The Housing Chronicles Blog: 3/1/18 - 4/1/18

Friday, March 23, 2018

February new home sales dip for third month

Sales of new single-family houses in February 2018 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 618,000 in a preliminary estimate. This is 0.6 percent below the revised January rate of 622,000, but is still 0.5 percent above the February 2017 estimate of 615,000.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Initial unemployment claims up 3,000 in weekly report

In the week ending March 17, initial unemployment claims were 229,000, an increase of 3,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 226,000. The 4-week moving average was 223,750, an increase of 2,250 from the previous week's unrevised average of 221,500.


Mortgage applications dip 1.1 percent in latest survey, but purchase loans alone up 1.0 percent

The Market Composite Index decreased 1.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans up 1.0 percent and refinances falling by 5.0 percent. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 4.68 percent.


Bloomberg: March Consumer Comfort Index climbs for third month to highest level since 2002

Americans' outlook for the economy climbed in March for a third straight month to 56.0, or matching the highest level since 2002.  The weekly index rose from 56.2 to 56.8.


January FHFA House Price Index up 0.8 percent from December and 7.3 percent year-on-year

The FHFA House Price Index (HPI) reported a 0.8 percent increase in U.S. house prices in January from the previous month.  From January 2017 to January 2018, house prices were up 7.3 percent. 


Federal Reserve opts to hike interest rates another quarter point

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 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 percent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting strong labor market conditions and a sustained return to 2 percent inflation.


February Leading Economic Index rose for fifth straight month

The U.S. LEI rose again, despite a sharp downturn in stock markets and weakness in housing construction in February. The LEI points to robust economic growth throughout 2018. Its six-month growth rate has not been this high since the first quarter of 2011.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

February existing home sales rebound 3.0 percent from January, up 1.1 percent year-on-year

Despite consistently low inventory levels and faster price growth, existing-home sales bounced back in February after two straight months of declines, rising 3.0 percent from January.  Sales were also up 1.1 percent year-on-year.


Friday, March 16, 2018

JOLTS: January job openings spike up 11.4 percent while hires rose by just 1.1 percent

The number of job openings rose 11.4 percent to 6.3 million on the last business day of January. Over the month, however, hires rose by just 1.1 percent to 5.6 million, while separations rose by 1.8 percent to 5.4 million.

February industrial production rebounded 1.1 percent from January

Industrial production rose 1.1 percent in February following a decline of 0.3 percent in January. Manufacturing production increased 1.2 percent in February, its largest gain since October. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector climbed 0.7 percentage point in February to 78.1 percent, its highest reading since January 2015 but still 1.7 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2017) average.


Consumer sentiment rises to highest level since 2004 in early read, but upper-income households more wary

Consumer sentiment rose in early March to its highest level since 2004 due to a new all-time record favorable assessment of current economic conditions. All of the gain in the Sentiment Index was among households with incomes in the bottom third (+15.7), while the economic assessments of those with incomes in the top third posted a significant monthly decline (-7.3).

The decline among upper income consumers was focused on the outlook for the economy and their personal finances. In early March, favorable mentions of the tax reform legislation were offset by unfavorable references to the tariffs on steel and aluminum-each was spontaneously cited by one-in-five consumers. Importantly, near term inflation expectations jumped to their highest level in several years, and interest rates were expected to increase by the largest proportion since 2004.

Among the top-third income households, income expectations fell more and inflation expectations rose more; as these households account for more than half of all consumption expenditures, the data suggest that the relative lull in consumption in the 1st quarter may persist for another quarter.


February housing starts down 7.0 percent from January and 4.0 percent year-on-year

Privately-owned housing starts in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,236,000. This is 7.0 percent below the revised January estimate of 1,329,000 and is 4.0 percent below the February 2017 rate of 1,288,000.

February building permits tumbled 5.7 percent from January but still up 6.5 percent year-on-year

Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,298,000. This is 5.7 percent below the revised January rate of 1,377,000, but is 6.5 percent above the February 2017 rate of 1,219,000.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

4Q 2017 home loans down 20 percent from 3Q and 19 percent year-on-year

According to ATTOM Data Solutions, the number of residential property loans made in 4Q 2017 was down 20 percent from the previous quarter as well as down 19 percent from a year ago.  However, construction loans were up 12 percent from the third quarter and up 33 percent year-on-year, indicating more robust remodeling activity as well as rebuilding efforts after last year’s hurricanes.

