Posts Tagged ‘Commerce Department’

House Prices At 2002 Levels

Monday, May 14th, 2012

The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index of 20 cities revealed a 3.5 percent decline when compared with last year.  Home prices are now at their lowest levels since November 2002.  “Nine (housing markets) hit post-bubble lows,” said David Blitzer, spokesman for S&P, including Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Las Vegas and New York.  “While there might be pieces of good news in this report, such as some improvement in many annual rates of return, February 2012 data confirm that, broadly-speaking, home prices continued to decline in the early months of the year,” Blitzer said.

The primary challenge continues to be foreclosures and other distressed property sales, according to Pat Newport, an analyst for IHS Global Insight.  “We still have six million homeowners who are late on their payments,” he said.  “We’ll still have lots of foreclosures, which will depress prices.”  The good news is that some of the worst hit of the index’s 20 cities appear to be on the mend.

“Some (cities) which have declined considerably over the last five to six years now have begun to exhibit an uptick in home prices,” said Luis Vergara, a director with Mission Capital Advisors.  Phoenix prices climbed 3.3 percent year-over-year.  Miami recorded a gain of 0.8 percent over 2011.  Even Las Vegas appears to be turning more positive, with home prices down only 8.5 percent, compared with a drop of nine percent in January.

The weakening may be due to the typical pattern of minimal interest during winter and greater interest in housing during the spring and summer. According to S&P, the unadjusted series is a more reliable indicator.  House prices have fallen by more than one-third from their peak when the bubble burst.  The glut of distressed properties on the market have slowed the market, as has the unemployment rate and tough credit conditions, which have offset the benefit of mortgage rates near or at record lows.

“The broad prospect for home prices is at best flat over the course of the year,” said Tom Porcelli, chief economist at RBC Capital Markets.  “And as much as we have had progress with the supply and demand imbalance, it is still a challenge to gather any momentum here.”

According to the Commerce Department, March home sales fell 7.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted 328,000-unit annual rate.  February’s sales pace was revised higher to 353,000 units, the best showing since November of 2009, from the previously reported 313,000 units.  “The conditions in housing are still extremely weak, but there are some very subtle, less negative, signs suggesting stabilization there,” said Sean Incremona, economist at 4Cast Ltd.

Stabilizing home values are necessary for a sustained rebound in the housing industry by giving prospective buyers confidence. Near record-low borrowing costs and additional hiring may help the market absorb foreclosures, which may mean housing will no longer hinder economic growth.  “Mortgage rates are very, very low, but you really need to see strong job growth,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates, Inc.  “It’s still a very long way to go before we get a full recovery.”

The latest reports indicate that homebuilders are still trying to get back on their feet.  The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo sentiment index in April declined to a three-month low.  This measure of anticipated sales for the next six months was not good news.  Sales of existing houses fell in March for the third time in the last four months.  Home purchases fell 2.6 percent to a 4.48 million annual rate from 4.6 million in February, according to the National Association of Realtors.  The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hit an all-time low of 3.87 percent in February and was little changed at 3.90 percent in the week ended April 19, according to Freddie Mac.

Writing for the Index Universe website, Cinthia Murphy says that “A number of encouraging economic indicators such as an improving job market and slowly growing demand for homes loom as factors that some hope should start to help underpin housing values, even if consumer confidence remains low for now.  A clear recovery in housing is deemed crucial for a full-fledged economic recovery in the U.S. after the credit crisis of 2008 sent housing as well as the financial markets sharply lower.  U.S. housing was at the center of that crisis, and much of the developed world remains mired in slow, debt-constrained, growth.

Michael Feder, CEO of Radar Logic, a real estate data and analytics firm, thinks Case-Shiller is underselling the momentum in the housing recovery. Radar Logic’s 25-city index, which tracks daily activity, is expected to show a month-over-month increase of nearly two percent during February, Feder said.  The difference frequently comes when the market is turning, though Feder acknowledges that the mild winter may have created some demand.  Another thing to look at is investment buyers coming into the market, which Feder believes could create something of a “mini-bubble” in prices given their willingness to pay premiums.  News of that willingness spreads pretty quickly.  While it can draw in some fence-sitters who have been waiting for a bottom, there is little evidence of that to date, Feder said.

Increased Consumer Spending Lifts U.S. 2010 GDP

Monday, February 7th, 2011

road-sign-blogThe United States’ 2010 GDP soared at an annualized rate of 3.2 percent, as consumer spending rose by the greatest levels in four years.   “The consumer really drove the economy in the 4th quarter,” said Guy LeBas, chief fixed-income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC in Philadelphia.  “The economy has moved beyond recovery to a stable state of growth.”  For all of 2010, the economy expanded 2.9 percent — the biggest one-year jump in five years — after contracting 2.6 percent in 2009.  The volume of all goods and services produced climbed to $13.38 trillion, for the first time surpassing the pre-recession peak reached in the 4th quarter of 2007.  Tiffany & Co. saw a significant increase in the sale of fine jewelry.  Apple reported record 4th quarter sales as consumers bought 7.73 million iPads as holiday gifts.  Ford Motor Company’s sales have been so good that the automaker plans to add an additional 7,000 manufacturing jobs over the next two years.  The automaker, which did not undergo bankruptcy, did lay off some salaried employees in 2008 as part of a restructuring in the face of slumping sales.

