.3 percent. Comments from the panel reflect expanding business conditions, with new orders and production maintaining high levels of expansion; employment expanding at a slower rate; order backlogs expanding at a faster rate; and export orders and imports continuing to grow faster in January. Price increases occurred across all industry sectors. The Customers’ Inventories Index indicates levels are still too low.

As of 2/1/18, GDPNow forecasting 1Q 2018 growth rate of 5.4 percent

The GDPNow model forecast for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the first quarter of 2018 is 5.4 percent on February 1, up from 4.2 percent on January 29. The forecast of real consumer spending growth increased from 3.1 percent to 4.0 percent after this morning's Manufacturing ISM Report On Business from the Institute for Supply Management, while the forecast of real private fixed-investment growth increased from 5.2 percent to 9.2 percent after the ISM report and this morning's construction spending release.

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Online job vacancies rose just 0.02 percent in January

Online advertised vacancies increased 1,200 to 4,903,300 in January, according to The Conference Board Help Wanted OnLine® (HWOL) Data Series. The December Supply/Demand rate stands at 1.34 unemployed for each advertised vacancy, with a total of 1.7 million more unemployed workers than the number of advertised vacancies.

Initial unemployment claims dip 1,000 in weekly report

In the week ending January 27, initial unemployment claims were 230,000, a decrease of 1,000 from the previous week's revised level. The 4-week moving average was 234,500, a decrease of 5,000 from the previous week's revised average.

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Mortgage applications fall 2.6 percent as rates continue to rise

The Market Composite Index decreased 2.6 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with both purchase loans and refinances falling 3.0 percent. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to its highest level since March 2017, 4.41 percent.

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Weekly Consumer Comfort Index rises to highest levels in nearly 17 years

According to the latest Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index, U.S. consumer confidence, along with a measure of Americans’ views of the economy, advanced last week to the highest levels in nearly 17 years.

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4Q 2017 labor productivity down 0.1 percent, but up 1.1 percent year-on-year

Nonfarm business sector labor productivity decreased 0.1 percent during the fourth quarter of 2017, as output increased 3.2 percent and hours worked increased 3.3 percent. From the fourth quarter of 2016 to the fourth quarter of 2017, productivity increased 1.1 percent, reflecting a 3.2-percent increase in output and a 2.1-percent increase in hours worked. Annual average productivity increased 1.2 percent from 2016 to 2017.

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January planned job cuts up 37.7 percent from December, down 2.8 percent year-on-year

The nation’s employers announced plans to cut 44,653 jobs in January, 37.7 percent higher than in December but still 2.8 percent lower year-on-year.

December construction spending up fifth straight month to record high

December construction spending was up 0.7% from November and 2.6% year-on-year. This was the fifth monthly gain in a row and a record high annual rate of $1.25 trillion. For all of 2017, construction spending grew 3.8% to $1.23 trillion, with residential spending up 10.4%.

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