Rates Rise – Home Prices Still Rising

We are definitely seeing a return to volatility in mortgage rates as a see-sawing stock market has made for fickle demand for bonds. While sitting near record lows for several weeks rates bounced back up by late last week and were approaching 5.375% on the conforming thirty-year, fixed-rate on Monday before settling back to 5.25% on Tuesday. Some of the pressure on rates can be attributed to the huge government bond auction this week that will push the nation’s overall debt to near its debt ceiling of just over $12 trillion. The $123 billion in government securities creates additional supply yet, so far, it appears there is still adequate demand to absorb the new debt which has allowed rates to ease somewhat. I believe we will continue to see this return to volatility in both bonds and equities as investors become less convinced that this year’s rally in stocks will continue.
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Housing Starts Miss Forecast

Mortgage rates remain low again this week helped out by reemerging doubts about the stock rally and economy as a whole. The benchmark thirty-year, fixed-rate stands just above 5% with no points and the fifteen year is just below 4.50%. While paying a point was buying a full ½% discount to the rate in the first quarter of the year, that premium has narrowed significantly and a point today is only buying a 1/4% rate improvement.

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Home Prices Post GAIN

We have received more good news on the housing market this past week beginning with Last Friday’s report from the National Association of Realtors’ report on July existing home sales which showed a jump of 7.2% over June and up 5% from July of 2008. It was the biggest month-over-month increase in existing home sales since NAR began tracking the statistic in 1999.

On Tuesday, the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index showed home prices increased 2.9% in the three months ending June 30th. This was the first quarter-over-quarter increase in three years providing further evidence that the housing market has since bottomed and is on the road to recovery. Late breaking news on new home sales came in this morning which showed a jump of 9.6% in July, the highest level since September 2008.

Mortgage rates have stayed in a range over the past week with only mild daily fluctuations in contrast to the increased volatility we had seen in the week prior. The Fannie Mae/ Freddie Mac conforming fixed-rate for single-family purchases stands at 5.375% with no points and the fifteen year stands at 4.625%. Rates have been helped by tame inflation reports and a well received government bond auction last week.

Rates have even managed to brush off a better than expected 4.9% increase in durable goods orders reported today with bonds actually a hair higher after the report. I expect rates will remain in their current range over the next week as they have for the past month or so. In the longer term, we will have to see if there are further signs of an improving economy and, if so, will those signs be strong enough to bring some inflationary fears back into the market. So far all indications are that though we are in the beginnings of a recovery, it will be very slow and take some time to fully rebound.

Mixed Signals in Housing Data

We got a mixed bag of economic data on the housing front this week that, on one hand disappointed, but upon closer analysis showed yet another sign that the battered housing market is recovering. On Tuesday the Commerce Department said that initial construction of new homes fell in July after surging in June. Housing starts fell 11% to a seasonally adjusted rate of 581,000 down form 587,000 in June. Commerce also reported that applications for new building permits also fell in July by a more modest 1.8% though both reports came in below economist’s forecasts.

One caveat, however, was that when broken out by construction type, housing starts for single-family homes actually posted a 1.7% gain in July and applications for single-family permits rose by 5.8%. This is the silver lining in these reports as single-family homes are considered the core of the housing market and the overall numbers include the hard hit multi-family sector.

Mortgage rates remain very attractive after last week’s meeting of the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee reassured investors that interest rates would remain low for the foreseeable future as inflationary pressures are anticipated to remain weak for some time. Stocks have also helped out rates as consumer spending and consumer sentiment figures released last week have cast more doubt about a speedy recovery for the economy.

The thirty-year conforming fixed rate is sitting right at 5.25% for single-family purchases and the fifteen-year is at 4.625%. Government rates have been just a tad higher at 5.50% and 5.00% respectively. As long doubts linger over the economy, we will continue to have the uncertainty factor that tends to maintain demand in the bond market and keep rates low. Without any inflationary pressures in the short-run, I don’t see any significant rise in rates over the coming weeks and we may even see some further easing.

