Monday Market Update – 05/16/2022

Mortgage Rates Continue to Increase

Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey as of May 12, 2022

Homebuyers continue to show resilience even though rising mortgage rates are causing monthly payments to increase by about one-third as compared to a year ago. Several factors are contributing to this dynamic, including the large wave of first-time homebuyers looking to realize the dream of homeownership. In the months ahead, we expect monetary policy and inflation to discourage many consumers, weakening purchase demand and decelerating home price growth.

Opinions, estimates, forecasts, and other views contained in this document are those of Freddie Mac’s economists and other researchers, do not necessarily represent the views of Freddie Mac or its management, and should not be construed as indicating Freddie Mac’s business prospects or expected results. Although the authors attempt to provide reliable, useful information, they do not guarantee that the information or other content in this document is accurate, current or suitable for any particular purpose. All content is subject to change without notice. All content is provided on an “as is” basis, with no warranties of any kind whatsoever. Information from this document may be used with proper attribution. Alteration of this document or its content is strictly prohibited. © 2022 by Freddie Mac ©2022 by Freddie Mac.

Week of May 9, 2022 in Review

Inflation remains hot on both the consumer and wholesale levels. Here are the key stories to note:

  • Consumer Inflation Near 40-year Highs
  • Wholesale Inflation Remains Elevated
  • Initial Jobless Claims Rise for Second Straight Week
  • Small Business Expectations for Better Business Conditions Hits 48-year Low
  • Fed Chair Jerome Powell Confirmed for Second Term

Consumer Inflation Near 40-year Highs

The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures inflation on the consumer level, rose 0.3% in April, just above the expected 0.2% gain. On an annual basis, CPI eased slightly from March’s reading of 8.5% (which was the hottest reading in 41 years) to 8.3%. While the year over year figure did decline, it was hotter than the 8.1% expected. Core CPI, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, rose by 0.6%, coming in hotter than the 0.4% gain expected. Year over year, Core CPI decreased from 6.5% to 6.2% but was higher than the 6% anticipated.

What’s the bottom line? Not only does inflation lead to higher costs of goods, but it is also the arch enemy of fixed investments like Mortgage Bonds because it erodes the buying power of a Bond’s fixed rate of return. If inflation is rising, investors demand a rate of return to combat the faster pace of erosion due to inflation, causing interest rates to rise as we’ve seen this year.

In addition, within the report, rents rose 0.6% in April and increased 4.8% on a year over year basis. While this data has started to increase, the CPI report is still not capturing the double digit increases year over year that many other rent reports are showing.

Wholesale Inflation Remains Elevated

The Producer Price Index (PPI), which measures inflation on the wholesale level, rose 0.5% in April. On a year over year basis, PPI declined from 11.2% (which is the highest level on record since the methodology for collecting data was changed in 2010) to 11%. Core PPI, which also strips out food and energy prices, came in below expectations with a 0.4% increase in April. The year over year figure decreased from 9.6% to 8.8%.

What’s the bottom line? Producer inflation remains elevated, which often leads to hotter consumer inflation levels, as producers pass those higher costs along to consumers.

Initial Jobless Claims Rise for Second Straight Week

 jobless claims (4)

Initial Jobless Claims rose by 1,000 in the latest week, as the number of people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time was reported at 203,000. The previous week’s level was also revised higher by 2,000. Continuing Claims, which measure people who continue to receive benefits after their initial claim is filed, fell by 44,000 to 1.34 million. This is the lowest number of Continuing Claims since January 1970.

What’s the bottom line? Unemployment claims are extremely low and the labor market remains tight. But once we start to see claims pick up, especially initial claims, this could be a signal that the economy is slowing. Even though the latest increase in initial claims is minor, they have risen over the past two weeks. This is something we need to keep a close eye on as it’s an early indicator for the unemployment rate.

Small Business Expectations for Better Business Conditions Hits 48-year Low

April’s National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Optimism Index was unchanged from March, with the index overall remaining at its weakest level in two years. Inflation remains an issue for small business owners, with 32% reporting it’s their biggest problem at present. Though companies that expect higher selling prices fell 2 points to 70%, this follows the highest reading in the survey’s history of 72% in March.  

What’s the bottom line? Owners expecting better business conditions over the next six months fell 1 point to a -50%, which is the lowest level in the 48-year history of the survey. Given that we have experienced several recessions, a housing bubble and the COVID pandemic over the last 50 years, the fact that owners are feeling so negative right now could be yet another indicator that we may be headed for a recession.

Also of note, the Cass Freight Index, which is a monthly measure of the North American freight market, was down 2.6% month over month in April and down 0.5% year over year. It’s possible that this reading includes some indirect impact from Chinese lockdowns, but we’ll likely see more of the direct impact in upcoming readings. Freight volume is an extremely reliable early-recession indicator, so it’s important to closely monitor future reports.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell Confirmed for Second Term

Fresh off the heels of being confirmed as Fed Chair for a second term in a 4 to 1 vote, Jerome Powell said in an interview with Marketplace that he couldn’t promise a “soft landing.” This means he can’t promise that the Fed can slowdown or tighten the economy in their attempt to bring inflation under control while avoiding a recession.

Powell said, “So it will be challenging, it won’t be easy. … Nonetheless, we think there are pathways … for us to get there.”

This is a big shift in tone from previous statements he’s made. Originally, Powell indicated that there’s a good chance to achieve a soft landing. He also previously considered inflation “transitory.”

What to Look for This Week

A plethora of housing reports will be released, beginning Tuesday when the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index will give us a read on builder confidence this month. April’s Housing Starts and Building Permits will be reported on Wednesday, while Existing Home Sales follows Thursday.

Also of note, we’ll get an update on regional manufacturing for New York via the Empire State Index on Monday and the Philadelphia Fed Index on Thursday. April’s Retail Sales data will be reported on Tuesday, while the latest Jobless Claims figures will be released on Thursday.

Technical Picture

Mortgage Bonds continue trading in the middle of a wide range, with a double ceiling of resistance comprised of the 101.656 level and the 25-day moving average, and the 0% Fibonacci level at 100.56 as support. The 10-year Treasury is still battling a ceiling at 2.92%. A bounce lower from this level could potentially be positive for Mortgage Backed Securities

Monday Market Update – 05/09/2022

Mortgage Rates Increase

Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey as of May 5, 2022

Mortgage rates resumed their climb this week as the 30-year fixed reached its highest point since 2009. While housing affordability and inflationary pressures pose challenges for potential buyers, house price growth will continue but is expected to decelerate in the coming months. This should not be read as “panic” but rather a return to something more “normal” in the housing market–whatever “normal” means. In my local market, we’ve seen home price appreciation of 20% (or higher) year over year. A house on my street sold for $1,000,000 in September of 2020 and then again in September of 2021 for $1,250,000 and house on the next block over just sold for $1,500,000. That kind of appreciation isn’t sustainable or healthy. We could use a return to normalcy. Here’s the thing though, we’re short on homes and heavy on buyers. You don’t need an advanced degree in economics to see that demand outstrips supply. In fact, nationally, there are four times more buyers than there were in 2008 and we’re four million homes short of the need. Even with rates on the rise, demand will still be there. So, if you are a buyer and you’re feeling overwhelmed and worn out, I understand. My advice is to just get in and start (join) the appreciation party. The home may not be perfect but as my 16-year-old says, “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.” We’re expected to be in a short supply cycle for a while because as it’s been said a few times, we can’t build our way out of the shortage. Getting started now means that in 5 years time, you’ll likely have enough equity to buy that dream home…wait and you may find that it’s unattainable.

Opinions, estimates, forecasts, and other views contained in this document are those of Freddie Mac’s economists and other researchers, do not necessarily represent the views of Freddie Mac or its management, and should not be construed as indicating Freddie Mac’s business prospects or expected results. Although the authors attempt to provide reliable, useful information, they do not guarantee that the information or other content in this document is accurate, current or suitable for any particular purpose. All content is subject to change without notice. All content is provided on an “as is” basis, with no warranties of any kind whatsoever. Information from this document may be used with proper attribution. Alteration of this document or its content is strictly prohibited. © 2022 by Freddie Mac ©2022 by Freddie Mac.

Week of May 2, 2022 in Review

The Fed took action to fight inflation while the unemployment rate held steady. Here are the key headlines:

  • Fed Hikes Fed Funds Rate to Curb Inflation
  • Unemployment Rate Remains Stable – But for Wrong Reasons
  • Private Payrolls Miss Expectations in April
  • Is the Rise in Initial Jobless Claims the Start of a Trend?
  • Annual Home Price Appreciation Sets a New Record High

Fed Hikes Fed Funds Rate to Curb Inflation

The Fed met last week and hiked their benchmark Fed Funds Rate by 50 basis points, after hiking by 25 basis points in March. Note that the Fed Funds Rate is the interest rate for overnight borrowing for banks and it is not the same as mortgage rates. The Fed also said that they anticipate ongoing increases to the Fed Funds Rate, with 50 basis point increases likely at the next couple of meetings.

The Fed also laid out their balance sheet reduction plan. Starting June 1, the Fed will be reducing their balance sheet by $47.5 billion, divided into $30 billion in Treasuries and $17.5 billion in Mortgage-Backed Securities. They will continue to do so each month through August, but in September these figures will double.

What’s the bottom line? The Fed has been under pressure since late last year to take action to address inflation and they have two levers they can pull for tightening the economy – hiking their benchmark Fed Funds Rate and reducing their balance sheet.

Hiking the Fed Funds Rate can be a good thing for mortgage rates, as the Fed curbs inflation and preserves the fixed return a longer data Bond provides. However, reducing their balance sheet would cause more supply on the market that has to be absorbed, which can cause mortgage rates to move higher. It will be crucial to monitor how the Fed tries to walk the tightrope of hiking and allowing a balance sheet runoff, as these actions will play a critical role in the direction of Mortgage Bonds and mortgage rates this year.

Unemployment Rate Remains Stable – But for Wrong Reasons

 bls jobs report

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that there were 428,000 jobs created in April, which was just above market expectations. However, there were negative revisions to the data for February and March removing 39,000 jobs in those months combined, which tempered the optimism slightly. The Unemployment Rate remained at a very strong 3.6% but did not decline to 3.5% as expected.

Note that there are two reports within the Jobs Report and there is a fundamental difference between them. The Business Survey is where the headline job number comes from and it’s based predominately on modeling. The Household Survey, where the Unemployment Rate comes from, is done by actual phone calls to 60,000 homes. The Household Survey also has a job loss or creation component, and it showed there were 353,000 job losses, while the labor force decreased by 363,000, which is why the unemployment rate remained the same.

What’s the bottom line? While the unemployment rate remained stable, it did so for the wrong reasons as it was not due to strong job growth, but rather more people leaving the labor force than job losses. In addition, the report removes people who are not actively searching for a job and there were almost 6 million people that are not being counted that “want a job” but have not looked in the last four weeks.

