Mixed Signals in Housing Data

by September 30, 2009 • 0 comments

Another mixed bag of housing data was released over the past week starting with last Thursday’s report from the National Association of Realtors that showed an unexpectedly drop in existing home sales. NAR reported that sales of existing homes in August fell by 2.7% form the prior month. This broke a four month trend of consecutive increases but still reflected a 3.4% increase form the same month a year ago. The report caught many economists off guard as extremely low interest rates, low prices and the government’s $8,000 tax credit were expected by most to boost sales for the month.

The Commerce Department reported on Friday that new home sales rose in August but only by a modest .7%. Even more disappointing is the fact that August new home sales were off 3.4% from a year earlier. Still, the slight increase for the month marked the fifth consecutive month of increases in the number of new homes sold. Mike Larson, an analyst with Weiss Research, Inc. said, “Price cuts and dramatic cutbacks in home construction are clearing out inventory in a big way.” “We now have the fewest number of new homes for sale since November of 1992,” he added.

Mortgage rates are still at eight month lows with the benchmark thirty-year fixed-rate flirting with 5.00%. Government rates, which usually lag behind conventional rates, are beginning to follow the downward trend with most FHA, VA and Rural Development thirty-year programs at or below 5.25%. Jumbo rates, rates for loans in excess of $417,000, are still in the high 6% range as that market remains highly illiiquid. I have been saying for some time that the run-up we have seen in the stock market this year has been irrational as concete evidence of an economic rebound has so far been lacking. The bond market, at least, agrees with me as demand for the safety of bonds remains high keeping interest rates low.

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