I am not suggesting that there are not any issues or concerns that remain regarding housing, it is just that it has become very clear that housing is improving and with each passing month, the data appears to support the notion of a recovery.
Despite the fact that interest rates have come off their new record lows, buyers are growing in numbers in the new home market. The number of serious buyers exploring properties with the nation’s homebuilders continues to rise with the housing market index moving up by one point in October.
Trends in current sales and especially in expectations of future sales have been sloping steeply higher this year. The big surprise has been the significant increase in buyer traffic as it is at its highest level since the boom days of 2006.
Further evidence of housing improvement is in the recent release of stronger-than-expected growth of both housing starts and permit in the latest report. The September housing starts report is up 34.8% from a year ago.
Imagine all of this is happening while many of the other economic reports are headed in the wrong direction. This week First Time Jobless claims jumped back up to 388,000, which is higher than we have seen in recent weeks. Before we begin to panic, we must recognize that this weekly report has had large movements over the last few months and a consistent rise in claims has not been seen. The reports seem to vary significantly week to week.
Mortgage rates have been climbing for the last 2 weeks and the impact is being seen in the number of people refinancing. Last week the MBA reported that refinance applications declined by 5%. Purchase applications increased slightly which continues to validate the improving housing picture.
Who should care about the “Fiscal Cliff”? How about everyone! Whether Congress “kicks the can down the road” or whether it actually resolves the issues remains to be seen (there are rumors that some in Congress are taking breaths between campaign speeches and actually addressing the issue), but the issues created by the government bear some elaboration. In fact, unless measures are taken some believe that if the “worst case scenario” happens, Jan. 1 may see the biggest shock to the economy since the financial crisis four years ago. On that day, policy changes will cause federal spending to fall, and federal taxes to rise, by a combined $607 billion in 2013 alone. The magnitude and abruptness of the changes gave rise to the name “fiscal cliff.” This isn’t the result of new laws – it is the result of poorly thought out impending changes reflecting how existing laws, some passed more than a decade ago, were designed to play out.
First, we have the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts. Congress and President Bush signed tax cuts into law in 2001 and 2003. The legislation was championed as tax reform but came with a distinct limitation: Rather than being made permanent, each round of cuts was designed to expire at the end of 2010 to conform to budget rules. In late 2010, Congress and President Obama extended the tax cuts for two years to avoid the looming expiration. Now both are set to expire again on Jan. 1. If they do, federal taxes will increase by $221 billion next year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Second, we have the expiration of the payroll tax cut. A one-year payroll tax cut was passed in Dec. 2010, reducing taxes on the majority of working Americans by 2%. The cut was extended for an additional year last December and expires again on Jan. 1. It will raise taxes by $95 billion next year. Third, we have budget-deal spending cuts. As part of last summer’s deal to raise the debt ceiling, both parties agreed to form a bipartisan “super-committee” tasked with cutting $1.2 trillion in spending over a decade. If the committee failed that task, $1.2 trillion in automatic spending sequestration would take effect over nine years. The sequestration slashes indiscriminately across government programs in an attempt to prod legislators into action. Alas, it didn’t work. The super-committee didn’t reach a deal, so sequestration begins Jan. 1. The White House estimates it will reduce federal spending by $109 billion in 2013. And on top of all that there is an expiration of extended unemployment benefits, a big cut to Medicare providers, and a laundry list of expiring tax deductions are set to hit Jan. 1. Add it all up, and we’re talking policy changes equal to about 4% of the economy.
What is the impact on mortgage rates and housing of this Fiscal Cliff stuff? Most analysts think that we would avoid most of the scheduled rise in payroll tax rates set for early next year. But as time has passed that assumption is now looking less tenable: leaders in both political parties have voiced a desire for the payroll tax holiday to expire as scheduled at year-end. If there is an increase in payroll taxes in the first quarter, it will lead to a decline in disposable personal income. That would be a negative for our economy – do we really think that the government is more efficient than individuals in spending? If there is a significant adverse effect on consumption growth in the first half of next year, watch for a slow-down in the economy. Typically, this would lead to lower rates. However, the disappointment in the marketplace, and in the U.S. Government, may cause monies to flow elsewhere, especially if Europe seems to be making headway with its problems, eventually pushing rates higher.
Video-Business and Filming Growth in the City of Santa Clarita with Jason Crawford
Next week’s economic reports are:
- Wednesday October 24th – MBA Applications, FOMC Announcement and New Home Sales
- Thursday October 18th – First Time Jobless Claims and Durable Goods Orders
- Friday October 19th – GDP
As your mortgage professional, I am happy to assist you with any information you may need regarding mortgage or real estate information. I welcome the opportunity to serve you in any way I possibly can.