The Mortgage Corner
Home builders’ optimism is still high, though builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes fell one point in December to a level of 57 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), following a four-point uptick last month.
“After a sluggish start to 2014, the HMI has stabilized in the mid-to-high 50s index level trend for the past six months, which is consistent with our assessment that we are in a slow march back to normal,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “As we head into 2015, the housing market should continue to recover at a steady, gradual pace.”
What is helping new-home demand is the lack of existing-home inventory. Total housing inventory at the end of October fell 2.6 percent to 2.22 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 5.1-month supply at the current sales pace – the lowest since March (also 5.1 months).
Meanwhile, new-home construction that would replenish housing inventories is advancing in fits and starts, largely due to uncertain weather conditions and still tough mortgage qualification standards that lenders have only recently begun to ease. Privately-owned housing starts in November were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,028,000. This is 1.6 percent below the revised October estimate of 1,045,000 and is 7.0 percent below the November 2013 rate of 1,105,000.
Single-family housing starts in November were at a rate of 677,000; this is 5.4 percent below the revised October figure of 716,000, but double the number of multiple units being started. The November rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 340,000.
Another reason for builders’ optimism and healthy new-home construction is the pickup in U.S. employment. Private non-farm payrolls increased 321,000 in November and the jobless rate held at 5.8 percent. The competition for jobs is also dropping, with just 1.9 unemployed workers looking for work per job opening, when it was as much as 4 workers per job opening just after the Great Recession.
Also, prospective borrowers may find it easier to get a loan in 2015 as some lenders, encouraged by federal regulators, ease standards. In addition, mortgage rates are still low, enabling qualified borrowers to get relatively cheap loans. For example, 30-year fixed rate conforming mortgage rates with as little as 5 percent down have dropped to 3.50 percent in California.
Another reason for the better job numbers is industrial production increased 1.3 percent in November after edging up in October. In November, manufacturing output increased 1.1 percent, with widespread gains among industries. The rise in factory output was well above its average monthly pace of 0.3 percent over the previous five months and was its largest gain since February. It is up 13.2 percent from its low point in 2009, according to Calculated Risk.
NAR also recently released its economic and housing forecast for 2015 and 2016. NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun is forecasting existing-home sales this year to fall slightly below 2013 (5.1 million) to 4.9 million, and then increase to 5.3 million next year and 5.4 million in 2016. Yun expects the national median existing-home price to rise 4 percent both next year and in 2016.
Harlan Green © 2014
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