Sometimes you'll see coverage of economic data that conforms to certain template with a predictable details and word counts. Rarely, the word count will reflect the pace of change in the underlying data series. That's what you're dealing with here. Existing home sales have been depressed since late 2022 and bouncing along the bottom ever since. Pending Home Sales is just another way to view the same problem. Instead of closed transactions, it measures contract signings, thus providing a sort of sneak peak and next month's Existing Home Sales potential. With that in mind, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Existing Sales slip back down after the monthly increase reported last week. Here's why: For those who are uncomfortable without a higher word count, here are a few regional bullet points showing the month over month and year over year change (%): Northeast + 0.8% (down 5.5% annually) Midwest - 7.6% (down 11.6% annually) South - 7.3% (down 9.0% annually) West +0.5% (down 7.0% annually)
The week ending February 23 produced the third consecutive period of declining mortgage activity. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) said its Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, decreased 5.6 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier and was down 3,0 percent before adjustment. The Refinance Index declined 7.0 percent from the previous week’s level and was 1.0 percent lower than the same week one year ago. The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 31.2 percent from 32.6 percent the previous week. [refiappschart] The Purchase Index was down 5.0 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis and 1.0 percent before adjustment. Volume was 12.0 percent lower than the same week one year ago. [purchaseappschart] “Mortgage rates were little changed last week, with the 30-year conforming rate declining slightly to 7.04 percent but remaining about a quarter percentage point higher than the start of the year,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s SVP and Chief Economist. “Higher rates in recent weeks have stalled activity, and last week it dropped more for those seeking FHA and VA refinances. Purchase activity is running 12 percent behind last year’s pace, but our JanuaryBuilder Application Survey results showed that applications to buy new homes were up 19 percent compared to last year. This disparity continues to highlight how the lack of existing inventory is the primary constraint to increases in purchase volume . However, mortgage rates above 7 percent sure don’t help.”
Despite the upward path of interest rates, both the CoreLogic Case-Shiller indices and the Housing Price Index (HPI) published by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) showed continued appreciation in home prices last year, although not at the double-digit rate seen during the pandemic and its immediate aftermath. While all indices showed annual gains, all also indicated a softening of the market in recent months. The Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, which covers all nine U.S. census divisions, reported a 5.5 percent annual gain in December, a half-point more than the annual gain in November. The 10-City Composite was up 7.0 percent compared to 6.3 percent the prior month and the 20-City Composite posted a year-over-year increase of 6.1 percent, up from 5.4 percent in November. San Diego reported the highest year-over-year gain among the 20 cities, 8.8 percent, It was followed by Los Angeles and Detroit, each at 8.3 percent. Portland showed a 0.3 percent increase this month, holding the lowest rank and reported the smallest year-over-year growth, however, this reversed 11 consecutive monthly losses. Non-seasonally adjusted month-over-month changes were all negative. The U.S. National Index was down 0.4 percent while the 20-City and 10-City Composites dipped 0.3 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively. After seasonal adjustment, all three indices eked out gains of 0.2 percent. “U.S. home prices faced significant headwinds in the fourth quarter of 2023,” says Brian D. Luke, Head of Commodities, Real & Digital Assets at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “However, on a seasonally adjusted basis, the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Indices continued its streak of seven consecutive record highs in 2023. Ten of 20 markets beat prior records.
