QUOTATION OF THE WEEK… “Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.” –Samuel Johnson, English writer and lexicographer
INFO THAT HITS US WHERE WE LIVE … People don’t appear to have too many objections to buying a home these days. Existing Home Sales are up 5.4% over last year, even after dipping 3.7% in February, following January’s numbers, which hit at a ten-year high. The 5.48 million unit annual rate shows healthy demand, but in most markets we need more listings. The National Association of Realtors chief economist pointed out, “Realtors are reporting stronger foot traffic from a year ago, but low supply.” Hopefully more sellers will list as prices edge up. The FHFA Index of homes financed with conforming mortgages is 5.7% ahead of a year ago.
Demand for new homes strengthened. An upside surprise, February New Home Sales gained 6.1%, coming in just shy of a 600,000 annual rate.Sales are now up 12.8% over a year ago, showing strength in spite of monthly volatility and marginally higher mortgage rates since late last year. The number of unsold new homes increased by 4,000, but that shouldn’t slow down future construction, since inventories stay historically low. A provider of settlement services said their Potential Home Sales model posted a 5.7 million annual rate, as “demand from Millennials and first-time homebuyers remains robust.” No objections to that.
>> Review of Last Week
UNHEALTHY… Traders spent the week warily watching Washington for signs of whether the American Health Care Act (AHCA) would pass in the House. The impending vote for the Obamacare replacement kept everyone cautious. Hopes diminished as the week wore on, and were extinguished completely on Friday when Congressional leaders yanked the bill, a few votes shy of what’s needed for passage. All three major stock indexes ended down for the week. Investors aren’t that concerned about health care reform, they just don’t want wrangling over it to delay the tax reforms they do want, to boost the economy.
The President said he would immediately turn his attention to getting “big tax cuts” through Congress, so Wall Streeters should feel better going forward. The few economic reports we got were pretty good. There was the decent housing market data reported above. Then we had the Initial Unemployment Claims four-week moving average at just 240,000, and Continuing Claims down to 2.000 million. Durable Goods Orders were up 1.7% overall, but up just 0.4% excluding the volatile transportation sector. Analysts caution that this indicates relatively weak business spending. Hey, Washington, let’s see those tax reforms!
The week ended with the Dow down 1.5%, to 20597; the S&P 500 down 1.4%, to 2344; and the Nasdaq down 1.2%, to 5829.
Friday, investors felt negative enough to seek out the safe haven of bonds, moving prices higher. The 30YR FNMA 4.0% bond we watch finished the week UP .22, at $104.63. After two weeks of increases, national average 30-year fixed mortgage rates dropped in Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey for the week ending March 23, “the greatest week-over-week decline…in over two months,” according to their chief economist. Remember, mortgage rates can be extremely volatile, so check with your mortgage professional for up-to-the-minute information.
DID YOU KNOW?… In 2016, investors flipped 193,009 single family homes and condos, up 3.1% over 2015. This took flips to their highest level since 2006.
>> This Week’s Forecast
PENDING HOME SALES UP, INFLATION AND MIDWEST MANUFACTURING OK… People got back to signing contracts for existing homes in February, as the Pending Home Sales index is expected to return to growth territory. Consumer Personal Spending and the Core PCE Prices measure of inflation are also forecast to be growing, something the Fed wants to see. The Chicago PMI reading of factory activity in the Midwest should show expansion in March, though slightly less than the month before.
>> The Week’s Economic Indicator Calendar
Weaker than expected economic data tends to send bond prices up and interest rates down, while positive data points to lower bond prices and rising loan rates.