According to The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Applications Survey, demand for loans to purchase homes reached its highest level since January 13 after rising 4.4 percent last week. It is the third consecutive week of improvements and puts purchase applications nearly 12 percent above where they were last month. Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s vice president of research and economics, said the increase in purchase applications coincided with another strong job market report but applications remain essentially unchanged from last year’s levels. The Market Composite Index, which measures total mortgage loan application volume, was down 2.4 percent due to a dip in the Refinance Index. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances was unchanged from last week. More here.
Barclays Capital recently upgraded their outlook on homebuilder stocks based on increased optimism in the housing market. Improvements in builder and consumer confidence, combined with economic growth and more favorable inventory levels, have homebuilders expecting a strong spring and summer for housing. Stephen Kim, an analyst with Barclays, says the spring selling season has arrived strongly enough to kick-start a positive feedback loop in housing for the first time since 2005. Barclays analysts expect 1 million housing starts by 2013 and gradual price increases over the next few years. More here and here.
The economy added 227,000 jobs in February and surpassed economists’ expectations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment improved in professional and business services, health care and social assistance, leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, and mining. The official unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.3 percent. The gains make it seven-straight months with at least 100,000 jobs added, which is the longest streak since 2005. Continued improvement in the labor market, combined with high affordability and increasing consumer confidence, is key to a significant and sustained housing-market recovery. More here and here.
Sales of distressed properties, including short sales and REO transactions, put downward pressure on home prices. For this reason, CoreLogic’s Home Price Index measures values including and excluding distressed sales. In January, the index showed a month-over-month decline of 1.0 percent and a 3.1 percent slide from January 2011. But, when excluding distressed sales from the equation, home prices actually gained 0.7 percent from December and dropped less than one percent from the year before. CoreLogic’s price index measures increases and decreases in sales prices for the same homes over time rather than basing their data on all home sales. More here.
Each month, Fannie Mae’s National Housing Survey polls Americans to assess their attitudes toward homeownership, renting, mortgage rates, the economy, their personal finances, and overall consumer confidence. February’s survey found respondents’ attitudes stabilizing and more confident in the economy and housing market. Among the highlights, the number of participants who said the economy was on the right track increased 5 percent from January and has risen 19 percent since November. The percentage of people who say it’s on the wrong track dropped by 6 percent. Also, Americans expect home prices to rise approximately one percent in the next year and the number who say now is a good time to sell a house is at its highest level in over a year. Among respondents, 70 percent said now was a good time to buy a home and 65 percent said they’d prefer to purchase their next home rather than rent. Doug Duncan, vice president and chief economist of Fannie Mae, said the pickup in hiring over the past few months has helped soothe consumer concerns regarding their personal finances, the direction of the economy, and their views of the housing market. More here.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Applications Survey, the seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 2.1 percent from the week before as average mortgage rates dipped. Despite the continued improvement in demand for loan applications to purchase homes, the Market Composite Index, which measures total mortgage loan demand, was down 1.2 percent. Also, the Refinance Index fell 2.0 percent from the week before. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances fell to 4.06 percent from 4.07 percent the previous week. The 30-year rate for jumbo loans was down to 4.33 percent. More here.
Clear Capital’s latest Home Data Index finds the rate at which home prices are declining has begun to improve. In February, home prices were just 1.9 percent below year-before levels, the slowest rate of decline since April 2011. Regionally, home prices were down in the West and Midwest, while values were flat in the South and up slightly in the Northeast. On a quarterly basis, prices showed even more stability. Nationally, home prices were down 0.6 percent quarter-over-quarter. Dr. Alex Villacorta, director of research and analytics at Clear Capital, said improvements in the job market, stronger consumer confidence, and heightened activity in the lower-price tiers put upward pressure on prices and could explain recent resiliency. More here and here.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Department of the Treasury released their February 2012 Housing Scorecard, which compiles key market data and the results of the administration’s recovery efforts through the end of January. According to the report, the supply of existing homes currently for sale would take 6.1 months to sell and the number of new homes on the market represents a 5.6 month supply, the lowest level since 2006. In addition to falling inventory levels, existing-home sales rose to their highest pace since May 2010 and home prices dipped during the month. Also, recent enhancements to the Home Affordable Refinance Program resulted in another 300,000 families beginning the process of refinancing their homes. More here and here.
Periodically, the Federal Reserve collects economic data from the 12 Fed districts around the country and releases the findings in a report known as the Beige Book. In its latest report, which includes data through February 17, the Fed says economic activity has continued to increase at a modest pace and noted improvements in residential real estate, banking, and lending services. The Beige Books says most parts of the country saw increases in housing activity, growth in home sales, and returned forecasts of further improvement for this year. And though home prices were mostly flat or down in many areas, gains in home sales will clear existing inventory and pave the way for price increases. The report also found varying rates of single-family residential construction and building permits around the country and increases in lending and demand for mortgages were seen in areas such as New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco. More here and here.