Exports also helped boost the American economy which should boost job creation over the next several years.  “The U.S. is expected to be one of the fastest growing developed countries in 2011, largely reflecting the contrast of the ongoing stimulus with other countries, such as the U.K. and other heavily indebted European nations, where austerity measures designed to reduce deficits are stifling domestic demand,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, a London-based research firm.  “The acceleration of the U.S. GDP in the 4th quarter, and the changing composition of growth, raises hope that the economic recovery will move into a more self-sustaining phase in 2011 and generate sufficient jobs to reduce unemployment.”

Even the Federal Reserve, which renewed its commitment earlier this week to buying $600 billion in government bonds, agrees that the report shows the economy ended 2010 with moderate strength and breadth, but not enough to bring down the 9.4 percent unemployment rate anytime soon.  Personal consumption spending contributed slightly more than three percent to 4th quarter growth.  That is in line with retailers’ reports showing a respectable holiday shopping season.   Whether that level of spending holds up remains to be seen.  Many retailers remain cautious in their forecasts and report that consumers are still bargain-hunting.  As gasoline prices rise, disposable income may be limited.

Alter Now does see it as important to note the correlation with an overall increase in consumer credit debt in December, the first spike since 2008.  According to the Fed, overall consumer credit debt rose by 6.1 billion, or 3.0%, to $2.41 trillion while revolving credit debt (primarily from credit cards) rose by $2.3 billion (3.5%) to $800.5 billion. No revolving credit rose by $3.8 billion, or 2.8%, to $1.61 trillion.  While the spike in GDP is good news, let us remember that it is still being driven by deficit spending.

Compare the U.S. GDP with that of other nations last year and it’s clear who is winning.  China, for example, is expected to report an 8.5 percent jump in its GDP, not unexpected in the world’s fastest growing economy.  Japan’s real GDP was 3.9 percent higher in annualized terms for the 3rd quarter, beating estimates for a 2.5 percent rise for the year.

In the U.K., the economy shrank by 0.5 percent in the 4th quarter, compared with a 0.7 percent increase in the 3rd quarter.   By contrast, the nation with Europe’s largest economy – Germany – recorded a 3.6 percent growth rate in its GDP in 2010. 

Economic Free Fall Slows During Second Quarter of 2009

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Finally, there’s encouraging news on the economic front.  The economy declined just one percent during the second quarter of 2009, a rosier report than was expected.  It is the strongest signal so far that the longest recession since the end of World War II is easing its grip.

In a report issued by the Department of Commerce covering the quarter from April through June, the one percent drop in the GDP stands in stark contrast to the 6.4 percent free fall thatpromoting_sustainable_economic_growth characterized the first quarter of 2009.  That was the biggest decline in almost 30 years.  The economy shrank for four straight quarters for the first time since 1947, evidence of how severely the recession has hurt consumers and companies.

“The recession looks to  have largely bottomed in the spring,” said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors.  “Businesses have made most of the adjustments they needed to make, and that will set up the economy to resume growing in the summer.”

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke believes the recession will end towards the end of the year.  The Obama administration’s stimulus program that combines tax cuts with government spending enhanced second quarter economic activity.  Economists believe the stimulus will have a greater impact through the second half of the year, and even in 2010.

The job market is expected to remain weak.  The current 9.5 percent unemployment rate marks a 26-year high, and the Fed expects it to top 10 percent by year’s end.  Companies will remain cautious about hiring until they are convinced that the recession is officially in the past.

2nd Quarter 2008 Economic Update

Friday, August 1st, 2008

The 2nd quarter of 2008 ended with a slight economic rebound – an extremely lethargic one – that raises new fears of a recession.  The Commerce Department reported that the GDP increased at an annual rate of just 1.9 percent from April through June.  Although an improvement over the feeble 0.9 percent reported during the 1st quarter, the number was not as positive as the 2.4 percent increase that economists had predicted.

While any improvement is a welcome sign, the increase also indicates the fragile nature of the economy.  The numbers indicate that the recent income-tax rebate stimulus package did not work the magic that the government expected.  This news only leads to fears that the economy will remain unstable for the rest of the year, further curtailing capital expenditures by corporations and lengthening the credit crunch.

According to the federal government’s annualized revisions, the GDP actually contracted by 0.2 percent during the last three months of 2007.  That reflects the negative impact of the ongoing housing slump – the worst in 26 years – and cautious consumer spending because people are wary of purchasing big-ticket items just now.

It’s true that consumer spending rose 1.5 percent during the 2nd quarter, an improvement over the 0.9 percent reported during the 1st quarter.  This was the best showing since the 3rd quarter of 2007, when the economy was still performing strongly despite the housing slump.