The U-6 all-in unemployment rate, which adds back all these individuals, increased from 6.9% to 7% and is more indicative of the true unemployment rate. April’s data was also the first tick up we have seen in a long time. Is this an outlier or a sign that things are slowing and we may have seen the low in unemployment? Time will tell.

Private Payrolls Miss Expectations in April 

 adp employment (2)

The ADP Employment Report, which measures private sector payrolls, showed that there were 247,000 jobs created in April, which was weaker than estimates of 400,000. However, job creations for March were revised higher from 455,000 to 479,000, adding 24,000 jobs in that month. Both goods-producing and service-providing sector companies showed gains in April, with services contributing the majority share at 202,000 jobs.

What’s the bottom line? While mid-sized businesses (50-499 employees) gained 46,000 jobs and large businesses (500 or more employees) gained 321,000 jobs, small businesses (1-49 employees) lost  120,000 jobs. This shows that small businesses are having a tough time competing with the wage increases demanded by workers due to the higher costs present in today’s high inflation environment.

Is the Rise in Initial Jobless Claims the Start of a Trend?

 jobless claims (3)

The number of people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time rose by 19,000 in the latest week, as 200,000 Initial Jobless Claims were reported. Continuing Claims, which measure people who continue to receive benefits after their initial claim is filed, fell by 19,000 to 1.38 million. This is the lowest number of Continuing Claims since January 1970.

What’s the bottom line? Unemployment claims are extremely low and the labor market remains tight. But once we start to see claims pick up, especially initial claims, this could be a signal that the economy is slowing. Again, the increase reported last week may just be an outlier, but we have to monitor this data to see if it’s a trend.

Annual Home Price Appreciation Sets a New Record High

CoreLogic released their Home Price Index report for March, showing that home prices rose by 3.3% from February and 20.9% on a year over year basis. This annual reading is an acceleration from 20% in February and the highest reading in the 45-year history of the index!

CoreLogic forecasts that home prices will appreciate 1.2% in April and 5.9% in the year going forward. While this annual figure is finally moving up a bit from the 5% annual forecast in the previous report, it is still much more conservative than most other forecasts and CoreLogic continues to miss forecasts by a large margin. For example, when we look to their report from last year at this time, they forecasted that home prices would increase 3.5% annually, while last week they reported that prices rose nearly 21%.

What’s the bottom line? Even if CoreLogic’s annual forecast is correct and home prices rise nearly 6% over the next year, this level of appreciation is still extremely meaningful for wealth creation. If someone bought a $400,000 home and put 10% down, that means they would gain $24,000 in appreciation over the next year and earn a 60% return on their investment due to leverage.

What to Look for This Week

Inflation data will be the big headliner this week, with April’s Consumer Price Index being reported on Wednesday and the Producer Price Index (which measures wholesale level inflation) coming on Thursday.

Also of note, we’ll get a read on how small businesses are feeling when the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Optimism Index is reported on Tuesday. The latest Jobless Claims data will be released as usual on Thursday.

Investors will also be closely watching Wednesday’s 10-year Note and Thursday’s 30-year Bond auctions for the level of demand.

Technical Picture

Mortgage Bonds moved lower after Friday’s Jobs Report was released but appear to have found support at 100.79. There is a lot of room to the upside if Bonds can find their footing. The10-Year has broken above the ceiling at 3.08% and has some more room until the next level of resistance at 3.25%.

Monday Market Update – 05/02/2022

Mortgage Rates Hover at Five Percent

Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey as of April 28, 2022

The combination of swift home price growth and the fastest mortgage rate increase in over forty years is finally affecting purchase demand. homebuyers navigating the current environment are coping in a variety of ways, including switching to adjustable-rate mortgages, moving away from expensive coastal cities, and looking to more affordable suburbs. The decline in demand, due to these factors, may soften home price growth to a more sustainable pace later this year. Keep in mind that inventory is at all time low and we cannot build our way out of that issue. Getting in now, even with rates where they are today, will start the appreciation party and then if rates come down in the next 18 months (which is anticipated), you can refinance. The key is to get started! It doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be wonderful.

Opinions, estimates, forecasts, and other views contained in this document are those of Freddie Mac’s Economic & Housing Research group, do not necessarily represent the views of Freddie Mac or its management, and should not be construed as indicating Freddie Mac’s business prospects or expected results. Although the Economic & Housing Research group attempts to provide reliable, useful information, it does not guarantee that the information or other content in this document is accurate, current or suitable for any particular purpose. All content is subject to change without notice. All content is provided on an “as is” basis, with no warranties of any kind whatsoever. Information from this document may be used with proper attribution. Alteration of this document or its content is strictly prohibited. ©2022 by Freddie Mac.

Week of April 25, 2022 in Review

Inflation and housing data dominated the headlines, with these key stories:

  • Consumer Inflation Reaches 40-year High
  • Annual Home Price Appreciation Nears 20% in February
  • The Real Scoop on New Home Inventory
  • Pending Home Sales Decline But Still Strong Overall
  • First Quarter GDP Turns Negative – Why This Matters

Consumer Inflation Reaches 40-year High

The Fed’s favorite measure of inflation, Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE), showed that headline inflation rose 0.9% in March, which was higher than estimates of 0.5%. This caused the year over year reading to increase from 6.3% to 6.6%, which is a 40-year high! Core PCE, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, was up 0.3%, while year over year the index actually decreased from 5.3% to 5.2%.

What’s the bottom line? Not only does inflation lead to higher costs of goods, but it is also the arch enemy of fixed investments like Mortgage Bonds because it erodes the buying power of a Bond’s fixed rate of return. If inflation is rising, investors demand a rate of return to combat the faster pace of erosion due to inflation, causing interest rates to rise as we’ve seen this year. This week’s Fed meeting will be crucial as investors will be closely watching what actions the Fed will take to address rising inflation.

Annual Home Price Appreciation Nears 20% in February

 Case Shiller 4

The Case-Shiller Home Price Index, which is considered the “gold standard” for appreciation, showed home prices rose 1.7% in February and 19.8% year over year. This annual reading is up from the 19.1% gain seen in the previous report.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) also released their House Price Index. This report measures home price appreciation on single-family homes with conforming loan amounts, which means it most likely represents lower-priced homes where supply has been tight and demand strong. Home prices rose 2.1% in February and were up 19.4% year over year, which is an increase from the 18.2% rise reported for January. 

What’s the bottom line? Despite ongoing reports from the media that a housing bubble is ahead, we continue to see high levels of appreciation even in the face of higher mortgage rates. And while 20% annual home price appreciation may not continue, the ongoing dynamic of high demand and low supply means homes should still appreciate in the mid to high single digits, which is a healthy level.

The Real Scoop on New Home Inventory

New Home Sales, which measures signed contracts on new homes, were down 8.6% from February to March to a 763,000-unit annualized pace. However, this headline figure is less negative than the media would lead you to believe, given that there was an 8% positive revision to February’s data.

What’s the bottom line? Looking at inventory, there were 407,000 homes for sale at the end of March, which equates to a 6.4 months’ supply. But of the 407,000 homes for sale, only 35,000 or 9% are actually completed. The rest are either not started or under construction. When we factor in the homes that buyers could actually move into today, inventory is closer to about half a month’s supply.

Pending Home Sales Decline But Still Strong Overall

 Pending Home Sales 4

Pending Home Sales, which measure signed contracts on existing homes, fell 1.2% in March, though this was stronger than the 1.8% decline expected. Sales are now down 8.2% year over year. There is no doubt that higher interest rates could be impacting demand, but this report far from signals a “washout” spring homebuying season, as some in the media have said.

In fact, a longer timeframe view shows that the current level of signed contracts is still strong. The annual comparison is skewed because of the huge demand that followed the dip in signed contracts after the start of COVID.

What’s the bottom line? Although higher rates and low inventory around the country have made buying a home challenging for many people, renting is not necessarily a better option. CoreLogic’s Single-Family Rent Index showed that rents were up 13.1% year over year in February, which is the highest increase on record. This report includes both new rents and renewals, which are increasing between 6-8%. Apartment List’s National Rent Report, which measures new rents, also showed that rents increased by 0.9% in April and 16.3% year over year.

First Quarter GDP Turns Negative – Why This Matters

The first look at GDP for the first quarter showed that growth was down 1.4%. This is significant because an old textbook definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative GDP. Note that we will get two more revisions to this figure before getting the final reading in June. In addition, a recession will not be confirmed until September, once the final readings for both the first and second quarters are reported.

What to Look for This Week

Look for key reports from the labor sector, beginning Wednesday when the ADP Employment Report will give us an update on private payrolls for April. Thursday brings the latest Jobless Claims data while on Friday the Bureau of Labor Statistics Jobs Report for April will be released, which includes Non-farm Payrolls and the Unemployment Rate.

But perhaps the biggest news will be the Fed’s two-day meeting beginning Tuesday, with the Monetary Policy Statement and press conference coming on Wednesday. The Fed is expected to hike its benchmark Fed Funds Rate by 50 basis points and investors will be closely watching what actions they take to address inflation, and what their messaging is regarding their balance sheet.

Technical Picture

Mortgage Bonds have broken back beneath the falling trendline, which had been acting as a floor of support at the 101.656 level. Bonds are now trading in a range with 101.656 acting as resistance and support at 101.29. The 10-year is currently battling with a ceiling at the critical 2.92% level. If yields break above this level, it can have a negative impact on Mortgage Bonds. 

Monday Market Update – 04/25/2022

Mortgage Rates Exceed Five Percent

Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey as of April 21, 2022

Mortgage rates increased for the seventh consecutive week, as Treasury yields continued to rise. While springtime is typically the busiest homebuying season, the upswing in rates has caused some volatility in demand. It continues to be a seller’s market, but buyers who remain interested in purchasing a home may find that competition has moderately softened. Potential causes for this in our local markets could be buyer fatigue, reduced affordability or both. Here in the San Francisco East Bay Area, a continued lack of inventory plays a large role with more than 100 fewer homes listed for sale in February of 2022 versus last February and more than 500 fewer pending and sold properties in the same period. California Association of Realtors is reporting realtor sentiment is improving behind an increase in listings, so let’s hope they can bring some more properties to the market this spring!

Opinions, estimates, forecasts, and other views contained in this document are those of Freddie Mac’s Economic & Housing Research group, do not necessarily represent the views of Freddie Mac or its management, and should not be construed as indicating Freddie Mac’s business prospects or expected results. Although the Economic & Housing Research group attempts to provide reliable, useful information, it does not guarantee that the information or other content in this document is accurate, current or suitable for any particular purpose. All content is subject to change without notice. All content is provided on an “as is” basis, with no warranties of any kind whatsoever. Information from this document may be used with proper attribution. Alteration of this document or its content is strictly prohibited. ©2022 by Freddie Mac.

Week of April 18, 2022 in Review

March brought a slowdown in home sales and construction of single-family homes. Plus, does news from the World Bank and IMF signal that a recession is ahead?

Sales of existing homes fell 2.7% in March to a 5.77 million unit annualized pace. Note that this likely measured activity in January and February when rates were rising but not at the levels they are today. On a year over year basis, sales were only down 4.5%, which is still quite strong considering higher rates, higher home prices and tight inventory.