With the market for existing homes struggling amid a lack of inventory, New Home Sales continue doing the heavy lifting for the housing market. Rather, New Home Sales are doing more to show a stronger relative performance to the pre-pandemic years. The market for existing homes is still far bigger, even at its weakest levels. But existing home sales data is so "last week." Today's release is specific to new homes, so let's zoom in. When we do, we can see new home sales remaining in the 2017-2019 range for nearly two years now. In other words, new residential sales continue chugging along without much fanfare since the initial supply glut and demand surge that followed covid-related lockdowns. There was quite a bit of variation depending on geography, which is often a result of ebbs and flows of weather events at this time of year. Here's how the chips fell in January by region: The Western region saw a huge 38.7% increase, moving from the lowest levels in 10 months to the highest levels in more than a year The Northeast saw and even larger 72% increase, but that's not saying as much given the vastly smaller unit count in that region The Midwest ticked up 7.7% month over month but remained well under July's peak The South decreased by 15.6% to the lowest levels in more than a year, but only slightly below November
Prospects for the spring market look a bit brighter as January numbers show an increase in both the pace of existing home sales and the size of the unsold inventory. The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) said sales of pre-owned single-family houses, townhomes, condominiums, and cooperative apartments were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.00 million. This was an increase of 3.1 percent from the December rate of 3.88 million and was 1.7 percent below the pace in January 2023. December sales figures were also revised slightly higher, cutting the previously reported year-over-year decline nearly in half to -3.7 percent. Single-family home sales rose from 3.48 million in December to 3.6 million, a gain of 3.4 percent, and remained lower year-over-year by 1.4 percent. Condo sales were flat at an annual rate of 400,000 and were 4.8 percent lower than one year earlier. Existing home sales beat analysts’ expectations, but not by much. The consensus forecast from Econoday was 3.97 million. “While home sales remain sizably lower than a couple of years ago, January’s monthly gain is the start of more supply and demand,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Listings were modestly higher, and home buyers are taking advantage of lower mortgage rates compared to late last year.” Those listings did expand in January, up 2.0 percent to 1.01 million units. This is estimated to be a 3.0-month supply at the current rate of sales, but that estimate is virtually unchanged from that in both December and January 2023. Properties typically remained on the market for 36 days in January, up from 29 days in December and 33 days in January 2023.
Higher interest rates continued to depress mortgage applications last week. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) said its Market Composite Index, a measure of application volume, decreased 10.6 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the week ended February 16. The volume declined 8.0 percent before adjustment. The Refinance Index declined by 11.0 percent compared to the previous week but eked out a 0.1 percent gain from the level one year earlier. Refinance applications accounted for 32.6 percent of the total, down from 34.0 percent the previous week. [refiappschart] The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index dropped 10 percent week-over-week and was down 6 percent before adjustment. Purchase applications lagged the same week in 2023 by 13.0 percent. [purchaseappschart] "Mortgage rates moved back above 7 percent last week following news that inflation picked up in January, dimming hopes of a near-term rate cut,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s SVP and Chief Economist. “Mortgage applications dropped as a result with a larger decline in refinance applications. Potential homebuyers are quite sensitive to these rate changes , as affordability is strained with both higher rates and higher home values in this supply-constrained market." Other Highlights from MBA’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey Loan sizes were changed only slightly, to an average of $381,800 for all submissions and $440,700 for purchase mortgages. The FHA share of applications decreased to 13.2 percent from 13.5 percent and the VA share decreased to 12.1 percent from 13.3 percent. USDA applications accounted for 0.5 percent of the total. The average contract interest rate for conforming 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRM) increased to 7.06 percent from 6.87 percent, with points inching up to 0.66 from 0.65. Thirty-year FRM with jumbo loan balances had a rate of 7.16 percent with 0.45 point. The prior week the rate was 7.00 percent with 0.39 point. The average rate for FHA-backed 30-year FRM jumped to 6.91 percent from 6.68 percent and points increased to 1.03 from 0.89. Fifteen-year FRM saw an increase of 8 basis points to an average rate of 6.61 percent while points dropped to 0.77 from 0.94. The average contract interest rate for 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM) increased to 6.37 percent from 6.30 percent, with points increasing to 0.71 from 0.60. The ARM share of activity increased from 7.0 to 7.4 percent of total applications.
Even though the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the third consecutive increase in its measure of home builder confidence, actual residential construction activity fell. The residential construction report for January shows both the rate of permitting and housing starts declined from the previous month, the second straight loss for starts. The U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development said construction began on residential properties at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.331 million units. This was down 14.8 percent from the December rate of 1.562 million. The December rate was, however, a substantial upgrade from the 1.460 million units originally reported. On a year-over-year basis, starts were almost flat, with a decline of 0.7 percent. Single-family starts fell 4.7 percent to an annual rate of 1.004 million units but that was an improvement of 22.0 percent from the prior January. Multifamily starts, at 314,000 units, were down 35.8 percent from December and 37.9 percent on an annual basis. On an unadjusted basis, the report says there were 93,700 units started during the month, 68,700 of them single-family houses. The December numbers were 108,800 and 72,300, respectively. The setback for permitting was more modest. Total authorizations were at an annual rate of 1.470 million, a 1.5 percent dip from 1.493 million in December and an increase of 8.6 percent for the year. The 1.015-million-unit rate for single-family houses marked a 1.6 percent gain for the month and 35.7 percent year-over-year. The permitting rate for multifamily units dropped 9.0 percent and 26.6 percent.