Rates Ease and Home Prices Post Record Fall

Mortgage rates have eased since last week with the rate on the benchmark thirty-year, fixed-rate falling back below 5.50% to settle in at 5.375%. That’s a .25% improvement since last week’s spike up to 5.625%. Rate shave been benefiting form some profit taking in the stock market which has cooled a bit in August following it’s month long rally in July. This is interesting considering last Friday’s unemployment report for July showed far fewer jobs lost for the month than economists expected and an actual decline in the overall unemployment rate to 9.4%. News like this usually provides the impetus for renewing a stock rally as it indicates an economy that may be pulling out of recession and stocks did surge on the news but have since pulled back as worries that we’re not out of the woods yet continue to linger. I have felt all along that the optimism on Wall Street over the better part of this year has been premature and has put the cart well before the horse. The fact bond prices have remained high and rates low supports this theory.

After a plethora of good news on the housing front we finally received a sobering report on June home prices this week. The National Association of Realtors on Wednesday said that home prices fell a record 15.6% for the three month period ending June 30 compared with the same period in 2008. Analysts attribute much of the decline on the excess inventory of distressed properties on the market, those that are either in foreclosure or short-sales, as these properties on average sell at a 15% discount compared to non-distressed properties. Yet there was a glimmer of hope in the report as median home prices actually rose 4% and quarter-over-quarter home sales rose 3.8%. Though fairly typical of a normal spring buying season, it is yet another sign that the worst of the housing market correction may be behind us.

Rates Rise – Home Sales Too

Mortgage rates held up well last week as the Federal Reserve auctioned off a whopping $200 billion in US Treasury debt and even managed to improve somewhat by week’s end as I had predicted. This week has been another story however. After sliding to 5.25%, the rate on the benchmark thirty-year, fixed-rate climbed back to 5.50% as the ten-year Treasury note yield rose to 3.73% by Wednesday morning.

Bonds prices have been falling in reaction to positive economic news and a renewed rally in the stock market though stocks looked ready to pull back by mid week. After a period of relative calm over the past several weeks, we are seeing a return to volatility and I expect to see some see-sawing of rates over the short-run as investors try to digest the mix of economic data and corporate earnings.

Yet another sign of a thawing housing market could be seen in a report released on Tuesday that showed pending home sales rose for the fifth consecutive month in June. According to the National Association of Realtors, the Pending Home Sales Index rose to 3.6% during June. That was 6.7% higher than in June of 2008 and the first five consecutive month increase since July of 2003. The number surprised most analysts who had expected a meager .7% increase. The majority of the sales were in the lower-end segment of the market indicating that many first-time buyers are getting off the fence, lured by low rates, low prices and the $8,000 tax credit. With a deadline closing date of November 30 to be eligible for the credit, I expect we will see a surge of first-time buyer activity in the next ten weeks or so.

Mortgage Rates Hold Steady at 5.5%

Mortgage rates have managed to hold steady despite renewed optimism in the stock market spurred by better than expected corporate earnings reports and evidence the recession is nearing an end. The benchmark thirty-year, fixed-rate is right at 5.50% with no points and we are seeing more parity with other mortgage programs lately as both FHA and VA thirty-year rates are also at 5.50%. The rate on the fifteen-year, fixed-rate stands at 5.00%.

Mortgage rates have benefited from reassuring remarks from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke who on Tuesday told lawmakers at his semi-annual address before congress that he plans to keep monetary policy “extremely accommodative” for some time meaning no rate increases are likely for the foreseeable future. I do not expect to see rates rise over the next week unless the stock market gets on an exceptional run of gain. Many analysts still feel the market exuberance seen of late is still premature as investors continue to cheer less than expected losses instead of actual increases in net profits.