And speaking of inventory, there were 950,000 homes for sale at the end of March. While this is an increase of almost 12% from February, this level represents just a 2 months’ supply of homes available for sale, while a 6 months’ supply of homes reflects a balanced market.

Housing Starts, which measure the start of construction on homes, increased 0.3% in March to an annualized rate of 1.79 million units. However, starts for single-family homes, which are the most important because they are in such high demand among buyers, decreased by 1.7% monthly and 4.4% annually. Building Permits, which are a good forward-looking indicator for Housing Starts, declined for single-family homes as well, down 4.8% monthly and 3.9% year over year.

Builder confidence fell for the fourth straight month, as the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index declined 2 points to 77 in April. Looking at the components of the index, current sales conditions fell 2 points to 85, which is still very strong, while buyer traffic fell 6 points to 60. However, readings above 50 on this index, which runs from 0 to 100, still signals expansion. In other words, while some of these figures are contracting, they are still at strong levels overall.

Initial Jobless Claims declined by 2,000 in the latest week, with the number of people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time falling to 184,000. The number of people continuing to receive benefits fell by 58,000 to 1.417 million, which is the lowest number of Continuing Claims since 1970. There are now 1.622 million people in total receiving benefits, which is a stark contrast to the nearly 17.4 million people receiving benefits in the comparable week last year. The labor market remains tight as employers are holding on to their workers and firing less.

Wednesday’s 20-year Bond auction was met with strong demand. The bid to cover of 2.8 was higher than the one-year average of 2.4. Direct and indirect bidders took 91.2% of the auction compared to 81.0% in the previous 12. While Mortgage Bonds responded well to this news Wednesday, they gave back much of their gains Thursday morning.

Lastly, the World Bank slashed their global growth forecast from 4.1% to 3.2%. The largest single factor in the reduced growth forecast was a projected economic contraction of 4.1% across Europe and Central Asia. Other factors included higher food and fuel costs, and the Russia/Ukraine war. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also said that they expect global economic growth to slow and feel the outlook has deteriorated. These are just additional indicators pointing to a global slowdown and increases the chances of a recession.

Existing Home Sales Decline for Second Consecutive Month

 Existing Home Sales 4

Existing Home Sales, which measure closings on existing homes, showed that sales were down 2.7% in March at a 5.77 million unit annualized pace. Note that this likely measured activity in January and February when rates were rising but not at the levels they are today. On a year over year basis, sales were only down 4.5%, which is still quite strong considering higher rates, higher home prices and tight inventory.

And speaking of inventory, there were 950,000 homes for sale at the end of March. While this is an increase of almost 12% from February, inventory is still 9.5% lower than it was in March of last year. There is now a 2 months’ supply of homes available for sale, which is up from 1.7 months at the end of February. However, a 6 months’ supply of homes reflects a balanced market.

Homes were only on the market for 17 days in March, down from 18 in February. In addition, 87% of homes that sold were on the market for less than one month. This should continue to be supportive of home prices.

The median home price was reported at $357,300, which is up 15% year over year. Remember that the median home price is not the same as appreciation. It simply means half the homes sold were above that price and half were below it. This figure continues to be skewed by the mix of sales, as sales on the lower end are down sharply, while sales above $500,000 are much higher.  

First-time homebuyers accounted for 30% of sales, which is a nice move higher from 29% in the previous report and 27% two months ago. Cash buyers increased from 25% to 28%, while investors purchased 18% of homes, down from 19%. Foreclosures and short sales accounted for less than 1% of all transactions.

Single-family Starts and Permits Decline

 Housing Starts 4

Housing Starts, which measure the start of construction on homes, increased 0.3% in March at an annualized rate of 1.79 million units. Year over year, Housing Starts were up 3.9%.

However, starts for single-family homes, which are the most important because they are in such high demand among buyers, decreased by 1.7% and they were down 4.4% from March of last year.

Building Permits, which are a good forward-looking indicator for Housing Starts, rose by 0.4% last month and they were up 6.7% on a year over year basis. Yet there were declines here as well for single-family permits, which fell 4.8% monthly and 3.9% year over year.

Speaking to the backlog of homes builders are contending with, single-family units authorized but not yet started were up almost 15% year over year, while single-family completions were down 6.4% monthly and 3.3% annually.

While the media often looks at these numbers and reports doom and gloom is ahead for housing, it’s important to remember that there are two sides to the coin. From an economic growth standpoint, tight inventory and fewer home sales are a negative, but when looking at housing as an investment, tight inventory is supportive of home prices.

Builder Confidence Declines But Remains in Expansion Territory

 NAHB 4

Builder confidence fell for the fourth straight month, as the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index declined 2 points to 77 in April.

Looking at the components of the index, current sales conditions fell 2 points to 85, which is still very strong, while buyer traffic fell 6 points to 60. Future sales expectations rose 3 points to 73, following the 10-point drop in March.

It should be noted, however, that a reading above 50 on this index, which runs from 0 to 100, still signals expansion. So, while some of these figures are contracting, they are still at strong levels overall. 

Continuing Claims Reach Lowest Level Since 1970

 Jobless Claims 4

The number of people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time declined by 2,000 in the latest week, as 184,000 Initial Jobless Claims were filed.

Continuing Claims, which measure people who continue to receive benefits after their initial claim is filed, fell by 58,000 to 1.417 million. This is the lowest number of Continuing Claims since 1970.

There are now 1.622 million people in total receiving benefits, which is a decline of just over 88,000 from the previous week and even more importantly a stark contrast to the nearly 17.4 million people receiving benefits in the comparable week last year.

The story here remains the same: The labor market remains tight as employers are holding on to their workers and firing less.

What to Look for This Week

More housing news is ahead beginning Tuesday when home price appreciation figures for February will be released from the Case-Shiller Home Price Index and the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index. March’s New Home Sales will also be reported on Tuesday while Pending Home Sales follow on Wednesday.

On Thursday, we’ll get the first estimate for GDP for the first quarter along with the latest Jobless Claims figures.

Ending the week, crucial inflation data for March will be reported on Friday via the Personal Consumption Expenditures index, along with Personal Income and Spending.

Technical Picture

After a very volatile session on Friday, Mortgage Bonds ended last week between support at the 0% Fibonacci level at 101.29 and resistance at 101.65. The 10-year is still battling with support at the critical 2.92% level but managed to close beneath it Friday. If the 10-year can stay beneath this floor, there is a lot of room for improvement before reaching the next level of support at 2.65%.

Monday Market Update – 4/18/2022

Mortgage Rates Hit Five Percent

Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey as of April 14, 2022

This week, mortgage rates averaged five percent for the first time in over a decade. As Americans contend with historically high inflation, the combination of rising mortgage rates, elevated home prices and tight inventory are making the pursuit of homeownership the most expensive in a generation. Anecdotally, I was out over the weekend at a couple of open houses and spoke with buyers shopping for their next or first home. What I heard was frustration. Offers written and not accepted. Rates squeezing purchase pricing. Lack of inventory. Yes, rates are on the rise but please consider two things, the first is that rates are still historically low. The second is that we are finally beginning to see inventory build. In fact, I read a recent statistic in Realtor.com Spring Seller Report that said 64% of those planning to sell this year will list by August. The inventory is coming!

2022 Home Sellers - graph
Source: (https://www.realtor.com/research/2022-spring-home-sellers)
Opinions, estimates, forecasts, and other views contained in this document are those of Freddie Mac’s Economic & Housing Research group, do not necessarily represent the views of Freddie Mac or its management, and should not be construed as indicating Freddie Mac’s business prospects or expected results. Although the Economic & Housing Research group attempts to provide reliable, useful information, it does not guarantee that the information or other content in this document is accurate, current or suitable for any particular purpose. All content is subject to change without notice. All content is provided on an “as is” basis, with no warranties of any kind whatsoever. Information from this document may be used with proper attribution. Alteration of this document or its content is strictly prohibited. ©2022 by Freddie Mac.

Week of April 11, 2022 in Review

Consumer and wholesale inflation were red hot in March. How did this impact consumer spending and small businesses?

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed that consumer inflation increased by 1.2% in March while the year over year reading rose from 7.9% to 8.5%, which is the hottest reading in 41 years! Core CPI, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, rose by 0.3%. On an annual basis, Core CPI increased from 6.4% to 6.5%, which was a bit less than anticipated. While the headline inflation jump was expected due to rising oil and food prices, the Core reading was cooler than anticipated and garnered a positive reaction in the Bond market when the data was released last Tuesday.

Wholesale inflation also remains red hot, as the Producer Price Index (PPI) rose 1.4% in March. On a year over year basis, PPI rose from 10.3% to 11.2%, which is the highest level on record since the methodology for collecting data was changed in 2010.

Core PPI, which also strips out food and energy prices, doubled expectations with a 1% increase in March. The year over year figure increased from 8.7% to 9.2%. Elevated producer inflation can lead to hotter consumer inflation levels, as producers can pass those higher costs along to consumers.

Despite the rise in inflation, consumers continued to spend in March as Retail Sales rose 0.5%, just below the 0.6% expected gain. Sales in January were also revised higher from a 0.3% monthly rise to 0.8%.

Small business owners also reported that inflation was the biggest problem in March, per the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Optimism Index. Within the report, companies that expect higher selling prices rose another 4 points to 72%, which is the highest on record dating back to 1980. In addition, 50% of companies reported plans to raise prices going forward.

Over in the labor sector, the number of people filing for benefits for the first time increased by 18,000 in the latest week, as there were 185,000 Initial Jobless Claims. However, this is coming off a near 54-year low in the previous week, so a bounce higher is understandable. There are now 1.703 million people in total receiving benefits, which is a stark contrast to the 17 million people receiving benefits in the comparable week last year. The labor market remains tight as employers are holding on to their workers and firing less.

Meanwhile, the Cass Freight Index, which is a monthly measure of the North American freight market, showed that freight volumes slowed from 3.6% year over year in February to 0.6% in March. Shipments were up almost 3%, but Cass Freight said this is 100 basis points below the normal seasonal pattern. All goods in the U.S. travel along some type of freight so it will be important to see if this slowdown is an early sign of a potential turning point, as this report has been another early recession indicator in the past.

Lastly, investors were closely watching Tuesday’s 10-year Treasury Note auction and Wednesday’s 30-year Bond auction to see the level of demand. Find out the results below.

Consumer Inflation Hits Highest Level Since 1981

The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures inflation on the consumer level, rose by 1.2% in March. This pushed the year over year reading higher from 7.9% to 8.5%, which is the hottest reading in 41 years. 

Core (CPI), which strips out volatile food and energy prices, rose by 0.3%. As a result, year over year Core CPI increased from 6.4% to 6.5%, which was a bit less than anticipated. The headline inflation jump was expected due to rising oil and food prices, but the Core reading was cooler than anticipated and garnered a positive reaction in the Bond market when the data was released last Tuesday.