Gallup: More Americans see AI as a greater threat than immigration and offshoring

More than half of Americans (58%) say technology poses a greater threat to jobs in the U.S. over the next decade, while 42% see immigration and offshoring as the greater threat. Republicans, who see immigration and offshoring as roughly an equal threat as technology, are the only subgroup of Americans not to see technology as a greater threat.

Philadelphia Fed's Business Outlook Survey dips to 22.3 in March but still in positive territory

Findings from the Philadelphia Federal Rerserve Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey suggest continued growth for the region's manufacturing sector. Although the survey's index for general activity moderated, the indexes for new orders and shipments improved. The survey's future indexes, measuring expectations for the next six months, reflected continued optimism.


March Empire State Manufacturing Survey rises nine points to 22.5

Business activity grew robustly in New York State, according to firms responding to the March 2018 Empire State Manufacturing Survey. The headline general business conditions index climbed nine points to 22.5.


Initial unemployment claims fall by 4,000 in weekly report

In the week ending March 10, initial unemployment claims were 226,000, a decrease of 4,000 from the previous week's revised level. The 4-week moving average was 221,500, a decrease of 750 from the previous week's revised average.


Mortgage applications rise 0.9 percent in weekly report, average rates rise to 4.69 percent

The Market Composite Index increased 0.9 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans up 3 percent and refinance activity falling 2 percent. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to its highest level since January 2014, 4.69 percent.


Bloomberg: Consumer Comfort Index slips to 56.2 but still near highest level since 2001

U.S. consumer sentiment eased slightly last week to 56.2 while hovering near its highest level since 2001, as job gains drive Americans' confidence in their financial situation.


February new home mortgage applications up 3.0 percent from January and 4.6 percent year-on-year

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) Builder Applications Survey (BAS) data for February 2018 shows mortgage applications for new home purchases increased 4.6 percent compared to February 2017. Compared to January 2018, applications increased by 3 percent. This change does not include any adjustment for typical seasonal patterns.


March builder confidence edges down one point to 70

Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes edged down one point to a level of 70 in March. The HMI component gauging current sales conditions held steady at 77, the chart measuring sales expectations in the next six months dropped two points to 78, and the index gauging buyer traffic fell three points to 51.


Data, Data Every Where/Nor any Drop to Drink: Making Sense of the Economic Data Deluge

In his lengthy 1798 poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge tells the story of a group of sailors stranded at sea, surrounded by salt water they cannot drink and writing, “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”

This famous line also seemed like an apt metaphor for the deluge of economic data which is now routinely released on a regular basis by a variety of government and private sources. In other words, how can you trust what you ingest?

It’s a fair question.  Over the last decade, as the number of traditional newsroom jobs has been cut by nearly half, Americans increasingly get their news from social media, television, Web sites and talk radio.  Since most of these sources are now oriented towards maximizing clicks, eyeballs and ears, even traditional economic updates are sometimes subject to spin versus true objectivity. Another issue is the sheer volume of economic data sliced and diced for different stakeholders, demographics and geographies.

For a simple way to ensure you don’t miss out on important economic news, the current edition of the free BuilderBytes e-newsletter by Peninsula Publishing regularly tracks 60 or more economic indicators each month. These are almost all national in scope, provide a link to the original source, and are generally relevant in some way to the housing industry.  The newsletter also features scores of other stories with links on finance, green building, design, affordable housing and more.

If you require a more detailed analysis, there’s certainly no shortage of relatively affordable, ‘data buffet’ services offering a smorgasbord of economic data at the national level.  But, much like a food smorgasbord, you still need to invest the time to locate, sample and collect the data that you want.  These data buffets also generally lack data at smaller geographic levels including MSAs, counties and cities.

Once you’re focused on the MSA, county or city level, the data search becomes more difficult or even proprietary in nature, which is why subscriptions can be pricey and custom reports produced by consultants or economists can easily run into thousands of dollars.  But in today’s connected world, the alternatives to these options have never been more numerous.

For example, if you want to review housing trends for a market you’re thinking of entering, Web sites for Zillow, Trulia, Redfin and various Associations of Realtors® offer everything from sales and inventory to market health and new home absorption rates.  If you want to review the local job market, government sources can usually tell you everything from job growth and unemployment applications to labor participation rates and median wages by industry.

