Archive for January, 2010

Retail Sales Dropped In December And Now So Are Mortgage Rates

January 14, 2010

Retail Sales December 2009

Mortgage rates are dropping this morning on weaker-than-expected Retail Sales data from December. Lower rates means more bang for your home-buying buck.

Excluding motor vehicles and parts, December’s “ex-auto” sales receipts were down roughly $500 million from November. Analysts had expected receipts to grow.

The relevance of Retail Sales to home affordability isn’t obvious, but it’s definitely logical.

Retail Sales is directly related to consumer spending and consumer spending accounts for the majority of the U.S. economy. When consumer spending slows, the economy often does, too. It leads investors to seek out “safe” investments.

It’s the reason why stock markets often drop on weak economic data — stocks are among the riskiest investment classes available.

Conversely, the best place to find safety is in the market of government-backed bonds.  This world includes products like U.S. Treasuries and many of the mortgage-backed bonds that help set mortgage rates.  Weak economic data puts mortgage bonds in demand.

For rate shopper, this is good news.  More demand for mortgage bonds causes mortgage rates to fall.  Mortgage rates are lower this morning because Wall Street is shedding some risk.

December’s Retail Sales report closes out a year of generally-weak data.  2009 marks just the second time that Retail Sales fell year-over-year since the government started tracking it 40 years ago.  The other year was 2008.

For home buyers around the country, though, today may represent an opportune time to lock a mortgage rate.  Housing data is still improving and other economic indicators are showing strength.  Soon, Wall Street will shift from a “safe” mentality and move toward risk.

When it does, mortgage rates will rise.

Job Loss Report

January 12, 2010

The Bad Jobs Report Wasn’t All Bad — Mortgage Rates Fell

January 12, 2010

Unemployment Rate 2007-2009Despite the headlines, it’s important to remember that December’s jobs report wasn’t all bad news. 

Sure, the economy shed 85,000 jobs last month and the Unemployment Rate failed to dip below 10%, but for home buyers and rate shoppers , the news was just fine.

The soft employment data led mortgage rates lower, making homes more affordable for buyers.

There is two sides to every economic coin.

Since early-2008, the U.S workforce has been closely tied to home financing. As the economy slowed and jobs were lost, Wall Streeters pulled money from the risky stock markets and moved it to of the relative safety of bond markets, instead.

Safe haven buying led mortgage bond prices higher which, in turn, caused rates to fall. Mortgage rates fell to 6 all-time lows in 2009. In a related statistic, 4.2 million jobs were lost last year.

And this is why Friday’s non-farm payrolls report was so good for buyers.

See, in November, the economy added new jobs for the first time since 2007, housing looked strong, consumer confidence was growing.  The safe haven buying reversed and mortgage rates took off.  Analysts believed the nation’s economic turnaround was complete.

But now, after December’s jobs report returned to the red, Wall Street is forced to rethink its position. Safe haven buying is back and mortgage rates are lower because of it.

Over the next few months, expect a lot of this back-and-forth action in rates. In general, positive news for the economy will be met with higher mortgage rates and negative economic news will be met with lower mortgage rates.  There will be exceptions, but the general rule should hold.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : January 11, 2010

January 11, 2010

Retail Sales data shapes mortgage ratesData was sparse through 2010’s first trading week last week, setting the stage for a week of momentum trading.

In up-and-down trading, mortgage pricing improved overall but the best rates of the week didn’t last long.

Rates improved Monday and Tuesday as an oversold market corrected itself to better price points.  Then, in anticipation of the December jobs report, rates worsened Wednesday and Thursday.  Friday, after the jobs report was released, pricing proceeded to carve out a huge range before settling unchanged.

On average, lenders issued new rate sheets every few hours last week. It was a difficult week to shop for mortgages in Utah and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, this week doesn’t figure to be much better. 

For the second straight week, the economic calendar is bare.  Traders — like last week — will be forced to rely on “gut feel” to make their trades.  That rarely bodes well for shoppers.  Especially because traders are facing a mortgage market in the midst of a terrible losing streak. 