Within the report, rents rose 0.4% in March and increased from 4.2% to 4.4% on a year over year basis. While this data has started to increase, the CPI report is still not capturing the double digit increases year over year that many other rent reports are showing.

Owners’ equivalent rent also increased 0.4% and the year over year figure rose from 4.3% to 4.5%. However, note that this data is based on a survey that asks homeowners, “If someone were to rent your home today, how much do you think it would rent for monthly, unfurnished and without utilities?” Understandably, this is very subjective and many people would be guessing these amounts so while this data tries to capture the rise in home prices, it does a poor job.

Some other notable price increases since last year include food (+9%), gasoline (+48%) and used cars (+35%).

Why is rising inflation significant?

Besides causing higher prices, inflation is the arch enemy of fixed investments like Mortgage Bonds because it erodes the buying power of a Bond’s fixed rate of return. If inflation is rising, investors demand a rate of return to combat the faster pace of erosion due to inflation, causing interest rates to rise as we’ve seen this year.

Wholesale Inflation Hits New Record High

The Producer Price Index, which measures inflation on the wholesale level, rose 1.4% in March, which was hotter than expectations of 1.1%. On a year over year basis, PPI rose from 10.3% to 11.2%, which is the highest level on record since the methodology for collecting data was changed in 2010.

Core PPI, which also strips out food and energy prices, doubled expectations with a 1% increase in March. The year over year figure increased from 8.7% to 9.2%.

Producer inflation remains elevated, which often leads to hotter consumer inflation levels, as producers pass those higher costs along to consumers. And as noted below, about 50% of the companies surveyed by the NFIB expect future price hikes.

Small Business Owners Report Inflation Is Their Biggest Challenge

March’s National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Optimism Index showed that small businesses grew less optimistic last month, as the index fell to the weakest level in two years.

Small business owners reported that inflation is the biggest problem right now, followed by ongoing staffing shortages and supply chain disruptions. As a result, companies that expect higher selling prices rose another 4 points to 72%, which is the highest in the survey’s history. In addition, 50% of owners reported plans to raise prices going forward.

In addition, owners expecting better business conditions over the next six months fell 14 points to a -49%, which is the lowest level since the beginning of the survey in 1973. Given that we have experienced several recessions, a housing bubble and the COVID pandemic over the last 50 years, the fact that owners are feeling so negative right now could be yet another indicator that we may be headed for a recession.

Jobless Claims Show Labor Market Remains Tight

 Jobless Claims 4

Initial Jobless Claims ticked higher in the latest week, as the number of people filing for benefits for the first time increased by 18,000 to 185,000. However, this is coming off a near 54-year low in the previous week, so a bounce higher is understandable.

Continuing Claims, which measure people who continue to receive benefits after their initial claim is filed, fell by 48,000 to 1.475 million.

There are now 1.703 million people in total receiving benefits, which is a decline of nearly 20,000 from the previous week and even more importantly a stark contrast to the 17 million people receiving benefits in the comparable week last year.

The story here remains the same: The labor market remains tight as employers are holding on to their workers and firing less.

The Scoop on Key Auctions

Investors were closely watching Tuesday’s 10-year Treasury Note auction and Wednesday’s 30-year Bond auction to see the level of demand. High demand, which is reflected in the purchasing of Bonds and Treasuries, can push prices higher and yields or rates lower.

Weak demand, on the other hand, can signal that investors think yields will continue to move higher, which can have a negative effect on rates.

Tuesday’s 10-year Note auction was met with below average demand. The bid to cover of 2.43 was below the one-year average of 2.50. Direct and indirect bidders took 81.3% of the auction compared to 85.2% in the previous 12. After the weak auction, yields gave back some of their move lower, but still ended the day lower.

Wednesday’s 30-year Bond auction was met with average demand. The bid to cover of 2.30 was just under the one-year average of 2.31. Direct and indirect bidders took 84.1% compared to 82.4% in the previous 12.

What to Look for This Week

Housing news dominates this week’s economic calendar, beginning Monday with the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index for April, which will give us a near real-time read on builder confidence.

On Tuesday, we’ll get a look at March’s Housing Starts and Building Permits, while Wednesday brings March’s Existing Home Sales.

On Thursday, the latest Jobless Claims data will be reported as usual.

Technical Picture

Mortgage Bonds moved sharply lower on Thursday and ended last week sitting on an important floor at 100.00. The 10-year broke above resistance at 2.766% and ended last week trading at around 2.82%, which is the highest level since 2018. The markets were closed Friday in observance of Good Friday.

Monday Market Update – 04/11/2022

Mortgage Rates Continue Climbing

Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey as of April 7, 2022

Mortgage rates have increased 1.5 percentage points over the last three months alone, the fastest three-month rise since May of 1994. The increase in mortgage rates has softened purchase activity such that the monthly payment for those looking to buy a home has risen by at least 20 percent from a year ago.

Opinions, estimates, forecasts, and other views contained in this document are those of Freddie Mac’s Economic & Housing Research group, do not necessarily represent the views of Freddie Mac or its management, and should not be construed as indicating Freddie Mac’s business prospects or expected results. Although the Economic & Housing Research group attempts to provide reliable, useful information, it does not guarantee that the information or other content in this document is accurate, current or suitable for any particular purpose. All content is subject to change without notice. All content is provided on an “as is” basis, with no warranties of any kind whatsoever. Information from this document may be used with proper attribution. Alteration of this document or its content is strictly prohibited. ©2022 by Freddie Mac.

Week of April 4, 2022 in Review

Reports on home appreciation and jobless claims highlighted an otherwise quiet economic calendar, but it was the Fed and recession talk that really made headlines.

The minutes from the Fed’s March 15-16 meeting were released and there were important comments regarding their plans for addressing inflation, such as further hikes to their benchmark Fed Funds Rate and the reduction of their balance sheet. We break down all the details below, including what may be ahead for Mortgage Bonds and mortgage rates.

In housing news, CoreLogic’s Home Price Index report for February showed that home prices rose by 2.2% from January and 20% year over year. This annual reading is an acceleration from 19.1% in January and the highest reading in the 45-year history of the index.

Meanwhile, Initial Jobless Claims fell by 5,000, as 166,000 people filed for unemployment benefits for the first time in the latest week. This is the lowest reading since 1968. In addition, the previous week’s number of initial claims was revised significantly lower by 31,000, from 202,000 to 171,000. There are now 1.723 million people in total receiving benefits, which is a stark contrast to the 18.4 million people receiving benefits in the comparable week last year.

Note that while the Bureau of Labor Statistics has adjusted their methodology for collecting this data, which has impacted their seasonal adjustments over the past five years, the theme remains the same. Jobless Claims remain at strong pre-pandemic levels, showing that the labor market remains tight as employers are holding on to their workers and firing less.

Lastly, you may have seen media headlines that a recession is coming, as several indicators have begun pointing in that direction. Don’t miss our crucial explanation about this.

Breaking Down the Fed Minutes

The minutes from the Fed’s March 15-16 meeting were released last week. Before breaking down all the details, it’s important to remember that the Fed began purchasing Treasuries and Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS) back in 2020 during the heart of the pandemic to stabilize the markets and aid in our recovery.

But as inflation heated up last year, the Fed came under pressure to start tapering, or reducing, these purchases, which has now occurred. They completed their taper and are no longer buying outright, but they are still buying $38 billion in MBS through reinvestments.

One of the levers the Fed can pull for tightening the economy is reducing their balance sheet (which includes the purchases of Treasuries and MBS made during the pandemic). In other words, balance sheet reduction means the Fed will allow Bonds to fall off their balance sheet and no longer reinvest in them each month. This would cause more supply on the market that has to be absorbed, which can cause mortgage rates to move higher.

In the minutes from the Fed’s March meeting, most members agreed that when the Fed begins to reduce their balance sheet, monthly caps of $60 billion for Treasuries and $35 billion for MBS would be appropriate. That is a total reduction cap of $95 billion per month.

Fed members also agreed that the caps would be phased in over a period of three months or longer if warranted. This means that they will start to reduce their balance sheet at a lesser amount and will eventually reach the $95 billion reduction over time, much like they have done in the past.

So, how disruptive will the balance sheet reduction be to MBS?

When we look at the Fed’s MBS purchases during the pandemic, at the Fed’s peak they were buying $40 billion outright and another $70 billion in reinvestments from their holdings for a total of $110 billion per month or $1.3 trillion over the course of the year.

What about supply coming to market? Originations have slowed, as last year volume was estimated to be $3.9 trillion, where forecasts are closer to $2.6 trillion this year, which is a $1.3 trillion difference.

The bottom line is this means that the balance sheet runoff may not have as big of a negative impact on interest rates as many fear because of less supply of MBS coming to market. The caveat is that this is based off the Fed’s guidance from their meeting several weeks ago and the next Fed meeting is still several weeks away on May 3-4, so things may change.

Also of note in the March meeting minutes, the Fed said it would have likely hiked their benchmark Fed Funds Rate by 50 basis points (rather than the 25 basis point hike they implemented) if it were not for the Russia/Ukraine conflict. In addition, many participants noted that one or more 50 basis point hikes could be appropriate at future meetings and may likely occur in May with inflation so high.

Remember that the main tool the Fed uses to curb inflation is hiking its benchmark Fed Funds Rate, which is the interest rate for overnight borrowing for banks and it is not the same as mortgage rates. So counterintuitively, when the Fed hikes its benchmark Fed Funds Rate, this can be good for interest rates because it curbs inflation.

Home Price Appreciation Sets a Record High

CoreLogic released their Home Price Index report for February, showing that home prices rose by 2.2% from January and 20% year over year. This annual reading is an acceleration from 19.1% in January and the highest reading in the 45-year history of the index.

Within the report, the hottest markets remained Phoenix (+30%), Las Vegas (+27%), and San Diego (+25%).

CoreLogic forecasts that home prices will appreciate 0.6% in March and 5% in the year going forward. While this annual figure is finally moving up a bit from the 3.8% annual forecast in the previous report, it is still much more conservative than most other forecasts and they continue to miss forecasts by a large margin.

For example, CoreLogic had forecasted prices would appreciate 0.2% in February, and they actually rose 2.2%. Plus, when we look to their report from last year at this time, they forecasted that home prices would increase 3.2% annually – but they reported last week that prices actually rose 20% year over year.

Note that the 5% appreciation CoreLogic has forecasted still is meaningful. For example, if someone bought a $400,000 home and put 10% down, that means they would gain $20,000 in appreciation over the next year and earn a 50% return on their investment due to leverage.

Initial Jobless Claims Hit Near 54-Year Low

 Jobless Claims 4

The number of people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time fell by 5,000 in the latest week, as 166,000 Initial Jobless Claims were reported. This is the lowest reading since 1968. In addition, the previous week’s number of initial claims was revised significantly lower by 31,000, from 202,000 to 171,000.

Continuing Claims, which measure people who continue to receive benefits after their initial claim is filed, increased by 17,000 to 1.523 million.