If you’re looking for an overview of regional economic conditions, many of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks release their own monthly summaries and surveys covering their assigned areas, often including individual states and MSAs.  Some of these surveys, such as those done by the banks in New York and Philadelphia, are economic bellwethers closely monitored by Wall Street.

If you want to target hot new submarkets for future growth, government sources can tell you where population growth is outpacing building permits or where retail sales are suddenly surging.  For commercial real estate markets, many large brokerages maintain their own research departments, tracking everything at the submarket level from monthly rents to vacancy rates.

In other words, while you may have to pay an expert sleuth for finding, curating and analyzing data, you don’t necessarily have to pay for the data itself.

Still, many private sources do act as a check on official government indicators. For example, payroll processor ADP releases its own estimate of private sector job growth in advance of official government statistics, and both Gallup and The Conference Board regularly track monthly employment trends, employee engagement and the number of job vacancies advertised online.

For the housing market, the NAHB, NAR and MBA maintain regular updates on not just mortgage applications, home sales and prices, but also builder, seller and buyer sentiment. 

We are very lucky in the United States to have governments at the national and state levels which are very serious about collecting sophisticated data at various geographic levels.  This is certainly not the case in most of the world.

But much of this data, especially collected by the Census Bureau and elsewhere at the Department of Commerce, is under threat due to budget cuts, so it’s important for stakeholders to let their representatives know how crucial this data is for the business of building homes.

Because if ingestible information is power, then so is success.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

CoreLogic: December mortgage delinquencies at 5.3 percent, unchanged year-on-year

Nationally, 5.3 percent of mortgages were in some stage of delinquency (30 days or more past due, including those in foreclosure) in December 2017. This represents no change in the overall delinquency rate compared with December 2016 when it was also 5.3 percent.

As of December 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 December 2016. Since August 2017, the foreclosure inventory rate has been steady at 0.6 percent, the lowest level since June 2007, when it was also 0.6 percent.

This past December’s foreclosure inventory rate was the lowest for the month of December in 11 years; it was also 0.6 percent in December 2006.

February small business optimism survey rose to near-record high of 107.6

Small business owners are showing unprecedented confidence in the economy as the optimism index continues at near-record high numbers, rising to 107.6 in February, according to the NFIB Small Business Economic Trends Survey. The historically high numbers include a jump in small business owners increasing capital outlays and raising compensation.


February Consumer Price Index up 0.2 percent from January and 2.2 percent year-on-year

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.2 percent in February after rising 0.5 percent in January. Over the last 12 months, the all items index rose 2.2 percent.

The index for all items less food and energy increased 0.2 percent in February following a 0.3-percent increase in January and rose 1.8 percent year-on-year.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Federal budget deficit spiked to $215 billion in February, largest in six years

The U.S. government had a $215 billion budget shortfall in February as revenues into the government’s coffers fell and outlays increased.  That compared with a budget deficit of $192 billion in the same month last year and a budget surplus of $49 billion the previous month.

The deficit for the fiscal year, which began in October, was $391 billion, compared to a deficit of $351 billion in the same period of fiscal 2017.

A combination of tax cuts passed by the Trump administration late last year and an increase in government spending agreed in early February are set to add to the nation’s budget gap with $1 trillion annual deficits on the horizon.


Friday, March 9, 2018

Gallup: 70 percent of U.S. adults have positive views on foreign trade, up from 58 percent prior to 2017

Americans' increasingly positive views of foreign trade have stabilized after spiking last year. A strong majority of U.S. adults (70%) see foreign trade as an opportunity for U.S. economic growth through increased exports rather than a threat to the economy from foreign imports (25%). Before last year, no more than 58% had held the positive view of trade.


Wholesale sales fell 1.1 percent in post-holiday January as inventories rose 0.8 percent

January 2018 sales of merchant wholesalers were down 1.1 from the revised December level, but up 6.7 percent year-on-year.

Total inventories of merchant wholesalers were up 0.8 percent from December and 4.8 percent year-on-year.

The January inventories/sales ratio for merchant wholesalers, down from 1.28 a year ago.

CoreLogic: Most U.S. housing markets have returned to peak levels not seen since before Great Recession

The team at CoreLogic recently came out with a report covering the housing market from the Great Recession:

"Residential home prices began to peak in some parts of the country as early as 2005. Home prices collapsed in 2007, when Wall Street began to back out of residential mortgage-backed securities. 

After falling 33 percent during the recession, prices in most markets have returned to peak levels, growing 51 percent nationally since bottoming out in March 2011.

