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Predicting mortgage and housingWith 2010 coming to a close, the “experts” are out in full force, making predictions for next year’s housing and mortgage markets on business television and in the papers.

Predictions for 2011 are wide-ranging:

The problem with housing and mortgage predictions is that — like all predictions — they’re just educated guesses about the future. Nobody knows what will really happen with the housing and mortgage markets in 2011. All anyone can do is theorize. As laypersons, though, it can be hard to separate theory from fact.

Television can make that task even more difficult at times.

As an example, when a well-dressed economist goes on CNBC and presents a clear, succinct argument for why home prices will fall on 2011, we’re inclined to believe the analysis and conclusion. After all, the outcome seems plausible outcome given the facts. But then, immediately after, a different economist presents an opposite argument — that home prices will rise in 2011 — and her analysis seems sound, too.

Even Freddie Mac can’t see the future.

Last year, the government group predicted mortgage rates to 6 percent in 2010. That never happened, of course. Instead, conforming mortgage rates dropped over a 7-month period this year to levels best be described as “historic”.  Freddie Mac couldn’t have been more wrong.

So, what’s a homeowner to believe?

About the only thing that’s certain right now is that mortgage rates remain low by historical standards, and that home prices do, too. Also, that both housing and mortgage markets appear to be riding momentum higher into 2011.  This suggests that it will be more expensive to buy and finance a home by the end of 2011.

Until that time, however, predictions are just guesses.

Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishToday, the Federal Open Market Committee voted 9-to-1 to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged within in its target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.

In its press release, the FOMC noted that since November’s meeting, the “economic recovery is continuing”, but at a pace deemed too slow to make a material impact on unemployment rates. It also said that household spending in increasing, but remains constrained by joblessness, tight credit and lower housing wealth.

In addition, the Fed used its press release to re-affirm its plan to keep the Fed Funds Rate near zero percent “for an extended period” while also opting to keep its $600 billion bond market support package in place.

And lastly, of particular interest to home buyers and mortgage rate shoppers, the FOMC statement devoted an entire paragraph to the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate of keeping inflation and employment at acceptable levels.

The Fed acknowledges making progress toward this goal, but calls it “disappointingly slow”. Currently, inflation is too low for what the Fed deems acceptable, and unemployment is too high.

Over time, the Fed expects both measurements to improve.

Mortgage market reaction to the FOMC statement has been negative thus far. Mortgage rates are unchanged post-FOMC, but appear poised to worsen.

The FOMC’s next scheduled meeting is a 2-day affair, January 25-26, 2011. It’s the first scheduled meeting of 2011.

Mortgage Rate surveys are not real-time

It’s been a wild 30 days for home affordability.

Since the Federal Reserve’s November 3 press release, in which our nation’s central banker committed $600 billion to bond markets, mortgage rates have leaped, moving quicker than the news can report them.

This week is a terrific example of that.

Today, newspaper headlines in New Hampshire and around the country read that mortgage rates rose 0.06% on average over the past 7 days, and that average loan fees remain unchanged at 0.8 points. The data is based on Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey, a weekly poll of more than 100 lenders around the country.

Unfortunately for home buyers and other local rate shoppers, the Freddie Mac figures are low. Both mortgage rates and fees rose by more than what’s being reported.

Freddie Mac’s data is not real-time. It’s out of date for today’s pricing.

According to Freddie Mac, the survey’s methodology has it collecting rates from participating lenders between Monday and Wednesday, averaging the results, and then publishing that data Thursday late-morning. The problem there, as you know if you’ve shopped for a mortgage rate, is that mortgage rates change all day, every day.

Monday’s rates are unrelated to Wednesday’s rates, yet both are included and given equal weight by Freddie Mac. Some weeks, it’s not a problem; rates are relative static.

This week was not such a week.

Rates were jumpy Monday and Tuesday, rising and falling throughout the course of the day. Action like that is normal. But Wednesday, mortgage bonds put forth their third-worst daily showing of the year.  Rates rose by as much as 3/8 percent between the market open and close, with the bulk of the sell-off coming late in the day. In other words, after the deadline of Freddie Mac’s survey.

Mortgage lenders accurately reported their rates to Freddie Mac, but they reported them before the market turn a turn for the worse.

The lesson is that mortgage rates are time-sensitive and can’t be captured by a weekly, average survey. When you need to know what mortgage rates are doing right now, the best place to check is with your loan officer. Otherwise, you may just get yesterday’s news.

Non-Farm Payrolls Nov 2008-Oct 2010Mortgage rates are rising, up nearly 1 percent since mid-October. Tomorrow, rates could rise again.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the November jobs report at 8:30 A.M. ET Friday. With a stronger-than-expected reading, mortgage rates should continue their climb, harming home affordability across Massachusetts and nationwide.

And already, Wall Street is bracing for big results.  Here’s why.