There are now 1.723 million people in total receiving benefits, which is a decline of nearly 53,000 from the previous week and even more importantly a stark contrast to the 18.4 million people receiving benefits in the comparable week last year.

Note that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has started to use a new methodology, which has impacted their seasonal adjustments over the past five years. This resulted in big revisions lower to some of their figures, but the theme remains the same. The labor market remains tight as employers are holding on to their workers and firing less.

 An Update on Important Recession Indicators

The yield spread between the 10-year Treasury and 2-year Treasury has been trending lower and has recently inverted for brief periods. Why is this significant?

Normally, you would expect to receive a higher rate of return for putting your money away for 10 years versus 2 years. But when there is an economic slowdown and fear in the markets, the yield curve can go inverted – meaning that 2-year yields are higher than 10-year yields, which is backwards or upside down. Looking back at the history of recessions, we almost always see a recession follow an inversion but it doesn’t happen right away. It could take months to a year or two for the actual recession to occur.

When the Fed hikes the Fed Funds Rate, this causes short-term yields to rise and can cause long-term yields to fall if it’s perceived that the rate hikes are getting inflation under control. Remember, the Fed hiked its benchmark Federal Funds Rate by 25 basis points at its March meeting.

Fed members are expecting six additional hikes this year according to their dot plot chart, with a 50 basis point hike expected in May. The spread between the 10-year and 2-year should continue to narrow and invert as the Fed hikes the Fed Funds Rate, and again this inversion has been a reliable recession indicator.

Note that while a recession is not a great thing for the economy, one positive aspect is that periods of recession are always coupled with lower interest rates.

Deutsche Bank has also said, “We no longer see the Fed achieving a soft landing. Instead, we anticipate that a more aggressive tightening of monetary policy will push the economy into a recession.” They are the first bank to jump on board with the belief that a recession is coming.

What to Look for This Week

Crucial inflation data is ahead this week, beginning with the Consumer Price Index for March being reported on Tuesday. March’s Producer Price Index, which measures wholesale inflation, follows on Wednesday.

Also on Tuesday, we’ll get an update on how small businesses were feeling in March when the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Optimism Index is reported.

Thursday brings March’s Retail Sales data and the latest Jobless Claims figures, while on Friday we’ll get an update on manufacturing for the New York region via April’s Empire State Index.

Investors will also be closely watching Tuesday’s 10-year Note and Wednesday’s 30-year Bond auctions for the level of demand. Several Fed members will also be speaking this week, which could be market moving.

Technical Picture

Mortgage Bonds tested support at 100.438 last Friday morning, much like they did Wednesday morning. They were able to rebound higher off this level, which is optimistic. The 10-year is trading at around 2.70% and has a little more room to the upside before the next ceiling at 2.766%.

Monday Market Update – 04/04/2022

Mortgage Rates Exceed Four and a Half Percent

March 31, 2022

Mortgage rates continued moving upward in the face of rising inflation as well as the prospect of strong demand for goods and ongoing supply disruptions. Purchase demand has weakened modestly but has continued to outpace expectations. This is largely due to unmet demand from first-time homebuyers as well as a select few who had been waiting for rates to hit a cyclical low.

Opinions, estimates, forecasts, and other views contained in this document are those of Freddie Mac’s Economic & Housing Research group, do not necessarily represent the views of Freddie Mac or its management, and should not be construed as indicating Freddie Mac’s business prospects or expected results. Although the Economic & Housing Research group attempts to provide reliable, useful information, it does not guarantee that the information or other content in this document is accurate, current or suitable for any particular purpose. All content is subject to change without notice. All content is provided on an “as is” basis, with no warranties of any kind whatsoever. Information from this document may be used with proper attribution. Alteration of this document or its content is strictly prohibited. ©2022 by Freddie Mac.

Week of March 28, 2022 in Review

Jobs creations were strong in March, while home prices continue to appreciate and inflation continues to soar. Plus, learn what’s happening with a key recession indicator.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that there were 431,000 new jobs created in March, and though this was slightly below estimates of nearly 500,000 new jobs, it is still a strong number. In addition, there were positive revisions to the data for January and February adding 95,000 new jobs in those months combined, which more than makes up for the miss. Plus, the Unemployment Rate declined from 3.8% to 3.6%, which is almost back to the pre-pandemic low of 3.5%.

The ADP Employment Report showed that private sector payrolls came in just above expectations with 455,000 jobs created in March. Positive revisions to February’s data also added to the strength of the report. Job gains were reported across all sizes of businesses. Both goods-producing and service-providing sector companies showed gains, with services contributing the majority share at 377,000 jobs.

Jobless Claims are also at very strong pre-pandemic levels, showing that the labor market remains tight as employers are holding on to their workers and firing less. There are now 1.776 million people in total receiving benefits, which is a decline of nearly 82,000 from the previous week and even more importantly a stark contrast to the 18.5 million people receiving benefits in the comparable week last year.

The Fed’s favorite measure of inflation, Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE), showed that headline inflation rose 0.6% in February, which was in line with expectations. Year over year, the index increased from 6% to 6.4%, which is the hottest level in 40 years! Core PCE, which strips out volatile food and energy prices and is the Fed’s real focus, was up 0.4% while the year over year reading increased from 5.2% to 5.4%.

Rising inflation is crucial to monitor because it can impact both Mortgage Bonds and mortgage rates, as explained below.

In housing news, tight supply continues to be supportive of home price appreciation. The Case-Shiller Home Price Index showed home prices rose 1.1% in January and 19.2% year over year. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which measures home price appreciation on single-family homes with conforming loan amounts, also reported that home prices rose 1.6% in January and they were up 18.2% year over year.

Rents also continue to rise per Apartment List’s National Rent Report, which showed that rents rose 0.8% in March. Year over year rents were up a staggering 17.1%, though this is down from 17.6%. To put this in context, annual rent growth averaged just 2.3% in the pre-pandemic years from 2017-2019.

Also of note, the third estimate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the fourth quarter of last year showed that the US economy grew by 6.9% on an annualized basis, which was lower than expectations of 7.1%.

Lastly, the spread between the 10-year and 2-year Treasury inverted for a brief time last week. This is significant because an inverted yield curve has been a reliable recession indicator historically. Don’t miss our crucial explanation about this below.

 Strong Job Creations in March

 bls jobs report (1)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that there were 431,000 jobs created in March, though this was less than expectations of nearly 500,000 jobs. However, there were positive revisions to the data for January and February adding 95,000 new jobs in those months combined, which more than makes up for the miss.

Note that there are two reports within the Jobs Report and there is a fundamental difference between them. The Business Survey is where the headline job number comes from and it’s based predominately on modeling.

The Household Survey, where the Unemployment Rate comes from, is done by actual phone calls to 60,000 homes. The Household Survey also has a job loss or creation component, and it showed there were 736,000 job creations, while the labor force increased by 418,000. The Unemployment Rate declined from 3.8% to 3.6%, which is almost back to the pre-pandemic low of 3.5%.

The U-6 all-in unemployment rate, which is more indicative of the true unemployment rate, decreased from 7.2% to 6.9%. It is now back at the levels we saw in January 2020 before the pandemic began.

Average hourly earnings rose by 0.4% in March and they were up 5.6% year over year. Average weekly earnings were up 0.1% due to less hours worked. On an annual basis, they were up 4.6%.

And of note, a disproportionate number of new jobs came from 16-19-year-olds, and those workers typically work less hours and are not paid as much.

March Private Payrolls Beat Expectations

 adp employment (1)

The ADP Employment Report, which measures private sector payrolls, showed that there were 455,000 jobs created in March, just above the 450,000 job gains that were expected. In addition, February’s figures were revised slightly higher from 475,000 to 486,000 new jobs in that month, adding to the strength of the report.

Both goods-producing and service-providing sector companies showed gains in March, with services contributing the majority share at 377,000 jobs. Leisure and hospitality had the biggest gains with 161,000 jobs, followed by education and health at 72,000, and professional and business at 61,000. On the goods-producing side, manufacturing also showed strong gains at 54,000.

Job gains were reported across all sizes of businesses, with mid-sized and large businesses seeing a near-equal share of the most gains. Small businesses (1-49 employees) gained 90,000 jobs, mid-sized businesses (50-499 employees) gained 188,000 jobs, and large businesses (500 or more employees) gained 177,000 jobs.

Initial Jobless Claims Tick Higher

The number of people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time rose by 14,000 in the latest week, as 202,000 Initial Jobless Claims were reported. However, this follows the lowest reading in almost 53 years from the previous week, so a bounce higher is understandable.

Continuing Claims, which measure people who continue to receive benefits after their initial claim is filed, fell by 35,000 to 1.307 million. This is a low going back to 1969.

There are now 1.776 million people in total receiving benefits, which is a decline of nearly 82,000 from the previous week and even more importantly a stark contrast to the 18.5 million people receiving benefits in the comparable week last year. Claims are at very strong pre-pandemic levels, showing that the labor market remains tight as employers are holding on to their workers and firing less.

Annual Inflation Hits 40-Year High

The Fed’s favorite measure of inflation, Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE), showed that headline inflation rose 0.6% in February, which was in line with expectations. This caused the year over year reading to increase from 6% to 6.4%, which is the hottest level in 40 years!

Core PCE, which strips out volatile food and energy prices and is the Fed’s real focus, was just below estimates as it was up 0.4%. The year over year reading increased from 5.2% to 5.4%.

Private sector wages/salaries rose 0.9% in February. If we annualize the past six months, private sector wages are up almost 10.4% annually. This is a good thing for affordability on homes.

Remember, inflation is the arch enemy of fixed investments like Mortgage Bonds because it erodes the buying power of a Bond’s fixed rate of return. If inflation is rising, investors demand a rate of return to combat the faster pace of erosion due to inflation, causing interest rates to rise. This is why keeping an eye on inflation remains critical.

Strong Home Price Appreciation Continues

 case shiller hpi (1)

The Case-Shiller Home Price Index, which is considered the “gold standard” for appreciation, showed home prices rose 1.1% in January and 19.2% year over year. This annual reading is an acceleration from the 18.8% gain seen in the previous report.

The top three performing cities remained Phoenix (+33%), Tampa (+31%) and Miami (+28%). The bottom line is that appreciation remains at very high levels, even in the face of mortgage rates, which started to move higher in December.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) also released their House Price Index, which measures home price appreciation on single-family homes with conforming loan amounts. While you can have a million-dollar home with a conforming loan amount, the report most likely represents lower-priced homes, where supply has been tight and demand strong. 

Home prices rose 1.6% in January and were up 18.2% year over year, which is an increase from the 17.6% rise reported for December.

Also of note, Zillow is predicting 18% home price appreciation from February 2022 to February 2023. This is supported by comments from Freddie Mac, who is saying there is a home shortage of four million homes. Note that builders have never built more than two million homes in a year, so the inventory shortage should persist for the foreseeable future.

In addition, Apartment List released its National Rent Report for March, which showed that rents rose 0.8%. Year over year rents were up a staggering 17.1%, though this is down from 17.6%. To put this in context, annual rent growth averaged just 2.3% in the pre-pandemic years from 2017-2019.