The average home price is now 1 percent higher than it was at the peak in 2006, and the average year-over-year home equity gain was $14,888 in the third quarter of 2017. This indicates the housing market has widely recovered."


February job growth soared to 313,000, highest rate since July 2016

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 313,000 in February (versus 200,000 expected), and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.1 percent. Employment rose in construction, retail trade, professional and business services, manufacturing, financial activities, and mining.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was essentially unchanged at 1.4 million in February and accounted for 20.7 percent of the unemployed. Over the year, the number of long-term unemployed was down by 369,000.

The civilian labor force rose by 806,000 in February. The labor force participation rate increased by 0.3 percentage point over the month to 63.0 percent but changed little over the year.

In February, total employment, as measured by the household survey, rose by 785,000. The employment-population ratio increased by 0.3 percentage point to 60.4 percent in February, following 4 months of little change.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Initial unemployment claims rise 21,000 in weekly report

In the week ending March 3, initial unemployment claims were 231,000, an increase of 21,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 210,000. The 4-week moving average was 222,500, an increase of 2,000 from the previous week's unrevised average of 220,500.


Bloomberg: Weekly consumer comfort index rebounds to second-highest level since 2001

The consumer comfort index rose last week to 56.8, the second-highest level since 2001, as the benefits of increased take-home pay from tax cuts outweighed concerns about stock-market volatility.


4Q 2017 service sector economy up 2.2 percent from 3Q and 5.0 percent year-on-year

U.S. selected services total revenue for the fourth quarter of 2017 rose 2.2 percent from the third quarter of 2017 and 5.0 percent year-on-year.


2018 YTD job cuts at lowest level since 1995

The nation's employers announced plans to cut 35,369 jobs in February, down 20 percent from the 44,653 cuts announced the previous month and 4.3 percent lower year-on-year. So far this year, employers have announced 80,022 cuts, 3.5 percent lower than through February last year. This is the lowest number of announced job cuts between January and February since 1995.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

January consumer credit use grew at slowest pace in four months

January consumer credit use grew at the slowest rate in four months.  The combination of this, along with sluggish household spending figures reported for January, indicates consumers may have been reluctant to increase credit-card balances following much stronger outlays in the fourth quarter. Gains in overall consumer credit cooled for a second month.


MBA: 4Q 2017 delinquency rates for commercial property remain low

Based on the unpaid principal balance (UPB) of commercial loans, delinquency rates for each group at the end of the fourth quarter were as follows:

  • Banks and thrifts (90 or more days delinquent or in non-accrual): 0.51 percent, a decrease of 0.02 percentage points from the third quarter of 2017;
  • Life company portfolios (60 or more days delinquent): 0.03 percent, an increase of 0.01 percentage points from the third quarter of 2017;
  • Fannie Mae (60 or more days delinquent): 0.11 percent, an increase of 0.08 percentage points from the third quarter of 2017;
  • Freddie Mac (60 or more days delinquent): 0.02 percent, unchanged from the third quarter of 2017; and
  • CMBS (30 or more days delinquent or in REO): 4.08 percent, a decrease of 0.52 percentage points from the third quarter of 2017.

Mortgage applications rise 0.3 percent due to refinances, rates edge up to 4.65 percent

The Market Composite Index increased 0.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans falling 1.0 percent and refinances rising 2.0 percent. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to its highest level since January 2014, 4.65 percent.


Beige Book: Economic expansion continuing so far in 2018, but new home production constrained by supply issues

Economic activity expanded at a modest to moderate pace across the 12 Federal Reserve Districts in January and February. On balance, Districts reported modest growth in home sales and construction, with the latter constrained by shortages of labor and materials.


January factory goods orders fell 1.4 percent after five months of increases

January factory goods orders fell 1.4 percent amid a broad decrease in demand.  That was the largest drop since July 2017 and followed five straight monthly increases.


Labor productivity revised to 0.0 percent in 4Q 2017, up 1.1 percent year-on-year

Nonfarm business sector labor productivity growth was revised to 0.0 percent in 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.


Online Helped Wanted Ads declined 3.8 percent in February

Online advertised vacancies decreased 185,700, or 3.8 percent, to 4,717,600 in February, according to The Conference Board Help Wanted OnLine® (HWOL) Data Series released today. The January Supply/Demand rate stands at 1.36 unemployed for each advertised vacancy, with a total of 1.8 million more unemployed workers than the number of advertised vacancies.