Since reaching an all-time low December 1, 2009, 30-year fixed rate mortgages have worsened by 300 basis points, or 3 percent.

To a homeowner or rate shopper , the math of 300 basis points looks like this:

  • 5 weeks ago, a 4.625 percent mortgage rate required 0 points
  • Today, the same 4.625 percent mortgage rate requires 3 points

1 point is equal to 1 percent of your loan size.

Last month’s worsening is the worst 1-month deterioration in consumer mortgage rates from all of 2009.

If you’re hoping for rates to fall back to early-December levels, know that it is possible. For this week, here’s some things that could push rates in the right direction:

  1. 3 Fed members are speaking. Each mention of economic under-performance in 2010 will be good for rates.
  2. Retail Sales data is released Thursday. If the numbers are weak, mortgage rates should improve.
  3. Consumer confidence surveys are released Friday. Lower confidence levels should help rates fall.

Be ready to lock at a moment’s notice this week.  Rates may rise or fall, but markets are positioned toward the former.That’s where momentum is pointing as of the Market Open today.

Keep an eye on rates and your loan officer on speed dial. Once the mortgage market starts breaking, it’s expected to break quickly.

2010 FHA Loan Limits Released

January 8, 2010

2010 FHA Loan LimitsFHA home loans are federal assistance mortgages made by lenders, and backed by the government. The FHA doesn’t make loans to Utah homeowners — it insures loans made to homeowners by federally-qualified lenders.

By all accounts, FHA home loans are surging in popularity.

  • 2006, FHA insured 3.3% of all mortgages made
  • Q2 2009, FHA insured 19.2% of all mortgages made

A major reason for the increase can be tied to guidelines.

As compared to its conforming mortgage cousins Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, FHA home loans have lower downpayment requirements and looser credit standards. The FHA allows downpayments of 3.5 percent and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do not, as an example.

Another reason is that FHA home loans aren’t subject to credit score fees the way that conforming mortgages are. Through Fannie or Freddie, a home buyer with a 650 FICO and 20% down is subject to 3% in risk fees.  Via the FHA, the fee is zero, making FHA the better “deal”.

The FHA published its 2010 loan limits. There’s no change from 2009.

The base 2010 FHA loan limits are:

  • 1-unit : $271,050
  • 2-unit : $347,000
  • 3-unit : $419,400
  • 4-unit : $521,250

We say “base” because these loan limits don’t apply to all areas equally.  Higher-cost regions get higher loan limits, based on typical home values. Homes in Los Angeles County, for example, can be FHA-insured up to $729,750 in 2010, and there are special exceptions made for Alaska and Hawaii.

The official FHA announcement included a complete, county-by-county FHA loan limit list. The first spreadsheet shows each county at or above the $729,750 maximum; the second list is everyone else.

If your home’s county is on neither list, use the “base” numbers above.

Upon Closer Inspection, The Federal Reserve Isn’t 100% Positive About The Future Of The Economy

January 7, 2010

FOMC December 2009 MinutesBoth mortgage rates and home affordability took a turn for the better Wednesday after the Federal Reserve released its December 15-16, 2009 meeting minutes.

The Fed Minutes is a follow-up piece to the post-FOMC meeting press release. But whereas the press release is succinct and to-the-point, the minutes are lengthy and often meandering.

As a comparison, December’s press release contained 535 words. December’s minutes had 6,260.

But these “extra words” aren’t superfluous. They’re actually very important to homeowners. Because the Federal Reserve’s internal debates help to shape Wall Street expectations, it doesn’t take much for those conversations to have a trickle-down effect on Main Street.

For example, after the December meeting, the Fed said that economic growth is steady, inflation is in check, and an orderly wind-down of mortgage market support was underway. A look at the minutes, though, showed some disconnect.

Some Fed members believe rising commodity prices could lead to stronger-than-expected, and others think that improvement is housing could be “undercut” by a pull-back in government stimulus.

Overall, the Fed appears optimistic about the economy, but not as optimistic as on December 16. Mortgage markets responded favorably to the minutes and mortgage pricing improved.