Over the first three months of 2022, rents were up almost 2%, which translates to about 7.5% year over year. While this is a slowdown from 2021, it is still a significant amount. Renewals are rising at around half the pace of new rents, up between 7-9%.

Watching an Important Recession Indicator

The yield spread between the 10-year Treasury and 2-year Treasury has been trending lower and actually inverted for a brief time last week. Why is this significant?

Normally, you would expect to receive a higher rate of return for putting your money away for 10 years versus 2 years. But when there is an economic slowdown and fear in the markets, the yield curve can go inverted – meaning that 2-year yields are higher than 10-year yields, which is backwards or upside down. Looking back at the history of recessions, we always see an inversion occur ahead of a recession, although it could take six months to two years for the actual recession to occur.

When the Fed hikes the Fed Funds Rate, this causes short-term yields to rise and can cause long-term yields to fall if it’s perceived that the rate hikes are getting inflation under control. Remember, the Fed hiked its benchmark Federal Funds Rate by 25 basis points at its March meeting. Note that the Fed Funds Rate is the interest rate for overnight borrowing for banks and it is not the same as mortgage rates.

Fed members are expecting seven additional hikes this year according to their dot plot chart. The spread between the 10-year and 2-year should continue to narrow and invert as the Fed hikes the Fed Funds Rate, and again this inversion has been a reliable recession indicator. And while a recession is not a great thing for the economy, one positive aspect is that periods of recession are always coupled with lower interest rates.

What to Look for This Week

After last week’s plethora of reports for the markets to digest, this week’s economic calendar is comparatively quiet. Perhaps the biggest news of the week will come on Wednesday when the minutes from the Fed’s March meeting will be released, as these always have the potential to move the markets.

 On Thursday, look for the latest Jobless Claims figures, as usual.

Technical Picture

Mortgage Bonds were able to get above the falling trend line in the early going last Thursday, but closed dead on it and then ended last week in the middle of a wide range between support at 101.342 and overhead resistance at 101.859. Bonds are at a moment of truth, testing the falling trend line. It will be important to see which way they break out this week. 

Monday Market Update – 03/28/2022

Mortgage Rates Continue to Move Up

Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey as of March 24, 2022

This week, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage increased by more than a quarter of a percent as mortgage rates across all loan types continued to move up. Rising inflation, escalating geopolitical uncertainty and the Federal Reserve’s actions are driving rates higher and weakening consumers’ purchasing power. In short, the rise in mortgage rates, combined with continued house price appreciation, is increasing monthly mortgage payments and quickly affecting homebuyers’ ability to keep up with the market.

Opinions, estimates, forecasts, and other views contained in this document are those of Freddie Mac’s economists and other researchers, do not necessarily represent the views of Freddie Mac or its management, and should not be construed as indicating Freddie Mac’s business prospects or expected results. Although the authors attempt to provide reliable, useful information, they do not guarantee that the information or other content in this document is accurate, current or suitable for any particular purpose. All content is subject to change without notice. All content is provided on an “as is” basis, with no warranties of any kind whatsoever. Information from this document may be used with proper attribution. Alteration of this document or its content is strictly prohibited. ©2022 by Freddie Mac.

Week of March 21, 2022 in Review

New and Pending Home Sales both declined in February, with low inventory a major reason why. Fed chatter also spooked Bonds.

New Home Sales fell 2% from January to February at a 772,000 unit annualized pace. This was lower than expectations and also follows a negatively revised sales figure for January. Looking at inventory, there were 407,000 homes for sale at the end of February, which equates to a 6.3 months’ supply. But that’s far from the whole story, as noted below.

Pending Home Sales, which measure signed contracts on existing homes, fell 4.1% in February, which was weaker than expected. Sales were also down 5.4% when compared to February of last year. While higher interest rates could certainly be impacting demand, the real story here is also inventory. There were only 870,000 existing homes for sale last month, which is down 16% from last year and 34% from July. Quite simply, if there were more homes for sale, there would be more sales.

The Fed also made headlines as Fed Chair Jerome Powell said that “inflation is much too high” and he pledged to take “necessary steps” to bring prices under control. He said that the Fed will continue to hike its benchmark Fed Funds Rate until inflation is under control. Note that the Fed Funds Rate is the interest rate for overnight borrowing for banks and it is not the same as mortgage rates.

Powell also noted that rate hikes could go from the traditional 25 basis point moves to more aggressive 50 basis point increases if necessary. The Fed’s more aggressive tone sparked some fears in the Bond market that the Fed will be more serious about reducing their balance sheet. Read on to see how Bonds reacted, and what we need to watch for in the months ahead.

There was good news from the labor sector, as Initial and Continuing Jobless Claims both declined in the latest week. The number of first-time filers fell to 187,000, which is the lowest level since September 1969. The number of people continuing to receive benefits fell to 1.35 million, a low going back to January 1970. There are now 1.858 million people in total receiving benefits, which is a stark contrast to the 19.9 million people receiving benefits in the comparable week last year.

Lastly, Wednesday’s 20-Year Bond Auction was met with strong demand. The bid to cover of 2.72 was stronger than the one-year average of 2.40. Direct and indirect bidders took 90.4% of the auction compared to 81% in the previous 12.

The Real Scoop on New Home Inventory

 New Home Sales 3

New Home Sales, which measure signed contracts on new homes, were down 2% from January to February at a 772,000 unit annualized pace. This was weaker than expectations of 801,000.

In addition, sales in January were revised lower and when factoring this in, February’s sales were actually down 3.5% from the originally reported January figure. Sales were also 6.2% lower than they were in February of last year.

The median home price came in at $400,600, which is a decrease of 6% from the previous report. The median home price is up 11% year over year, which points to an increase in higher-priced homes sold. The average-priced home came in at $511,000, which is up 26% from last year.

Looking at inventory, there were 407,000 homes for sale at the end of February, which equates to a 6.3 months’ supply and is up 33% from last year. But that’s not the whole story.

Of the 407,000 homes for sale, only 35,000 or 9% are actually completed. The rest are either not started or under construction. When we factor in the homes that buyers could actually move into today, inventory is closer to about half a month’s supply.

On a related note, US homebuilder KB Home reported first quarter earnings and Jeff Kaminski, their CFO noted, “Our biggest challenge today is completing homes, not selling them, as demand continues to be robust.”

They missed delivery figures because of ongoing supply constraints, and they cited flexible duct work, stainless steel, double ovens, garage doors, windows, cabinets, and HVAC equipment as just a few of the reasons they cannot deliver homes. The big takeaway once again is that demand remains robust, even in the face of higher rates.

Pending Home Sales Lower Than Expectations

 Pending Home Sales 3

Pending Home Sales, which measure signed contracts on existing homes, fell 4.1% in February, which was weaker than expected. Sales were also down 5.4% when compared to February of last year.

While higher interest rates could certainly be impacting demand, the real story here once again is inventory. There were only 870,000 existing homes for sale last month, which is down 16% from last year and 34% from July. Quite simply, if there were more homes for sale, there would be more sales.

Note that if we look at the number of signed contracts over a longer timeframe, such as the last five years, the level of Pending Home Sales is not really terrible. But they are below the crazy highs that were set during the rush to purchase that followed the dip in signed contracts during the start of COVID.

Fed Chatter Spooks Bonds

Last week, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said that “inflation is much too high” and he pledged to take “necessary steps” to bring prices under control. He said that the Fed will continue to hike its benchmark Fed Funds Rate until inflation is under control. Note that the Fed Funds Rate is the interest rate for overnight borrowing for banks and it is not the same as mortgage rates.

Powell also noted that rate hikes could go from the traditional 25 basis point moves to more aggressive 50 basis point increases if necessary. The Fed’s more aggressive tone sparked some fears in the Bond market that the Fed will be more serious about reducing their balance sheet, causing a selloff last Monday.

Remember that the Fed has two levers they can pull for tightening the economy – hiking their benchmark Fed Funds Rate and reducing their balance sheet. Hiking the Fed Funds Rate will actually be a good thing for mortgage rates, as the Fed curbs inflation and preserves the fixed return a longer data Bond provides.

However, reducing their balance sheet (which means allowing Bonds to fall off their balance sheet and no longer reinvesting in them each month) would cause more supply on the market that has to be absorbed. This can cause mortgage rates to move higher.

The bottom line is that we will want to closely watch how the Fed tries to walk the tightrope of hiking and allowing a balance sheet runoff during 2022, as these actions will play a critical role in the direction of Mortgage Bonds and mortgage rates this year.

In addition, Fed Governor Waller acknowledged that the rental component within the Consumer Price Index is understating how much rents are really going up. He believes there is going to be a catch up in 2022, with that component potentially doubling, which would add upward pressure to inflation. While it’s possible some other components of the index come down, the Bond markets did not like these comments.

Remember, inflation is the arch enemy of fixed investments like Mortgage Bonds because it erodes the buying power of a Bond’s fixed rate of return. If inflation is rising, investors demand a rate of return to combat the faster pace of erosion due to inflation, causing interest rates to rise.

Initial Jobless Claims Fall to Near 53-Year Low

 Jobless Claims 3

Initial Jobless Claims fell by 28,000 to 187,000 in the latest week, as the number of people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time hit the lowest level since September 1969.

Continuing Claims, which measure people who continue to receive benefits after their initial claim is filed, also fell by 67,000 to 1.35 million. This is a low going back to January 1970.

There are now 1.858 million people in total receiving benefits, which is a decline of nearly 111,000 from the previous week and even more importantly a stark contrast to the 19.9 million people receiving benefits in the comparable week last year. Claims are at very strong pre-pandemic levels, showing that the labor market remains tight as employers are holding on to their workers and firing less.

What to Look for This Week

This week’s busy economic calendar kicks off on Tuesday when home price appreciation figures for January will be released from the Case-Shiller Home Price Index and the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index.

On Wednesday, we’ll get the final reading on GDP for the fourth quarter of last year. Thursday brings crucial inflation data for February via Personal Consumption Expenditures, which is the Fed’s favored measure, along with Personal Income and Spending.

Wednesday also brings important labor sector news when the ADP Employment Report will give us an update on private payrolls for March. Thursday brings the latest Initial Jobless Claims data. Then ending the week on Friday, the highly anticipated Bureau of Labor Statistics Jobs Report for March will be released, which includes Non-farm Payrolls and the Unemployment Rate.

And from the manufacturing sector, look for March’s figures from the Chicago PMI on Thursday and the ISM Index on Friday.

Technical Picture

Mortgage Bonds have broken convincingly beneath support at 99.766 and tested the next floor at 99, which has held for now. The 10-year ended last week trading at around 2.48%, breaking above the 2.44 resistance level. The next ceiling is about 10 basis points higher at 2.58%. 

Monday Market Update – 3/21/2022

Mortgage Rates Exceed Four Percent

Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey as of March 17, 2022

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage exceeded four percent for the first time since May of 2019. The Federal Reserve raising short-term rates and signaling further increases means mortgage rates should continue to rise over the course of the year. While home purchase demand has moderated, it remains competitive due to low existing inventory, suggesting high house price pressures will continue during the spring homebuying season.

