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.
We have had some good news on the housing front over the past week as the National Association of Homebuilders reported that builder confidence rose in September for the third consecutive month to its highest level since May of 2008. The Census Bureau also released a report on August home starts that showed builders broke ground on 598,000 new homes, up 1.5% from July.
The good news was tempered, however, by a surprising drop in the number of single family home starts. While overall starts were up, thanks to a resurgence in multi-family property starts, single-family starts actually fell 3% in August. Some analysts suggested the drop in single-family home starts could simply be an anomaly and point to the overall report as yet another sign that the housing market has bottomed.
Mortgage rates have continued to defy the rally in the stock market with the benchmark conforming thirty-year, fixed-rate settling in at 5.125% with no points. The fifteen year fixed also improved to just under 4.50% as the bond market continues to bet that the Federal Reserve will keep rates low for the foreseeable future. Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, has helped reaffirm this belief by stating that while the economy may be approaching the end of the recession the overall economy, and particularly job growth, are likely to remain weak for some time. With the apparent lack of any inflationary pressures on the horizon, the Fed is determined to keep monetary policy very accommodating to insure the economy does not slip back into recession. Over the short-run, I expect mortgage rates to remain in their current narrow range and could ease even further.
One late report out this week from the IRS said that, so far, 1.4 million first-time homebuyers have taken advantage of the $8,000 tax credit. The credit is due to expire on November 30th though there are already some calls from Congress that it should be extended. I’ll keep you posted.
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.
Mortgage rates have eased somewhat this week as weakness in the stock market has translated into higher demand for bonds. Stocks have been hit by a renewed sense of uncertainty as investors wonder if the rally over the last several months has gotten ahead of the economic realities. A stock’s loss is a bond’s gain and the thirty-year fixed mortgage rate now stands at 5.50%. Fifteen year fixed rates are just below 5% at 4.875%. The jumbo market continues to be nearly non-existent with thirty year rates for loans over $417,000 back over 7% with no relief in sight.
More signs the housing market is stabilizing could be found in a report released by the Census Bureau that showed housing starts jumped 17.2% in May to an annualized pace of 532,000 after a revised estimate of 454,000 in April. The data also revealed that new building permits rose by 4% in May. Other news, on the economy as a whole, showed inflation at the wholesale level remains in check with the Producer Price Index rising by a modest .2% last month. Economists had expected a rise of three times that at .6%. Year over year, wholesale prices have fallen by 5% – the largest annual rate of price decline since 1949.
There is a lot of talk in the media about the fact that financing for real estate is so difficult to obtain these days and it is true that underwriting and credit standards have tightened significantly. Yet most of the difficulties lie in the second home, investor and condo markets. For primary residence purchasers buying single family detached homes, however, times could not be better. Low rates are still with us ( yes 5.50% is low) there is an $8,000 first –time buyer tax credit, home prices are their lowest in years and mortgage programs abound. FHA , Rural Development and VA loans are still extremely attractive options with relaxed down payment, credit, and debt ratio requirements and offer repeat and first-time buyers alike an opportunity to take advantage of the amazing deals to be found right now. I would be happy to explain these programs in detail with anyone interested.