Mortgage Rates Drop, Reaching Another All-Time Low

While the rebound in the economy is uneven, one segment that is exhibiting strength is the housing market. Purchase demand activity is up over twenty percent from a year ago, the highest since January 2009. Mortgage rates have hit another record low due to declining inflationary pressures, putting many homebuyers in the buying mood. However, it will be difficult to sustain the momentum in demand as unsold inventory was at near record lows coming into the pandemic and it has only dropped since then.

Week of June 15th, 2020 in Review

The number of people filing for unemployment for the first time remains in the millions, with another 1.5 million individuals filing claims during the week ending June 13. While this was a decline from the previous week’s initial jobless claims, the figure did exceed estimates, and points to an estimated staggering 16% unemployment rate currently.

The housing sector saw some positive news, however, as the NAHB Housing Market Index confirmed that confidence among home builders has been on the rise in June. All three components of the index, including current sales conditions, future expectations and prospective buyer traffic saw improvement when compared to the readings in May.

Meanwhile, Housing Starts were up 4.3% in May, though this was much less than the 22% expected. Building Permits, on the other hand, were 14% higher, beating estimates of a 10% gain. Low home loan rates have helped the demand for housing, and the high number of building permits could lead to stronger readings in Housing Starts this summer. However, there is an important caveat to keep in mind, as noted below.

Retail Sales were also on the rebound in May, while manufacturing in both the New York and Philadelphia regions have seen big improvements in June. The Cass Freight Index, which measures freight activity, also showed some improvement in May. However, the uptick was less than anticipated due in part to the reopening schedule unfolding slower than anticipated. Cass Freight forecasts a return to 2019 freight activity levels in 2021.

Lastly, the Fed was in the news again, announcing that they would be buying corporate bonds on top of the exchange-traded funds they are already buying. The Fed will begin buying a broad and diversified portfolio of corporate bonds to support market liquidity and the availability of credit for large employers. The program will allow for the purchase of up to $750 billion worth of corporate credit with maturities of 5 years or less.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell testified on Capitol Hill that the program fulfills a pledge the Fed made previously, and he noted that the program is not an effort to take over the market. He reiterated that the Fed will adjust their bond buying based on market conditions.

Unemployment Figures Still Staggering

Another 1.5 million people filed for unemployment benefits for the first time during the week ending June 13. Though this was a decline from the previous week, the number of claims filed was 300,000 higher than estimates. California (+243K), Georgia (+131K) and New York (+96K) saw the biggest gains.

Continuing claims, which measure people who continue to receive benefits, decreased by only 62,000 to 20.5 million. This figure is backwards looking, so when we add the following two weeks of initial claims, there are roughly 23.5 million people receiving benefits.

In addition, when we factor in the amount of new and continuing claims and the number of people in the labor force, we estimate that the unemployment rate is currently 16%. And when we try to estimate how many new jobs the Paycheck Protection Program has temporarily created; we think that the unemployment rate could be closer to 19% without it.

Builder Confidence Rebounds in June

Builder confidence has been on the rebound in June, per the NAHB Housing Market Index. This real-time read on builder confidence increased by the largest one-month increase ever, rising 21 points from 37 in May to 58 in June (after plunging all the way to 30 in April).

There was improvement from May to June in all three components of the survey. Current sales conditions jumped 21 points to 63, future expectations were up by 22 points to 68 and prospective buyer traffic almost doubled from 22 to 43. Keep in mind that 50 is the baseline, with readings above 50 signaling expansion and below 50 contraction. So, while this was a good rebound, it’s still well below the numbers we were seeing just a few months ago before the pandemic, which were in the high 70’s. And prospective buyer traffic is still below the baseline reading and in contraction.

The NAHB noted the urban to suburban move being made by many, saying, “Builders report increasing demand for families seeking single family homes in inner and outer suburbs that feature lower density neighborhoods.”

The limited inventory of existing homes certainly helps the demand for new homes, as does low home loan rates. But there is a caveat, as the NAHB explained, “Elevated unemployment and the risk of new, local virus outbreaks remain a risk to the housing market.”

Construction Off to Slower “Start” Than Expected

Housing Starts were up only 4.3% in May, which was much less than the 22%

expected. They were also down 23% when compared to May of last year. Starts for single family homes were flat and saw no gain.

Building Permits, on the other hand, shot up 14%, which was better than the 10% increase expected (though they are still down 9% when compared to last May). Permits for single family homes were up 12%.

Many people thought Housing Starts would rebound sooner, but builders were not purchasing land because they thought that demand for housing would return more slowly. In addition, available labor and material costs were an issue. But with Building Permits on the rise, Housing Starts may really rebound in June and moving forward. Again, as noted above, low home loan rates will help with demand, but continued high unemployment and potential future outbreaks of the virus will also be a limiting factor.

Retail Sales and Manufacturing on the Upswing

Retail Sales in May were up 17.7% after falling 14.7% in April – more than double the expected 8% gain. Clothing and accessories stores reported a whopping 188% gain, while furniture stores (+89.7%) and sporting goods, hobby, musical instruments and bookstores (+88.2%) also saw big improvements. We will see how these figures continue to change and hopefully improve as states continue to reopen.  

Manufacturing in the New York region also saw a big improvement, as the Empire State Index rose from -48.5 to flat in June. The Philadelphia Fed Index was another positive sign for manufacturing in that region, with June’s reading reported at 27.5, greatly exceeding expectations of -22.7. 

Family Hack of the Week

Summer vacation plans have changed for many people this year, especially trips that involved long flights. If you’re considering a road or day trip, our friends at Real Simple offer these tips to help your family travel safely.

Before heading out, check for local, state and regional updates, as states and localities are in different phases of re-opening. Be prepared as well in case things change during longer trips.

Pack a kit for all members of your family, including gloves, hand sanitizer and masks (which are required in some places). Also, bring plenty of drinks, snacks and meals to limit any unnecessary stops. Experts recommend wearing gloves when pumping gas and throwing them away as soon as you’re done.

Choose outdoor activities and restaurants with outdoor seating, as they are great and safer options for your family to spend time together and also enjoy the summer weather.

If you’ll be staying overnight somewhere, don’t be shy about using antibacterial wipes on high-traffic surfaces like light switches, door handles, bathroom sinks and remote controls. And once you get home, disinfect anything you brought with you, including suitcase, coolers, backpacks and purses.

These tips will help your family enjoy outings safely this summer! 

What to Look for This Week

More housing news is on the way, as we’ll get the scoop on May’s Existing Home Sales on Monday and New Home Sales on Tuesday. The FHFA Home Price Index for April follows on Wednesday.

The end of the week is equally busy, with the revised reading for first quarter GDP, May Durable Goods Orders and the latest weekly Initial Jobless Claims all being reported Thursday. Friday brings the Fed’s favorite inflation reading, Personal Consumption Expenditures, along with Personal Income and Spending for May and Consumer Sentiment for June.

Technical Picture

The Fed continues to stabilize the markets with their ongoing purchases of Mortgage Backed Securities. Mortgage Bonds spent much of last week trading in a tight range between support at their 25-day moving average and resistance at their 50-day moving average. While the 50-day has proved to be a tough ceiling for Bonds to break above, this narrow range means a breakout one way or the other is coming. 

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