Opinions, estimates, forecasts, and other views contained in this document are those of Freddie Mac’s economists and other researchers, do not necessarily represent the views of Freddie Mac or its management, and should not be construed as indicating Freddie Mac’s business prospects or expected results. Although the authors attempt to provide reliable, useful information, they do not guarantee that the information or other content in this document is accurate, current or suitable for any particular purpose. All content is subject to change without notice. All content is provided on an “as is” basis, with no warranties of any kind whatsoever. Information from this document may be used with proper attribution. Alteration of this document or its content is strictly prohibited. ©2022 by Freddie Mac.

Week of March 14, 2022 in Review

The Fed hiked rates, inflation remains red hot, and a key housing report showed hope may be ahead for home inventory.

As expected, the Fed took action to address soaring inflation at its meeting last week by hiking their benchmark Fed Funds Rate. Note that the Fed Funds Rate is the interest rate for overnight borrowing for banks and it is not the same as mortgage rates. Investors were closely listening to Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s press conference following the meeting, for clues regarding additional actions the Fed may take this year that could impact mortgage rates and a key recession indicator. Don’t miss the important explanations below.

Speaking of inflation, it remains red hot at the wholesale level. The Producer Price Index rose 0.8% in February while on a year over year basis, the index was unchanged at a record high 10% after January’s report was revised higher. Core PPI, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, rose 0.2% in February, while the year over year figure declined from an upwardly revised 8.5% to 8.4%, which is just off another record.  

In housing news, sales of existing homes declined in February to an annualized pace of 6.02 million units. Note that this likely measured activity in December and January, when rates were rising but not at the levels they are today. But the real story remains low inventory. There were only 870,000 homes for sale at the end of February, which is just above the record low of 860,000 homes in January.

Meanwhile, rental prices rose 12.6% on an annual basis in January, per CoreLogic’s Single-family Rent Report. This marked the tenth consecutive month of record high growth. This report measures both new and renewal rents for both single-family homes and condos, putting it slightly lower than recent data from Apartment List, which looks primarily at new rents.

Housing Starts, which measure the start of construction on homes, increased 6.8% in February to an annualized rate of 1.77 million. This was almost double expectations and the highest level in 16 years! Starts for single-family homes, which are the most important because they are in such high demand among buyers, also increased by 5.7% and they were up almost 14% year over year. With low inventory a pervasive problem around the country, this is a welcome sign and should help improve future inventory levels.

Builder confidence declined 2 points to 79 in March, per the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index. Looking at the components of the index, the real decline came in future sales expectations, which fell 10 points and is likely due to ongoing supply chain issues, labor costs, geopolitical uncertainty and higher rates. It should be noted, however, that a reading above 50 on this index, which runs from 0 to 100, still signals expansion.

Also of note, Initial and Continuing Jobless Claims both declined in the latest week. There are now 1.968 million people in total receiving benefits, which is a stark contrast to the 18.9 million people receiving benefits in the comparable week last year. Claims are at very strong pre-pandemic levels, showing that the labor market remains tight.

Lastly, Retail Sales rose 0.3% in February, which was just beneath expectations. However, there was a big revision to sales in January of just over 1% to the upside. When factoring that in, Retail Sales still remain strong. This data begs the question of when inflation may cause more of a reduction in spending, especially given that we may be heading into recession-like conditions.

Understanding the Fed Rate Hike

The Fed met last week and, as expected, hiked the Federal Funds Rate by 25 basis points. Note that the Fed Funds Rate is the interest rate for overnight borrowing for banks and it is not the same as mortgage rates.

Looking at their dot plot chart, the majority of Fed members are expecting seven additional hikes this year. There are six remaining Fed meetings this year, which implies that there would have to be a double or 50 basis point hike at one of the upcoming meetings.

In addition, the Fed increased their 2022 inflation expectations by 65% from 2.6% to 4.3%. They also revised GDP lower from 4% to 2.8%.

The big negative for Mortgage Bonds was the Fed’s comments on their $9 trillion balance sheet. The Fed said that they would start to reduce their balance sheet at “a coming meeting” and in the Q&A session, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said they may finalize their plan at their next meeting in May.

 So, what does all of this potentially mean for mortgage rates?

Remember that the Fed has two levers they can pull for tightening the economy – hiking their benchmark Fed Funds Rate and reducing their balance sheet. Hiking the Fed Funds Rate will actually be a good thing for mortgage rates, as the Fed curbs inflation and preserves the fixed return a longer data Bond provides.However, reducing their balance sheet (which means allowing Bonds to fall off their balance sheet and no longer reinvesting in them each month) would cause more supply on the market that has to be absorbed. This can cause mortgage rates to move higher.

The bottom line is that we will want to closely watch how the Fed tries to walk the tightrope of hiking and allowing a balance sheet runoff during 2022.

 Watching an Important Recession Indicator

The yield spread between the 10-year Treasury and 2-year Treasury has been trending lower and when this goes inverted, it’s been a reliable recession indicator.

Normally, you would expect to receive a higher rate of return for putting your money away for 10 years versus 2 years. But when there is an economic slowdown and fear in the markets, the yield curve can go inverted – meaning that 2-year yields are higher than 10-year yields, which is backwards or upside down. Looking back at the history of recessions, we always see an inversion occur ahead of a recession, although it could take six months to two years for the actual recession to occur.

While we are not seeing the 10-year / 2-year spread go inverted yet, it has narrowed a great deal. And when the Fed hikes the Fed Funds Rate, this causes short-term yields to rise and can cause long-term yields to fall if it’s perceived that the rate hikes are getting inflation under control.

We are not seeing long-term yields fall yet, but short-term yields are climbing. And while there is not an inversion between the 10-year and 2-year, there are other inversions happening on the yield curve.

Recently, we’ve seen the 7-year yield move higher than the 10-year, the 5-year yield at about the same level as the 10-year, the 3-year yield 3 basis points beneath the 10 year, and the 20-year yield above the 30-year yield.

This is another important factor to closely watch in the months ahead.

Record High Wholesale Inflation

The Producer Price Index (PPI), which measures inflation on the wholesale level, rose 0.8% in February, which was just beneath estimates of 0.9%. On a year over year basis, PPI was unchanged at 10% after January’s report was revised higher. The index is at a record high since the methodology for collecting data was changed in 2010.

Core PPI, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, rose 0.2% in February, which was cooler than the 0.6% rise expected. The year over year figure declined from an upwardly revised 8.5% to 8.4%, which is just off another record.

Producer inflation remains elevated, which often leads to hotter consumer inflation levels, as producers pass those higher costs along to consumers. And keep in mind that this report was for February, before both the war in Ukraine and China’s shut down of the Shenzhen region due to a COVID outbreak. This area of China is known as its “Silicon Valley,” and the shutdown will likely cause more pressure on producer prices.

 Existing Home Sales Drop in February

 Existing Home Sales 3

Existing Home Sales, which measure closings on existing homes, showed that sales were down 7.2% in February to an annualized pace of 6.02 million units. Note that this likely measured activity in December and January, when rates were rising but not at the levels they are today. While this data was a bit worse than expectations, it does follow a similar rise in the previous month. On a year over year basis, sales were only down 2.4%, which is quite miraculous considering higher rates, higher home prices and no inventory.

And speaking of inventory, there were only 870,000 homes for sale at the end of February. This is up a little over 2% from the record low in January but is still down 15.5% annually and at very depressed levels. From July, inventory is down about 33%.

There was only a 1.7 months’ supply of homes available for sale at the end of February. Six months is considered a more balanced market, so the current low inventory levels speak to the imbalance of supply and demand. Homes were only on the market for 18 days in February, down from 19 in January. This should continue to be supportive of home prices.

The median home price was reported at $357,300, which is up 15% year over year. Remember that the median home price is not the same as appreciation. It simply means half the homes sold were above that price and half were below it. This figure continues to be skewed by the mix of sales, as sales on the lower end are down sharply, while sales above $500,000 are much higher.  

First-time homebuyers accounted for 29% of sales, which is up slightly from 27% in January. Cash buyers declined from 27% to 25%, while investors purchased 19% of homes, down from 22%. Foreclosures and short sales accounted for less than 1% of all transactions.

Rents on the Rise

CoreLogic’s Single-family Rent Report showed that rent prices hit a tenth consecutive month of record high growth in January. Year over year, rents increased 12.6%, up from the 12% annual growth reported in December. By comparison, rents were up just 3.9% annually in January 2021.

Miami led the way with rental prices up 38.6%, followed by Orlando at 19.9%. Washington, D.C. had the lowest increase at 5.6%.

Note that this report measures both new and renewal rents for both single-family homes and condos, putting it lower than recent data from Apartment List. Their rent report, which looks primarily at new rents, showed nearly 18% annual growth in February. To put this in context, annual rent growth averaged just 2.3% in the pre-pandemic years from 2017-2019.

Housing Starts Nearly Double Expectations

 Housing Starts 3

Housing Starts, which measure the start of construction on homes, increased 6.8% in February to an annualized rate of 1.77 million. This was almost double expectations and the highest level in 16 years! Year over year, Housing Starts were up 22%.

Starts for single-family homes, which are the most important because they are in such high demand among buyers also increased by 5.7% and they were up almost 14% year over year.

Building Permits, which are a good forward-looking indicator for Housing Starts, fell by 1.9% last month, but they were up 7.7% on a year over year basis. Single-family Permits also fell 0.5%, but they were up 5.4% year over year.

The bottom line is that low inventory has been a big issue around the country, so the increase in Housing Starts is a welcome sign and should help future inventory levels.

 Builder Confidence Declines for Fourth Straight Month

 NAHB Housing Market Index 3

The National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index, which is a real-time read on builder confidence, fell 2 points to 79 in March from a downwardly revised reading of 81 in February.

Looking at the components of the index, current sales conditions fell 3 points to 86, which is still very strong. Buyer traffic increased 2 points to 67, which is also showing strength. The real decline came in future sales expectations, which fell 10 points. This is likely due to ongoing supply chain issues, labor costs, geopolitical uncertainty and higher rates.

It should be noted, however, that a reading above 50 on this index, which runs from 0 to 100, still signals expansion.

While NAHB’s Index showed a decline in builder confidence, Lennar, who is the largest homebuilder in the U.S., reported that they are still seeing very strong demand on all their sites and expect sales to increase this year.

Initial and Continuing Jobless Claims Decline

 Jobless Claims 3

The number of people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time declined by 15,000 in the latest week, as Initial Jobless Claims were reported at 214,000.

Continuing Claims, which measure people who continue to receive benefits after their initial claim is filed, also fell by 71,000 to 1.419 million.

There are now 1.968 million people in total receiving benefits, and while this is almost 60,000 more than the prior week, more importantly it is a stark contrast to the 18.9 million people receiving benefits in the comparable week last year. Claims are at very strong pre-pandemic levels, showing that the labor market remains tight.

