Construction, Retail Sales Higher

The Mortgage Corner

The strength of the economy right now is in the housing and construction sectors, again areas insulated from global factors, such as China’s slowdown. Construction spending, next to vehicle sales, is perhaps the week’s best surprise, rising 0.7 percent for a second straight month, and 13.7 percent annually. Why? Rents are rising fast, which means many householders will start thinking about whether buying with today’s ultra-low mortgage rates as the better alternative.


Graph: Econoday

The Econoday graph shows the slope has steepened nicely in the spring and summer. The latest gain is centered in the most important component of all, single-family homes where construction spending rose 2.1 percent in the month for a year-on-year gain of 15.8 percent. Multi-family homes slowed in the month but the year-on-year rate, reflecting demand tied to high rents, is still outstanding at 21.2 percent.


Graph: Econoday

And auto sales are up a surprising 1.5 percent to a 17.8 million annual rate, with 14.1 million sales of domestic-made vehicles. The gain points to another strong month for retail sales in what would underscore the insulated strength of the domestic economy. It was outsized strength in the auto sector that supported the factory sector in June and July, though August’s sales gain was centered in foreign-made vehicles. Still, sales of domestic-made cars and light trucks, which make up 80 percent of all sales, are at very strong levels.

In fact, retail sales just in this morning show a 2.2 percent annual gain, with strong sales in auto and food service. It could ave been above 3 percent if gas prices hadn’t fallen, but then would consumers be buying as much if gas prices were higher? This should mean Q3 GDP growth will again exceed 3 percent, following a revised Q2 reading of 3.7 percent by the BEA.


Graph: Calculated Risk

Will more renters be buying homes this year? The best way to compare rents to housing prices is the price-to-rent ratio. It is leveling off, which means rents are rising as fast as housing prices—some 5 percent of late.  (Whereas during the housing bubble prices were rising twice as fast as rents.) Combine that with conforming 30-year fixed mortgage rates of 3.75 percent in California, and we will have more renters looking to buy a home this and next year if interest rates hold. And the tax advantages of owning vs. renting really mean it’s more advantageous to buy over the longer term, rather than give those tax advantages to a landlord.

Harlan Green © 2015

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About populareconomicsblog

Harlan Green is editor/publisher of, and content provider of 3 weekly columns to various blogs--Popular Economics Weekly and The Huffington Post
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