It’s no secret that the limited supply of homes for sale is the biggest issue facing the housing market today. From a short-term perspective, this month’s overall pace of housing starts, 1.32 million units, may modestly alleviate the supply shortage. Housing starts increased 1.9 percent month over month and are 10.9 percent higher compared with March 2017. Housing completions, the number of net new homes added to the housing stock, increased by 1.9 percent compared with a year ago, which provides some immediate relief for the supply shortage.
Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the employment situation report for March. Here are the headlines. Total non-farm payroll jobs increased by 103,000 in March. Total non-farm payroll jobs have increased every month since October 2010. Since that date, the U.S. economy has added more than 17.5 million jobs. The unemployment rate remained again unchanged at 4.1 percent, a 17-year low, and average hourly earnings are up 2.4 percent over a year ago for production and non-supervisory employees. While the number of jobs created may seem disappointing, the data continues to paint a positive picture of the economy, but those are not the numbers that really matter.
The end of 2017 brought mixed news for housing starts, according to Thursday’s release of December 2017 housing starts data, which marked the first report on national housing data this year.
This month, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will consider again whether to increase the benchmark Federal Funds Rate for a third time this year. As I stated when the FOMC was contemplating a rate increase earlier this year, increasing the short-term Federal Funds rate has little impact on longer term rates like the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage. But, more importantly, the FOMC may start reducing its $4.5 trillion portfolio of bonds purchased during the global financial crisis through various rounds of quantitative easing (QE). Almost 40 percent of that portfolio is mortgage backed securities (MBS) that the Fed started buying in 2009. As explained by the FOMC in June, the “Quantitative Un-Easing” plan, could begin at any point this year with the reduction of $4 billion a month in MBS. The pace of MBS sales would increase by $4 billion each quarter up to a maximum of $20 billion per month.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – the shortage of houses on the market is making it difficult for Americans to find homes to buy, which is especially concerning for the Millennial first-time home buyer. There are many possible reasons for the housing supply shortage, ranging from fear of paying a higher mortgage rate to insufficient equity keeping sellers at bay. Frequent readers of this blog will be familiar with our “prisoner’s dilemma” theory for the housing supply shortage.
As Hurricane Harvey’s flood waters finally recede, the degree of damage is becoming more apparent. The most recent estimates indicate that flood damage could be assessed as high as $37 billion and that 70 percent of that damage is to property that is uninsured. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), more than 30 counties and more than 100,000 properties have been impacted in some way. Harris County alone accounts for 68 percent of the affected or damaged properties. FEMA estimates that more than 12,000 properties in Harris County have major damage or are destroyed. When the flood waters are finally gone and all the costs are accounted for, Harvey is likely to be the costliest hurricane in U.S. history.
We’ve posted the June First American Loan Application Defect Index, which estimates the frequency of defects, fraudulence and misrepresentation in the information submitted in mortgage loan applications. The Defect Index increased 1.2 percent in June 2017 as compared with the previous month, and increased 16.7 percent as compared to June 2016. The Defect Index is down 17.6 percent from the high point of risk in October 2013.