Although rates remain higher as compared to early-December, pricing has been on a good run this week. If you’re under contract for a home in Utah or just looking to refinance, now may be a good time to lock.


Home Buyers Get A Green Light : Pending Home Sales Plunge In November

January 6, 2010

Pending Home Sales November 2009

Just one month after touching a 3-year high, the National Association of Realtors® Pending Home Sales index plunged in November.  A “pending” home sale is a home that is under contract to sell, but has yet to close.

The 16 percent drop marks the first retreat in Pending Home Sales since January of last year.

The weak Pending Home Sales data is an indication that Existing Home Sales data will be soft this month. This is because, historically, 80 percent of Pending Home Sales convert to “closed sales” within 60 days, and most of the rest close within 120.

With Pending Home Sales down, the housing market should lose some of its momentum.  For today’s home buyers, this kind of slack can represent a terrific opportunity.

Home prices are a function of supply and demand; of buyers and sellers. When buyers outnumber sellers, competition leads to bidding wars, ultimately, and higher home prices overall.  The imbalance can also create a sense of urgency that results in over-paying for a home.

When buyers are sparse, on the other hand, the psychology of real estate shifts. 

Home sellers are keenly aware of foot traffic and requests for second and third showings. Without buyers, their homes can’t sell.  They also note a lack of general feedback from the market.

It’s at this point that seller fear can creep in and it becomes a buyer’s best time to buy.

Based on November’s Pending Home Sales data, it’s clear that home sellers are in abundance right now.  Home buyers have leverage.

It may not last.

With mortgage rates easing lower this week, the federal home buyer tax credit still in effect, and the Holiday Season officially over, buyers are getting back to business everywhere. 

Plus, with the tax credit deadline of April 30, 2010 fast approaching, buyer activity should increase over the next 4-6 weeks.

The market looks ripe for a buy but don’t rush it.  Take your time and bid right. But when you’re ready, be ready — once the market momentum shifts back to sellers, you might lose all that leverage you built up through the winter.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : January 4, 2010

January 4, 2010

Non-Farm Payrolls in focus this weekMortgage markets were relatively flat last week during holiday-shortened trading.  After starting the week with a Monday surge higher, mortgage rates settled down through Tuesday and remained somewhat flat into the early-close for New Year’s Eve.

However, as compared to the 4-month low posted post-Thanksgiving, conforming mortgage pricing has now worsened by more than 300 basis points.  In English, that means that a December 1 Utah mortgage rate quoted with zero points is available today at a cost of 3 points.

1 “point” is equal to 1 percent of how much you borrow.

If you were shopping for homes or rates last month, you no doubt noticed that pricing zoomed higher to close out 2009. How 2010 starts is anyone’s guess. This week will hold the answer.

It’s a week light with data, but heavy on importance.  The biggest news comes Friday in the form of the December employment report.

Last month, the Unemployment Rate fell for just the second time in 2 years and net job gains nearly turned positive.  Both points were bad for mortgage rates because a weak economy has helped keep rates down.  Evidence of improvement, therefore — at least according to Wall Street — is reason for reversal.

This month, analysts expect a net job gain of zero.  If they get it, the psychological effect of the data should cause stock markets to rise and mortgage markets to sink.

A worsening market is bad for rates.

Other data to watch this week is Tuesday’s Pending Home Sales report and Wednesday’s FOMC November Minutes release. Both can forcefully impact markets and rates.

Today is January 4 — there’s a lot of 2010 to go.  However, that won’t stop Wall Street from trying to figure it out. As the stock market rises and falls this week, the bond market will likely be in tow.  Abrupt movements mean changing mortgage rates and we’ll see more of our fair share of it over the next few weeks.

If you’re quoted a mortgage rate this week that fits your budget, consider locking it in.  Rates may fall in 2010, or they may not.  It’s a gamble on which you don’t want on the wrong side because when rates do rise, they’re likely to rise quickly.

Markets can’t sustain rates like this in an expanding economy.

Snooze you lose / Market and tax credit update

January 2, 2010