Is Everybody Happy?

June 27, 2014

Consumers have been regaining confidence and feeling better about the jobs market. For instance, the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index rose to a six-and-a-half year high in June. Moreover, their expectations for the next six months improved to a 10-month high. The Thomson Reuters/University Consumer Sentiment Index ticked up as well in June, but not at record levels.

In addition, the ongoing recovery in the labor market has made people feel more comfortable about the job market. As the figure below shows, the share who thought jobs were plentiful has been trending up starting in 2010 to 14.7 percent in June which is the most seen since May 2008. (Although, almost 54 percent of consumers in June still feel jobs are scarce.)

June Confidence

One downside to the Consumer Confidence report is that people under the age of 35, otherwise known as “Millennials,” lost confidence in the economy in June. They represented 28% (65.6 million) of the population 20 years and older in 2013 with the largest 5-year cohort among all ages at 20 to 24 (22.8 million), according to recently-released estimates by the Census Bureau. Their unemployment rates were 8.1% and 11.1%, respectively, as of May this year. This helps explain why households under 35 have a homeownership rate of only 36.2% in the first quarter of 2014 and they just may be those that feel jobs are scarce.

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Contract Rate on New Home Loans Dips Under 4 Percent

June 26, 2014

On average, mortgage interest rates declined in May, according to data released earlier today by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).  On conventional mortgages used to purchase newly-built homes, the average contract interest rate dropped by more than 30 basis points, from 4.19 to 3.88 percent.  This is the lowest the new home loan rate has been in a year and the first time it has dipped below 4.0 percent since February.

Contr Rate May 14

Initial fees increased slightly during the month, from 1.22 to 1.25 percent—far from enough to offset the decline in the contract rate.  The result was an average effective rate on new home loans (which amortizes initial fees over the estimated life of the loan) that also dropped by more than 30 basis points, staying barely above 4.0 percent (at 4.01).

Eff Rate May 14

Reversing the trend of the prior two months, the average size of conventional mortgages used to purchase new homes—and the price of the new homes purchased with the mortgages—both declined in May.  The average loan size declined 1.8 percent to $319,800, while the average home price fell by 3.6 percent to $418,800.  Despite the declines, both the average loan size and average new home price remain higher than they had been at any time prior to 2014.

Because the change in price was greater than the change in loan size, the average loan-to-price ratio on conventional mortgages used to purchase new homes increased substantially in May, from 77.0 to 78.6 percent—the highest it’s been since last August, and the first time above 78.0 percent in 2014.

LTP May 14

This information is based on FHFA’s Monthly Interest Rate Survey (MIRS) of loans closed during the last five working days in May. For other details about the survey, see the technical note at the end of FHFA’s June 26 news release.


Housing’s Other Contribution to GDP

June 26, 2014

Housing added 0.7 percentage points to real GDP growth in the first quarter of 2014, however the construction component (residential fixed investment) detracted from growth over the past two quarters owing to the poor weather conditions seen across the country over the period. In addition, housing accounted for 15.6 percent of total real GDP, which is low from a historical perspective.

 
The price component of GDP is becoming more interesting, however. Starting in 2012, housing has been contributing more to prices, for the most part, as seen in the figure below. In the first quarter of this year, it added over 0.7 percentage points to growth in the GDP price index, led by nearly 0.5 percentage points in the construction component (the most since the third quarter of 2008); the overall price index rose 1.3 percent. This is partly due to increased construction costs and higher rental prices.

GDP Price

Currently, overall inflation remains subdued and is within the Federal Reserve’s comfort zone. But moving forward, if housing becomes an even larger share of GDP, it would likely place upward pressure on inflation measures in general.

 


GDP Growth, First Quarter, Third Estimate – Let’s Move On

June 25, 2014

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released the third estimate of real GDP growth for the first quarter of 2014. Real GDP contracted at a 2.9% seasonally adjusted annual rate, down from +0.1% growth in the first (advance) estimate, and -1.0% in the second estimate.

The downward revision to the third estimate was concentrated in personal consumption expenditures (PCE) and trade. PCE grew at a 1.0% annual rate rather than the 3.1% in the second estimate, shaving 1.4 percentage points from growth. Exports contracted faster and imports expanded faster than previously estimated, reducing growth by an additional 0.5 percentage points in the third estimate.