We had some great news on the housing front last Friday as the government reported that initial construction of homes as well as new applications for building permits surged more than economists had expected. Housing starts rose to as seasonally adjusted annual rate of 562,000 in June, up 3.6% from May. The consensus estimate was for an annual rate of 524,000. Single-family housing starts were up a whopping 14.4%. Building permits rose 8.7% in June to an annually adjusted 563,000 while economists had expected only 530,000. This was the highest number of new permits since December and the second straight month of increases since the all-time low set in April. All this is just more evidence that the battered housing market has bottomed and finally on the upswing despite a continuing rise in unemployment.

The Mystery of the Term 'Condo-tel'

Since I am getting so many questions these days regarding condos and condo-tels and since the secondary market for these properties, i.e. Fannie and Freddie, has all but disappeared, I thought I would try and clarify why a project will or will not fly. First, a condo-tel is not a new concept. It has always been a type of property designation we use along with single family detached, duplex, etc. The problem is that for many years, Fannie and Freddie did not adequately identify beach-front, resort-style condominiums for what they really were. So what makes a condo-tel? Actually, any number of things. I have heard many times that a project is not a condo-tel because it doesn’t have an on-site rental desk. While an on-site rental desk would classify a project as a condo-tel the absence of one does not make it immune. If they have a website that advertises rentals it is a condo-tel. If an owner is required to rent per the bylaws it is a condo-tel. If it has daily maid service it is a condo-tel. So if a project doesn’t have any of these things then it is okay with Fannie and Freddie and fixed-rate financing is available? Not necessarily.

There is another classification we use for condominiums and this is the term ‘warrantable.’ Warrantable refers to whether it can be warranted as sellable to Fannie or Freddie meaning it meets their criteria for an acceptable condominium project. So what makes a condominium ‘non-warrantable’? If the developer is still in control of the HOA it is non-warrantable. If more than 50% of the units are investor owned it is non-warrantable. If one entity owns more than 10% of the total units it is non-warrantable. If the project has pending litigation against it or if a large percentage of owners are delinquent in their HOA dues, or any number of other factors cited by the appraiser can lead to a project being classified as non-warrantable. Every once in a while we come across a project that we can warrant but they are rare to say the least.

Between a project having one or more condo-tel attributes or having one or more of the non-warrantable attributes, you can see that most every condo here on the beach has no secondary market financing available. This is why a few banks like Vision have developed alternative vehicles to get these properties financed. Our portfolio 3/1 and 5/1 ARMs are not a panacea. Yes, they carry a certain amount of risk and the rates are at a premium over the current thirty-year fixed-rates, but, in the absence of a secondary market, these ARMs are the best alternative for providing financing to the buyer while protecting the bank from interest rate risk and meeting our future capital requirements. It is our hope that in there will eventually be a thawing in the secondary market for condos and that our products can provide a bridge to that future. In the meantime, we will continue to lend on these properties because we have a vested interest in seeing them sell and we have a firm belief that the collateral is sound.

Mortgage Rates Helped by Stock Slide

As I predicted last week, mortgage rates have managed to ease somewhat over the past week thanks to a slumping stock market that has seen a miserable start to the third quarter. Investors are beginning to think that all of those “green shoots” of economic recovery may have been so many weeds as lackluster earnings reports, a sell off in the commodities markets, and concerns that the third quarter will fail to bring the robust growth many had hoped for are all taking their toll on stocks.

The Dow and S&P 500 both ended the day Tuesday at two month lows. Bonds have benefited from all this uncertainty as investors retreat to the safety of the capital markets and mortgage rates have reaped the reward. The benchmark thirty-year fixed-rate fell below 5.50% to settle in at 5.375% on Tuesday. Remember it was only a couple of weeks ago when we were almost at 6.00%.

Fifteen year mortgage rates fell to 4.625%. There are no big economic reports due out this week and I expect mortgage rates will continue to simply respond to the ups and downs of equities and commodities on a daily basis. With no major market movers, expect rates to remain in the 5.375% range and perhaps ease if the sell-off in stock continues.