Higher mortgage rates hindered application activity during the week ended February 9. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) said its Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, decreased 2.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier although it did gain 2.0 percent on an unadjusted basis. The Refinance Index was 2,0 percent lower than the prior week and 12.0 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The refinancing share of mortgage applications made up 34.2 percent of the total, down from 35.4 percent the previous week. [refiappschart] The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 3.0 percent from one week earlier and was 4.0 percent higher before adjustment. The number of applications declined by 12 percent year-over-year. [purchaseappschart] “Application activity was weaker last week, as mortgage rates moved higher across the board. The 30year fixed mortgage rate was up to 6.87 percent – the highest rate since early December 2023,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Vice President and Deputy Chief Economist. “Purchase applications remained subdued as elevated rates continue to add to affordability challenges along with still-low existing housing inventory. Refinance applications declined and remained depressed, with rates still higher than a year ago .” Additional Data from MBA’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey The overall size of mortgage loans increased only slightly from the previous week to an average of $382,000 but the purchase mortgage amount jumped to $441,300 from $434,800. The FHA share of applications increased to 13.4 percent from 13.1 percent and the VA share dipped 1 percentage point to 13.1 percent. The USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.4 percent. The conforming mortgage interest rate of 6.87 percent was 7 basis points higher than the prior week and points increased to 0.65 from 0.59. The average rate for jumbo 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRM) was 7.00 percent, up from 6.88 percent, with points decreasing to 0.39 from 0.47. The 30-year FRM with FHA guarantees had a rate of 6.68 percent with 0.89 point. The prior week's rates averaged 6.57 percent with 0.84 point. The average for 15-year FRM jumped 12 basis points to 6.53 percent and points moved to 0.94 from 0.71. The rate for 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) rose to 6.30 percent from 6.14 percent, with points increasing to 0.6 from 0.48. The ARM share of activity increased to 7.0 percent of total applications from 6.4 percent the prior week.
Mortgage application volume rose modestly during the week as mortgage rates marked time. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) said its Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, increased 3.7 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis compared to the previous period, a week in which the data contained an adjustment to account for the MLK holiday. On an unadjusted basis, the Index increased 8.0 percent week-over-week. The Refinance Index gained 12.0 percent from the previous week and was 1.0 percent higher than the same week in 2023. Refinancing accounted for 35.4 percent of the week’s volume, up from 34.2 percent the previous week. [refiappschart] The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index ticked down 1.0 percent and was 6.0 percent higher before adjustment. Volume was 19 percent below its level during the same week one year ago. [purchaseappschart] “Mortgage rates have stayed close to where they started the year, despite swings in Treasury yields because of slowing inflation offset by stronger than expected readings on the job market. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate was 6.8 percent, a slight increase from last week,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Vice President and Deputy Chief Economist. “Rates at these levels have not prompted much of a reaction in the refinance market, as most homeowners have mortgages with much lower rates. However, purchase activity has been strong to start 2024 compared to the final quarter of 2023. However, activity is still weaker than a year ago because of low housing supply.”
Pending home sales surged last month, far exceeding analysts’ expectations. The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) said its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) rose 8.3 percent compared to November. December’s PHSI reading of 77.3 was 1.3 percent higher than a year earlier. The PHSI is based on the number of contracts to purchase single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and cooperative apartments. It is viewed as a leading indicator of home sales over the ensuing few months. NAR will publish its report on January’s existing home sales on February 22. Analysts polled by Econoday had forecast an increase in the PHSI of 1.3 percent. Perhaps because the PHSI posted no change from October to November, the estimates were unusually broad, ranging from an increase of 0.7 percent to 3.9 percent. Trading Economics was slightly closer to the mark with a consensus forecast of 1.5 percent. “The housing market is off to a good start this year, as consumers benefit from falling mortgage rates and stable home prices,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Job additions and income growth will further help with housing affordability, but increased supply will be essential to satisfying all potential demand.” Except for the Northeast, regional returns were mostly positive. The PHSI in the Northeast dropped 3.0 percent from last month to 62.3, an annual decline of 3.9 percent. The Midwest index rose 5.6 percent to 80.5, up 4.3 percent from one year ago.