Early indications are that the second quarter numbers will be much stronger. Let’s move on.

 blog gdp 2014_06


Eye on the Economy: Builder Confidence and Home Sales on the Rise

June 25, 2014

Housing news turned positive this week as spring gave way to summer. Future data will confirm whether the recent turn in momentum reflects a return to the improving trend that was in place before the end of 2013, but early signs are encouraging.

New single-family home sales reached their highest pace in six years in May. According to estimates from the Census Bureau and HUD, new home sales were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 504,000 in May, a gain of 18.6% over a slightly downwardly revised April (425,000). The May 2014 rate of sales is the highest since May 2008 and is a significant increase from the winter low point for sales in March (410,000).

The May pace of sales was certainly an improvement over the soft patch experienced from February through April. The most recent gains are likely due to a payback for weather-related declines during the winter, so future months will indicate whether a better trend has taken hold. But encouraging signs like better jobs numbers are consistent with this outcome.

Another improved indicator is the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), which rose four points in June to 49. This is just shy of the 50 mark, indicating at least as much optimism as pessimism among single-family home builders. The index dipped 10 points to 46 in February from a sustained above-50 mark for eight months and remained near there for four months. The June gains were experienced in all the components of the HMI: current sales, expected sales and traffic.

Alongside the positive new home sales report was the May existing home sales measure. The National Association of Realtors reported that existing home sales were up 4.9% from April to May. While still 5% lower year over year, the 4.89 million seasonally adjusted annual rate confirmed a turn in the decline that had been in place since the middle of 2013. Year-over-year declines in existing home sales, which distinguish this market from the growing new home market, are likely due to recent drops in distressed and investor purchases, as well as the 2014 expiration of a tax rule connected to short sales.

The one negative housing report in recent weeks was construction starts. The Census Bureau and HUD estimated that total housing starts declined 6.5% in May. Single-family starts were down 5.9%, while multifamily construction in properties with five or more units was down a larger 8.3%. The declines were a result, in part, to April’s numbers, where were among the highest since the end of the recession. On a year-over-year basis, the May pace of single-family construction was 4.7% higher and 19.2% higher for five-plus multifamily building.

Home price appreciation appears to be slowing after the strong gains of the past year or two, propelled by increases in areas that experienced some of the largest price declines during the recession. House prices grew by 10.8% between April 2013 and 2014, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price Index, which was less than the 12-month growth rate of 12.4% seen in March. Similarly, the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Purchase-Only Index rose 6% compared to 6.4% in March. Both indices show that annual house appreciation slowed from December to April and suggest the housing market may be returning to its long-run growth trend.

Consistent with the weak housing reports from the winter and early spring, the final estimate of first quarter GDP indicated that the economy contracted as a 2.9% rate, the worst quarter in five years. Besides disappointing investment numbers, personal consumption growth was anemic and exports displayed particular weakness. Part of the poor performance was weather related and other one-off factors. Second quarter GDP growth should reflect some payback for deferred economic activity and post a growth rate higher than 3%.

Common measures of general prices and inflation, moved in opposite directions in May. Producer prices declined 0.2%, after notable increases of 0.5% and 0.6% for March and April respectively. Among building materials, softwood lumber prices rose 1% in May from April. Prices are 28% above the average level over 2011. OSB prices have flattened out in 2014, declining 0.7% in May. Prices are 23% above the average level over 2011. Gypsum prices declined 0.7% in May, 41% above the average 2011 mark.

In contrast, consumer prices in May experienced the largest monthly increase since February 2013, rising 0.4% on a seasonally adjusted month-over-month basis and 2.1% year over year. The increase was broad, affecting many items found in the consumer basket such as energy, food and shelter. The NAHB constructed real rent index increased nominally in May. Over the past year, real rental prices rose by 1.1%.

The Federal Open Market Committee, the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy committee, announced this week that the pace of asset purchases (quantitative easing) will be reduced by another $10 billion to $35 billion per month. The federal funds rate will continue to remain at the current near zero level for a “considerable time” after asset purchases have concluded.

In analysis news, economists at NAHB mapped the change in county-level housing permit activity for 2013. Overall, 1,807 counties and county equivalents saw an increase in the number of single family permits issued over the prior year while 858 saw a decrease. According to data from Hanley-Wood, there was some movement among the rankings of the top ten publicly traded home builders in 2013, although D.R. Horton maintained the top spot with more than 25,000 closings.

Additionally, NAHB economists discussed land banking and new mortgage application data for new homes. Lastly, data for the first quarter of 2014 revealed that property taxes, the top revenue source for state and local government, made up 40.3% of receipts from major sources over the last four quarters – an important reminder of the role real estate plays in local economies.


