Market Update

27 May 2014

Rising home values are cooling off a bit as prices come back down to more normal levels after the big gains seen in 2013. The March Case Shiller 20-city Index rose by an annual rate of 12.4%, above the 11.8% expected, but down from the February annual rate of 12.9% and a recent peak of 13.7% in November. The Index did show a 0.9% increase in prices from February to March.

Consumers attitudes towards jobs, the economy and personal finances were more upbeat in the short term based on a recent survey from the Conference Board. The May Consumer Confidence Index rose to 83.0 from the 82.3 recorded in April and just above the 82.7 that was expected. The Index also revealed that the percentage of consumers expecting their incomes to grow over the next six months is the highest since December 2007, 20.2%.

The closely watched S&P 500 closed at a record high of 1,900 on Friday and is now up a whopping 186% from the low of 666 seen on March 9, 2009, at the height of the Great Recession. The Stock markets have been fueled by rising corporate profits, positive economic data, a comeback in housing and last but not least, support from the Federal Reserve through its QE programs. The S&P 500 is an index of 500 stocks and is designed to be a leading indicator of U.S. equities.

Consumer Confidence Index July 2008-July 2010For the second consecutive month, U.S. consumer confidence is plunging. July’s official reading is its lowest since July of last year and the figures run in stark contrast to just two months ago, when the index touched a multi-year high.

According to The Conference Board, July’s figures are reflective of a more pessimistic consumer; one concerned about “business conditions and the labor market”.

Falling confidence numbers are presumed to be poor for the economy. For homeowner and home buyers in San Jose , however, they can create opportunity.  Low confidence can influence the mortgage market in a positive manner, driving mortgage rates down.

Mortgage rates are already at their lowest levels of all-time.

The link between consumer confidence and everyday mortgage rates roots in consumer spending.

Consumer spending accounts for close to 70% of the overall U.S. economy so, the thought goes that, a less confident consumer is less likely to spend money, thereby retarding economic growth. This harms the stock markets and drives cash to bonds, including mortgage-backed bonds.

More bond demand leads bond prices to rise which, in turn, pushes mortgage rates lower.

The other side of lagging confidence is that Americans may be less likely to take new financial risks when they’re feeling unsure, including buying a new home. This can then drag on the housing market, negatively impacting home prices across California.

Falling home values can help buyers, harm sellers, and stymie would-be refinancers.

It’s tough to predict how consumer confidence data will work its way through the economy, but in the near-term, it appears to be helping mortgage rates stay low. If you’re floating a mortgage rate with your lender, or contemplating a refinance, the time may be right to lock in a rate.

Low rates can’t last forever.

Consumer Confidence Index May 2008-May 2010The Consumer Confidence Index is rising, a potentially double-edged sword for residents of San Jose and for Americans, in general.

According to The Conference Board, economic confidence is as high as it’s been since August 2007 — 4 months before the start of the recession.  Americans are optimistic again.

Confidence matters to the economy because as confidence increases, in theory, consumer spending follows.  Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the U.S. economy.

It’s why Wall Street is responsive to confidence data.

When consumer confidence is rising, households start to make big-ticket purchases they may have otherwise put off indefinitely.  Maybe it’s a replacing old appliances; or, trading in an old automobiles; or, splurging on a vacation.

Rising confidence can also spur real estate sales.

When confidence is rising, a growing family that chose to “make do” in their 3-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom starter home may opt to move-up to a 4-bedroom, 3-bath instead at a slightly higher monthly carrying cost.  And there are families in every city in every state making those same decisions.

As a result, the housing market gets a boost — especially in the mid-to-upper price ranges. Values rise on higher demand for homes.

The downside is that growing confidence tends to push conforming and FHA mortgage rates up.  This is because an expanding economy draws investment dollars away from bonds and into stocks — including mortgage bonds. 

The reduced demand for mortgage-backed bonds leads bond prices to fall and mortgage rates to rise.  Sometimes by a little, sometimes by lot.

So, if you’re buying a home or thinking of a refinance, rising confidence in the economy may be a signal to act sooner rather than later.  Talk to your real estate agent and/or your loan officer about next steps and get your plan in place.

University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Aug 2008-Jan 2010Consumer Sentiment has been on the rise since last February and it’s something to which San Jose home buyers should pay attention. 

The affordability of your next home may hinge on consumer confidence.

As the economy recovers from a near-the-brink recession, many of the elements of a full recovery are in place.  Business investment is returning, household spending is expanding, and financial systems are gaining strength. 

Consumer confidence is at a 2-year high.

What’s missing from the recovery, though, is jobs growth.  Another net 20,000 jobs were lost in January. Data like that hinders economic growth.

That said, twenty-thousand jobs lost is a much better figure than the several hundred thousand that were shed per month throughout early-2009, but it’s still a net negative number.  Not only does household income drop when Americans lose jobs but so does the average American’s confidence in his or her own economic future.

This is one reason why jobs growth is so closely watched by Wall Street — jobs are linked to higher confidence levels which, in turn, is believed to spur consumer spending.

Consumer spending represents 70% of the U.S. economy.

As confidence rises, it could be good news for the economy, but bad news for home buyers. More spending expands the economy and, all things equal, that leads mortgage rates higher. 

Same for home prices. More confidence means more buyers which, in turn, squeezes the supply-and-demand curve in favor of sellers.

Later this morning, the University of Michigan will release its February Consumer Sentiment survey. If the reading is higher-than-expected, prepare for mortgage rates to rise and home affordability to worsen.