ADP: Private sector jobs rose by 235,000 in February

According to ADP, private sector employment increased by 235,000 jobs from January to February. This compares to 244,000 the previous month and 280,000 in February 2017.


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

CoreLogic: January home prices up 0.5 percent from December and 6.6 percent year-on-year

According to the CoreLogic HPI,  January home prices nationally increased 0.5 percent from December and 6.6 percent year-on-year. Looking ahead, the CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicates that the national home-price index is projected to increase by 4.8 percent on a year-over-year basis from January 2018 to January 2019, with a 12-month increase of more than 7 percent projected for California, Florida, Nevada and Oregon.


Monday, March 5, 2018

Gallup: Americans not quite ready yet for self-driving cars and trucks

According to Gallup, by some estimates, 10 million self-driving vehicles will be on the road worldwide by 2020.

However, Americans are currently skeptical of using the technology.
  • More than half of the U.S. public (54%) says it is not likely to use the vehicles.
  • 59% would be uncomfortable riding in self-driving cars
  • 62% would be uncomfortable sharing the road with self-driving trucks

Gallup: Public split on Universal Basic Income (UBI) to address future automation

According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans are split in their support for a hypothetical universal basic income (UBI) program that would guarantee a minimum income for workers who lose their jobs because of advances in artificial intelligence (AI).

Forty-eight percent support and 52% oppose a UBI program for workers who are displaced by technology.

February service sector index dipped 0.4 points to 59.9, but still represents strong growth

The February NMI® registered 59.5 percent, which is 0.4 percentage point lower than the January reading of 59.9 percent but still reflected the second consecutive month of strong growth. The majority of respondents' continue to be positive about business conditions and the economy.


February manufacturing index rose 1.7 points to 60.8 as expansion continues

The February PMI® registered 60.8 percent, an increase of 1.7 percentage points from the January reading of 59.1 percent. Comments from the panel reflect expanding business conditions, with new orders and production maintaining high levels of expansion.


Friday, March 2, 2018

February consumer sentiment remains at second-highest level since 2004

Consumer sentiment remained quite favorable in February, at its second highest level since 2004.

Consumers based their optimism on favorable assessments of jobs, wages, and higher after-tax pay.

Economic news heard by consumers continued to be dominated by the tax reform legislation and net job gains, which was untarnished by the consensus view that interest rates would increase and stock prices would remain volatile.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

IHS PMI shows start of 2018 strongest for manufacturing since late 2014

The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit final U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index™
(PMI™) registered 55.3 in February, down slightly from 55.5 in January. Although below January’s 34-month high, the overall improvement in operating conditions across the manufacturing sector was one of the strongest recorded since late-2014.

Initial unemployment claims dip to lowest levels since December 1969

In the week ending February 24, initial unemployment claims were 210,000, a decrease of 10,000 from the previous week's revised level. This is the lowest level for initial claims since December 6, 1969 when it was 202,000. The 4-week moving average was 220,500, a decrease of 5,000 from the previous week's revised average. This is the lowest level for this average since December 27, 1969 when it was 219,750.


Mortgage applications rise 2.7 percent as rates remain flat at 4.64 percent

The Market Composite Index increased 2.7 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans up 6.0 percent but refinances falling 1.0 percent. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages remained unchanged from last week at 4.64 percent.


Bloomberg: Weekly Consumer Comfort Index rebounds close to a 17-year high

The Consumer Comfort Index remained close to a 17-year high, rising from 56.2 to 56.6, on rosier views of personal finances and the buying climate, as workers enjoy more take-home pay after the recent tax-cut legislation.


Inflation update: January PCE price index up 1.7 percent year-on-year

The PCE price index, favored by the Fed as a read on inflation, increased 0.4 percent in January and 1.7 year-on-year, still below its target of 2.0 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.3 percent in January and 1.5 year-on-year.


Tax cuts and bonuses helped boost both January personal income and personal savings rate

Tax cut update: In January, personal income rose 0.4 percent, disposable personal income (DPI) rose 0.9 percent (the biggest jump since 2015) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased 0.2 percent, leading to an increase in the personal savings rate from 2.5 to 3.2 percent of income.


January construction spending flat from December but up 3.2 percent year-on-year

Construction spending was unexpectedly flat in January as a surge in investment in public construction projects was offset by a decline in private outlays. However, spending was up 3.2 percent year-on-year.