State and Local Tax Receipts Continue to Improve

June 25, 2014

Property taxes are the largest single source of state and local tax receipts, according to NAHB tabulations of the Census Bureau’s quarterly tax data. At 40.3%, property taxes represent a significantly larger share than the next largest sources: individual income taxes (28.1%) and sales taxes (27.2%). From the second quarter of 2013 through the end of the first quarter of 2014, approximately $494 billion in taxes were paid by property owners. This was a small increase from the previous trailing four-quarter $492 billion.

Chart1

Overall, state and local revenue in the first quarter of 2014 increased $7 billion over the first quarter of 2013. There were increases in all four of the major revenue sources; property tax, state and local individual income tax, corporate income tax, and sales tax.

State and local government individual income and sales tax revenue continue to experience the largest increases. From the second quarter of 2013 through the end of the first quarter of 2014, approximately $345 billion in individual income taxes were paid. This represents an increase in individual income tax revenue of nearly $20 billion or 6% from the one year ago. The increase in sales tax revenue for the same period was approximately $16 billion or 5%.

Although house prices experienced healthy increases over the last two years, one should not expect property tax collections to increase significantly. Instead, lagging assessments and the ability of local jurisdiction to make annual adjustments should lead to only modest increases. The S&P/Case-Shiller House Price Index – National Index grew by 2.5% on a not seasonally adjusted basis in the fourth quarter and 10.3% last year.

Chart2

Property tax collections are not as prone to cyclical fluctuations as sales or income tax collections. Annual adjustments to tax rates and lagging property assessments smooth collections across business cycles. The relatively low volatility is reflected in steadily increasing nominal property tax collections.

Chart3

* Data footnote: Census data for property tax collections include taxes paid for all real estate assets (as well as personal property), including owner-occupied homes, rental housing, commercial real estate, and agriculture. However, housing’s share is by far the largest when considering the stock of both owner-occupied and rental housing units.

 


Catch Me If You Can

June 24, 2014

House prices grew by 10.8% between April 2013 and 2014, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price Index, which was less than the 12-month growth rate of 12.4% seen in March. Similarly, the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Purchase-Only Index rose 6.0% compared to 6.4% in March. On a seasonally-adjusted monthly basis the 20-City Composite index increased by 0.2%, while the Purchase-Only index was virtually unchanged. Both indices show that annual house appreciation has slowed over the past five consecutive months ending in April and suggest the housing market may be returning to its long-run trend of growth.

Among the 20 metro areas, Las Vegas experienced the largest annual gains (18.8%), followed by San Francisco (18.2%) and San Diego (15.3%). Meanwhile, cities experiencing the smallest increases include Cleveland (2.7%), Charlotte (4.4%) and New York City (5.4%). In addition, some areas are exhibiting large price gains for lower-priced homes as the chart below demonstrates. In April, Atlanta saw a 35.8% annual increase in homes under $153,000 and San Francisco saw homes under $496,200 rise 30.6%. In contrast, New York City saw an increase of 4.8% and Boston a 9.7% gain.

Prices1

The growth rates may be inflated, however, due to previously distressed homes being resold. For instance, CoreLogic provides a comparable house price index to the S&P/Case Shiller series and also has an additional one that excludes distressed homes. Foreclosed properties generally sell for a discount, currently at around 18 percent in April, according the National Association of Realtors, which suggests they would weigh down the overall market index. Yet since 2012, it appears distressed sales have added to the market’s growth, as seen the figure below.

Prices2

What’s occurring is during the housing crisis, many homes were foreclosed upon. In fact, the number of homes in foreclosure eventually peaked in the first quarter of 2010 at over two million, based on data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. These foreclosed homes were bought at deep discounts, ranging up to 40 percent and even higher in certain areas by 2009, as the chart above indicates when distressed sales are included. However, once the homes were repaired and later sold again either in the near-term for profit or when the new homeowners decided to move, the sales price was dramatically higher than the original price, owing to those heavy discounts. And as house prices recovered in general, those who waited longer to sell saw even larger increases in their sales price relative to the original purchase price. For instance, over the 12-months ending in April of this year, the inclusion of distressed properties added over two percentage points to overall growth in the price index, but the actual sales price for those troubled homes was likely at or below those of comparable non-distressed homes. So, this is more of a catch up to the race than a grand spree in house prices.

For full histories of the FHFA US and 9 Census divisions, click here.

For full histories of the composites and 20 markets included in the Case-Shiller composites, click here