Last week’s economic news included readings on homebuilder confidence in housing market conditions, minutes of January’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting, and existing home sales reported by the National Association of Realtors®. Weekly readings on mortgage rates and new jobless claims were also released.
NAHB: Home Builder Confidence Rises to 4-Month High
Homebuilder confidence rose for the second consecutive month in February and four points higher to an index reading of 62, which exceeded analyst expectations of a one-point increase in builder confidence.
Components of the NAHB Housing Market Index also rose. Builder confidence in current market conditions rose three points to 67; builder confidence in market conditions over the next six months rose five points to 68 and builder confidence rose four points to an index reading of 48. Index readings over 50 are considered positive, but readings for buyer traffic are typically lower than the benchmark of 50.
Real estate and mortgage lending pros consider the Housing Market Index and its component readings as an indication of future home building pace. During times with few available homes and high buyer demand, industry leaders rely on builders to provide more homes.
Fed Holds Off on Raising Key Interest Rate
Minutes of the Fed’s January meeting of its Federal Open Market Committee indicated a divide in members’ positions regarding raising or holding the current federal funds rate steady. The current rate of 2.25 to 2.50 percent was unchanged as Committee members considered global economic uncertainty and domestic concerns including trade policies. On a positive note, the Fed lowered its expected reading for long-term national unemployment from 4.50 percent to 4.40 percent. Strong labor markets encourage would-be home buyers to consider buying homes.
Sales of Pre-owned Homes Fall to Three-Year Low
The National Association of Realtors® reported the lowest level of previously-owned home sales in three years. Sales were 1.20 percent lower than their three-year low in December and were 8.50 percent lower year-over-year. 4,94 million pre-owned homes were sold on a seasonally-adjusted annual basis; analysts expected 4,99 million sales and 5.00 million pre-owned homes were sold in December.
The national median home price was $247,500 in January, which was 2.80 percent higher year-over-year; this was the slowest rate of home price growth since 2012.
Home prices may have peaked in high-demand metro areas where prices are unaffordable for most residents. First-time home buyers lost market share in January and comprised 29 percent of all sales as compared to a long-term market share of 40 percent. Concerns over affordability, supplies of homes for sale and potential increases in mortgage rates sidelined first-time and moderate-income home buyers.
Mortgage Rates, New Jobless Claims Lower
Freddie Mac reported lower mortgage rates last week; rates for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell two basis points to 4.35 percent. Rates for a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged three basis points lower at 3.78 percent.
Rates for a 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage averaged four basis points lower at 3.84 percent. Discount points averaged 0.50 percent for 30-year fixed rate mortgages, 0.40 percent for 15-year fixed rate mortgages, and 0.30 percent for 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages.
First-time jobless claims were lower last week with 216,000 claims filed as compared to expectations of 229,000 new claims filed and the previous week’s reading of 239,000 first-time claims filed.
This week’s scheduled economic reports include Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, new home sales, and Commerce Department readings on housing starts and building permits issued. Data on consumer confidence is expected along with weekly readings on mortgage rates and new jobless claims.