Wednesday, payroll processor ADP said that 98,000 private-sector jobs were created in November. The figure was a complete blowout reading as compared to analyst estimates, which had the results in the 50,000 range. But that wasn’t all. ADP re-measured and re-reported October’s gains, too. It found that 84,000 jobs were created — not the 43,000 on its original report from 30 days ago.

If jobs growth is the keystone to economic recovery, the ADP report suggests that recovery is already underway.

It’s bad news for rate shoppers. A faltering economy helped keep mortgage rates low. A recovering one should make rates rise. And, that’s exactly what happened Wednesday.

In response to the ADP report, conforming mortgage rates posted their third-worst day of the year. Rates climbed as much as 0.375 percent throughout the day as lenders scrambled to keep up with a deteriorating market.

At some banks, rates changed 4 times between the market’s open and close.

Tomorrow, analysts expect the government to report 146,000 jobs created in November. Mortgage markets and home affordability have a lot riding on the actual results. A lower-than-expected reading should lead mortgage rates lower. Anything else and mortgage rates should rise. Likely by a lot.

Therefore, if you’re shopping for a mortgage right now, or floating a loan that’s in-process, think about your personal risk tolerance and whether you want to gamble against rates moving higher. Once Friday morning’s report is released, it may be too late to lock something lower.

FOMC November 2010 MinutesThe Federal Reserve released its November 2-3, 2010 meeting minutes Tuesday afternoon. Mortgage rates in Massachusetts have been on the move since.

The Fed Minutes is a comprehensive review of Federal Open Market Committee meetings; a detailed look at the debates and discussions that shape our country’s monetary policy. The report is published 3 weeks to-the-day after the FOMC adjourns.

Fed Minutes add depth to the briefer, more well-known “statement” to the markets which is issued upon adjournment. As a comparison:

If the Fed Statement is the executive summary, the Fed Minutes is the novel. And, the extra words matter.

When the Federal Reserve publishes its minutes, it gives clues about the groups next policy-making steps.  For example, in November’s minutes, it’s revealed that the Fed discussed setting inflation targets for the economy; holding occasional policy briefings for the press; and, working to set yields on instruments such as the 10-year Treasury note.

In addition, the Federal Reserve acknowledged a video conference hosted October 15, the second such “unannounced” meeting of the year.  The other was May 9, 2010.

Bond markets have not taken kindly to the Fed Minutes. The minutes show a propensity toward Fed “action”, most of which markets believe to be inflationary. Inflation leads to higher mortgage rates and that’s exactly what we’ve seen.

As compared to Tuesday morning, mortgage applicants are finding conforming and FHA mortgage rates to be higher by as much as 0.375 percent. In “real life” terms, assuming a 30-year term, that’s an extra $264 in annual mortgage payments per $100,000 borrowed.

If you’re still rate shopping, consider getting locked today. As a result of the recent shift, mortgage rates are now at a 4-month high.

Freddie Mac mortgage rates (January - November 2010)

Rock-bottom mortgage rates may be gone for good.  This week’s Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey shows in numbers what Massachusetts rate shoppers have learned the hard way — mortgage rates are spiking.

During the 7-day period ending November 18, the average 30-year, conforming fixed rate mortgage jumped to 4.39 percent, an increase of 0.22% from the week prior.

And it’s not just rates that are soaring. The average number of points charged to consumers increased to 0.9 percent last week. For most of the year, that cost had been 0.7 percent.

One “point” is equal to 1 percent of your loan size.

With the sudden rise in mortgage rates, we have to question whether the Refi Boom is ending. Between April and early-November, conforming mortgage rates dropped more than a full percentage point and, during that time, a lot of homeowners capitalized on the market. Refinance activity was strong; rates cut new lows each week.

Today, however, Wall Street sentiment is different. There’s a growing concern for the future of the U.S. dollar, and that’s making mortgage bonds less attractive to investors. As demand drops, so does the underlying bond’s price which, in turn, causes mortgage rates to rise.

Buy-sell patterns like this are common. The speed at which they’re changing is not.  Mortgage lenders can barely keep up with the volatility, issuing up to 4 separate rate sheets in a day.

Therefore, if you’re shopping for mortgage rates, or wondering whether it’s finally time to join the Refi Boom, the time to lock is now. Mortgage rates should remain volatile through the New Year, at least. At what level they’ll be then, though, is anyone’s guess.

Retail Sales vs Consumer Confidence (2008-2010)

If consumer spending is a key to economic recovery, the nation is on its way.

Monday, the Census Bureau released national Retail Sales figures for October and, for the second straight month, the data surged past expectation. Last month’s retail figures jumped 1.2 percent — the largest monthly jump since March — as total sales receipts climbed to a 2-year high.

Consumer confidence is rising, too. Though still below the long-term trend, confidence in the future up-ticked in October.

The current confidence reading is now double the low-point from February 2009.

It’s no surprise that both Retail Sales and Consumer Confidence are higher. They correlate in a common-sense-type manner. When consumers are more confident in the economy, they’re more likely to spend their money. This, in turn, leads to more purchases and rising retail receipts.