What to Look for This Week

After last week’s full economic calendar, this week’s release schedule is quieter but features several key reports to note.

More housing news is ahead when New Home Sales for February are reported on Wednesday. February’s Pending Home Sales follow on Friday.

The latest Jobless Claims data will be reported on Thursday, as usual, along with February’s Durable Goods Orders. Investors will also be closely watching Wednesday’s 20-year Bond auction for the level of demand.

Technical Picture

Mortgage Bonds ended last week higher than they were when the Fed hiked after testing support at 100.446 and bouncing higher in the latter half of the week. This is a bottoming out structure, coupled with a positive stochastic crossover. Bonds have been oversold for a long time and appear to be due for a rebound. The 10-year is in a similar position, now back under 2.16%.

Monday Market Update – 03/14/2022

Mortgage Rates Rise

Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey as of March 10, 2022

Following two weeks of declines, mortgage rates rose this week as U.S. Treasury yields increased. Over the long-term, we expect rates to continue to rise as inflation broadens and shortages increasingly impact many segments of the economy. However, uncertainty about the war in Ukraine is driving rate volatility that likely will continue in the short-term. The Fed meets this week and while we are all but guaranteed a rate increase of 25 basis points, questions still remain on how many more rate hikes will we see in 2022. There are also questions about what the Fed will do with its balance sheet. In addition to the rate hike, will they consider reducing the amount of mortgage backed securities it holds? These are the primary levers of monetary policy. A quick note on the increase–there is not a one-to-one relationship between the Fed moves and mortgage rates. They are correlational but not causal. But rates are on the way up mostly because the mortgage backed security, which as you will read below, hates inflation. Now is the time to encourage your buyers to get going on offers. As a reminder if you have buyers that were approved at their maximum loan amount in the last two months, you may want to revisit that approval because rates are about percentage point higher since the beginning of the year.

Opinions, estimates, forecasts, and other views contained in this document are those of Freddie Mac’s Economic & Housing Research group, do not necessarily represent the views of Freddie Mac or its management, and should not be construed as indicating Freddie Mac’s business prospects or expected results. Although the Economic & Housing Research group attempts to provide reliable, useful information, it does not guarantee that the information or other content in this document is accurate, current or suitable for any particular purpose. All content is subject to change without notice. All content is provided on an “as is” basis, with no warranties of any kind whatsoever. Information from this document may be used with proper attribution. Alteration of this document or its content is strictly prohibited. ©2022 by Freddie Mac.

Week of March 7, 2022 in Review

Consumer inflation is at the hottest level since 1982 while commodity prices are also on the rise.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed that consumer inflation rose by 0.8% in February while the year over year reading rose from 7.5% to 7.9% – the hottest level since 1982 when it was at 8.4%! Core CPI, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, rose by 0.5%. On an annual basis, Core CPI jumped from 6% to 6.4%.

Small business owners reported that inflation is the biggest problem right now, per the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Optimism Index. Within the report, companies that expect higher selling prices rose 7 points to 68%, which is a fresh record high going back to 1974. Note that this report was for February, and this figure could rise even more.

Besides seeing small businesses report higher selling prices, the price of gas and other commodities like nickel, gold and copper are also rising – all of which can contribute to inflation. Rising inflation is important to monitor because it can have a big impact on Mortgage Bonds and home loan rates, which are tied to them. The Fed is expected to take action to address rising inflation at its meeting this week, and it is crucial to monitor what they do – and how the markets react.

In addition, it’s important to note that the yield spread between the 10-year Treasury and 2-year Treasury has been trending lower. If this goes inverted, meaning longer-term maturities yield less than shorter-term maturities, it has been a very reliable recession indicator.

So, what does all of this potentially mean for the housing market? Don’t miss our important explanations below.

Over in the labor sector, the number of people filing for unemployment benefits on both an initial and continuing basis moved higher in the latest week. However, claims are back at strong pre-pandemic levels. There are now 1.9 million people in total receiving benefits, which is a stark contrast to the 20.8 million people receiving benefits in the comparable week last year.

Lastly, investors were closely watching Wednesday’s 10-year Treasury Note auction and Thursday’s 30-year Bond auction to see the level of demand. Find out the results below.

Consumer Inflation Remains at 40-Year High

The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures inflation on the consumer level, rose by 0.8% in February. This pushed the year over year reading higher from 7.5% to 7.9%, which is the hottest reading since 1982, when it was at 8.4%.

Core CPI, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, rose by 0.5%. As a result, year over year Core CPI increased from 6% to 6.4%. While these readings are red hot, they were in line with market estimates.

Within the report, rents rose 0.6% in February and increased from 3.8% to 4.2% on a year over year basis. While this data has started to increase, the CPI report is still not capturing the double digit increases year over year that many other rent reports are showing.

Owners’ equivalent rent increased 0.4% and the year over year figure rose from 4.1% to 4.3%. However, note that this data is based on a survey that asks homeowners, “If someone were to rent your home today, how much do you think it would rent for monthly, unfurnished and without utilities?” Understandably, this is very subjective and many people would be guessing these amounts.

Why is rising inflation significant?

Besides causing higher prices, inflation is the arch enemy of fixed investments like Mortgage Bonds because it erodes the buying power of a Bond’s fixed rate of return. If inflation is rising, investors demand a rate of return to combat the faster pace of erosion due to inflation, causing interest rates to rise.

The Fed is expected to address inflation at its two-day meeting Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, with expectations of a 25 basis point hike to the Fed Funds Rate.

Note that the Fed has two levers they can pull for tightening the economy – hiking their benchmark Fed Funds Rate and reducing their balance sheet. The Fed Funds Rate is the interest rate for overnight borrowing for banks and it is not the same as mortgage rates.

Hiking the Fed Funds Rate will actually be a good thing for mortgage rates, as the Fed curbs inflation and preserves the fixed return a longer data Bond provides. However, reducing their balance sheet (which means allowing Bonds to fall off their balance sheet and no longer reinvesting in them each month) would cause more supply on the market that has to be absorbed. This can cause mortgage rates to move higher.

The bottom line is that we will want to closely watch how the Fed tries to walk the tightrope of hiking and allowing a balance sheet runoff during 2022.

Additional Impacts of Inflation

February’s National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Optimism Index showed that small businesses grew less optimistic last month, as the index declined from 97.1 to 95.7. This is the lowest reading since January 2021.

Small business owners reported that inflation is the biggest problem right now. As a result, companies that expect higher selling prices rose 7 points to 68%, which is a fresh record high going back to 1974. Note that this report was for February, so these figures may worsen.

In addition, commodity prices are surging. In Europe, which gets the majority of their natural gas from Russia, the price is up 256% in the last 2 weeks. Imagine your heating bill going up 5 times or from $200 per month to $1,000.

Additionally, 70% of the world’s neon gas comes from Ukraine. Neon gas is an important factor in the production of semiconductors, which are already in a massive shortage. This can have implications for cars and other products that use chips and is something we will need to monitor in the months to come.

Other commodities, including nickel, gold and copper, are also on the rise and at historic levels. Many of the commodities that have risen are components of finished goods, which will cause inflation to continue to rise and be widespread.

Recession Indicators to Note

Besides seeing small businesses report higher selling prices, we’re also seeing economic conditions slowing. The yield spread between the 10-year Treasury and 2-year Treasury has been trending lower.

What does this mean?

It is natural to expect a greater rate of return for obligating money for a longer period of time. Money that is committed to be lent for 10 years should normally offer a higher rate of return than money that would be committed for one or two years.

This increase in yield over time is known as the yield curve, which naturally moves up with maturity. But there is a phenomenon called an inverted yield curve, which has longer-term maturities yielding less than shorter-term maturities. This occurs when investors feel that prices in the future will decrease beneath present levels. When this goes inverted, it has been a very reliable recession indicator.

Again, the Fed is expected to hike their benchmark Fed Funds Rate at their meeting this week. This hike will push the short end of the yield curve higher, while the long end could move lower if it’s perceived that inflation is being reduced. This will cause an inversion at an even faster rate.

If we are to see a recession, how will it impact housing? 

If we look to the history of all the recessions since 1960, housing either remained stable or values increased in almost all of them. The exception is 2009, but that recession was caused by the housing bubble. That recession did not cause the housing bubble. Remember most recently that during the 2020 recession, home prices powered higher.

Why does housing usually perform well during these periods? Because interest rates typically decline sharply.

 Jobless Claims Tick Higher But Remain At Healthy Levels

 Jobless Claims 3

Initial Jobless Claims rose by 11,000 in the latest week, as 227,000 people filed for unemployment benefits for the first time. In addition, the previous week’s total was revised higher by 1,000 people.

Continuing Claims, which measure people who continue to receive benefits after their initial claim is filed, rose by 25,000 to 1.494 million.

There are now 1.9 million people in total receiving benefits, which is 62,000 fewer than the prior week, and more importantly a stark contrast to the 20.8 million people receiving benefits in the comparable week last year. Claims are at very strong pre-pandemic levels, showing that the labor market remains tight.

Important Auctions Bring Mixed Results

Investors were closely watching Wednesday’s 10-year Treasury Note auction and Thursday’s 30-year Bond auction to see the level of demand. High demand, which is reflected in the purchasing of Bonds and Treasuries, can push prices higher and yields or rates lower.

Weak demand, on the other hand, can signal that investors think yields will continue to move higher, which can have a negative effect on rates.

The 10-Year Treasury Note auction was met with just below average demand. The yield of 1.92% was just a hair above the when issued pricing (lower is better). The bid to cover of 2.47 was just below the one-year average of 2.50. The percentage of direct and indirect bidders was about in line with the 6-month average. The auction did not have too much of an impact on the markets.

The 30-Year Bond auction was met with strong demand. The bid to cover of 2.46 was above the one-year average of 2.30. Direct and indirect bidders took 87.9% of the auction compared to 81.9% in the previous 12.

What to Look for This Week

A full week of economic reports are ahead covering a wide range of the economy.

On Tuesday, more inflation news will be reported when February’s Producer Price Index will give us a read on wholesale inflation for that month. We’ll also get an update on manufacturing for the New York region when March’s Empire State Index is reported.

Wednesday brings the latest on February Retail Sales and an update on how confident builders are feeling this month via the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index.

Perhaps the biggest news of the week will come Wednesday afternoon when the Fed’s two-day FOMC meeting concludes with its Monetary Policy Statement. Investors will be closely watching to see what action the Fed takes to address rising inflation.

More housing data will be reported on Thursday with February’s Housing Starts and Building Permits. There will also be additional regional manufacturing news via March’s Philadelphia Fed Index, and the latest Jobless Claims data will be reported, as usual.

Ending the week on Friday, look for Existing Home Sales data for February. 

Technical Picture

Mortgage Bonds have been in a clear downtrend, now trading just above an important floor of support at the 50% Fibonacci retracement level, which was tested throughout Friday’s trading session. So far, Bonds have bounced higher off this floor. Until this level is broken, there is reason to believe that prices can remain around current levels or rebound high.