Unfortunately, for home buyers and rate shoppers , it also leads to rising mortgage rates.

Because consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the economy, spending growth leads to economic growth. But it’s been a lack of growth that’s kept mortgage rates this low.

When the growth starts, the low rates end. It’s why mortgage rates have added as much as 1/2 percent over the past 10 days. Consider the recent “good news”:

  • Retail Sales made a 2-year high in October
  • Existing and New Home Sales showed big improvement in September
  • Jobs growth returned in October

The days of 4 percent, 30-year fixed rate mortgages may be nearing its end.  If someone is thinking of buying and considers the impact of rising rates on his budget, it could help spur some offers from those sitting on the fence.

Net Job Gains Oct 2008 - Sept 2010Mortgage rates have been falling since April, shedding more than 1 percentage point since the Refi Boom began. Today, that momentum could lose some steam.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the October jobs report at 8:30 A.M. ET. With a stronger-than-expected reading, mortgage rates should rise, harming home affordability in New Hampshire and nationwide.

As cited by the Fed earlier this week, jobs are a key part of economic growth and growth affects mortgage rates.

Looking back at jobs, starting in January 2010, after close to 24 consecutive months of job loss, the economy added jobs for the first time since 2007. It started a small jobs winning streak. By May — boosted by the temporary census workers — monthly job growth reached as far north as 431,000 jobs.

That figure then slipped negative in June and has yet to turn-around.

This month, economists expect 61,000 jobs lost and 9.6% Unemployment Rate.

Jobs matter to the U.S. economy. Among other reasons, employed Americans spend more on everyday goods and services, and are less likely to stop payments on a mortgage. These effects spur the economy, stem foreclosures, and promote higher home values.

The reverse is also true. Fewer workers means fewer disposable dollars and, in theory, a slowing economy. Weak jobs data should spur a stock market sell-off which should, in turn, help lead to mortgage rates lower.

Strong jobs data, on the other hand, should cause mortgage rates to rise.

The stronger October’s employment figures, the higher mortgage rates should go.

Mortgage rates have been jumpy this week because of the Federal Reserve and its new support for bond markets. Today’s employment report should add to the volatility.

Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishToday, the Federal Open Market Committee voted 9-to-1 to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged within in its target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.

In its press release, the FOMC noted that, since September’s meeting, the pace of economic and job growth “continues to be slow”.  Housing starts are “depressed”, income growth is “modest” and commercial real estate investment is “weak”.

With respect to its prior economic stimuli, the Fed deemed the recovery “disappointingly slow”, while, at the same time, noting that growth will come.

The Fed also noted that inflation is running lower that what’s optimal, hinting at the potential for deflation.

Lastly, the Fed re-acknowledged its plan to hold the Fed Funds Rate near zero percent “for an extended period”, and also announced a new, $600 billion support package for the bond market. In most instances, a move like this would drive mortgage rates lower, but the Fed’s stimulus had been widely telegraphed, and $600 billion isn’t too far from the initial package estimates.

Mortgage market reaction has been muted thus far. Mortgage rates are unchanged post-FOMC, but looked poised to worsen.

The FOMC’s next scheduled meeting is December 14, 2010. It’s the last scheduled meeting of the year.

Net Job Gains Oct 2008 - Sept 2010Go figure – the jobs report is worse than expected, so the stock market climbs.  That one has me scratching my head.

On the first Friday of each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its Non-Farm Payrolls report from the month prior.  This month, though, because the first Friday of the month was also the first day of the month, the report was delayed one week.

The report hit the wires at 8:30 AM ET this morning.

More commonly called “the jobs report”, the government’s non-farm payrolls data influences stock and bond markets, and, in the process, swings a big stick with home affordability figures nationwide.

Especially in today’s economic climate.

Although the recession has been deemed over, Wall Street remains unconvinced. Data fails to show the economy moving strongly in one direction or the other and, absent job creation, economists believe growth to be illusionary.

Consider:

  1. With job creation comes more income, and more spending.
  2. With more spending comes growth in business
  3. With growth in business comes more job creation

And the cycle continues.

The prevailing thought is that, without jobs, consumer spending can’t sustain and consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the economy. No job growth, no economy recovery.

But there’s another angle to the jobs report, too; one that connects to the housing market. As the jobs market recovers, today’s renters are more likely to become tomorrow’s homeowners, and today’s homeowners are more likely to “move-up” to bigger homes. This means more competition for homes at all price points and, therefore, higher home values.

And that brings us to today’s jobs data.

According to the government, 95,000 jobs were lost in September. Economists expected a net loss of 5,000.  However, if public sector jobs are excluded from the final figures, jobs grew by 64,000.  This is a positive for the private-sector, but still trailed expectations.

Wall Street is voting with its dollars right now and mortgage bonds are gaining, improving mortgage pricing.

So, although the September 2010 jobs report doesn’t reflect well on the economy overall, home affordability in Massachusetts and around the country should improve as a result.