Fed Funds Rate (Dec 2006 - Dec 2009)Mortgage markets improved last week as pricing followed a roller coaster-like pattern. After touching a 6-week high Tuesday, rates rallied to weekly lows Thursday, and then jumped back higher Friday.

Despite the improvement last week overall, mortgage pricing remains significantly worse from the all-time lows set in late-November.

Oddly, last week’s most prominent mortgage-related story wasn’t the most influential one.

On Wednesday, the Federal Open Market Committee adjourned from a two-day meeting. It voted to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged from its current target zone of 0.000-0.250 percent. This wasn’t news, per se — markets expected the “no change” vote.

However, in its accompanying press release, the Fed appeared more rosy in its economic outlook, citing improving labor markets and low levels of inflation. Results like this are a mixed bag for rate shoppers, but is generally welcomed as good news.

Rates were unchanged after the FOMC release.

The bigger story last week comes from Greece.

Concerns for the country’s debt burden have been in play for weeks, but last week, Standard & Poor’s officially downgraded Greece’s debt rating. The move triggered concerns regarding broader Eurozone debt, especially considering the recent issues in Dubai.

U.S. mortgage markets benefitted from Greece’s troubles as “safe haven” attracted investors, driving down rates Thursday afternoon.

Debt concerns should remain in focus this week. Furthermore, there’s a bevy of domestic data that could swing rates in either direction, too. Most notably, watch for Tuesday’s housing data, Wednesday’s inflation data, and Thursday’s consumer confidence data. Each can be a powerful influence on rates.

There will be less volume on Wall Street because of Christmas and less volume tends to spur mortgage rate volatility. Be wary of swings in either direction.

Markets close early Thursday and will be closed Friday.

 | Posted by | Categories: Uncategorized |

Housing Starts Dec 2007-Nov 2009Housing Starts jumped last month as builders got back to business. It’s a telling sign for the economy, but bad news for next season’s sellers.

With more homes coming online, home prices may be slow to rise nationwide.

A “Housing Start” is a privately-owned home on which construction has started. In November, starts rose by nearly 9 percent while remaining within the same tight range we’ve seen since June.

More interesting that Housing Starts, though, is the accompanying data for Housing Permits. After a 5-month plateau, Housing Permits finally broke through, posting its largest number in 12 months.

This, too, bodes poorly for sellers.

Housing permits are precursors to housing starts so because the number of permits are higher today, we expect that the number of starts will be higher just a few months from now.

According to the Census Bureau, 82% of homes start construction within 60 days of permit-issuance.

More permits means more starts which, in turn, leads to a larger home inventory. And when home supplies grow faster than the home demand, prices fall.

Throughout the early part of 2010, low mortgage rates and federal tax credits should help hold demand high but if builders flood the market with new, quality product, sellers may find that they’ve lost some of their leverage.

For home buyers, the rise in starts is welcomed.

 | Posted by | Categories: Uncategorized |

Explaining the FOMC press release December 16, 2009The Federal Open Market Committee voted to leave the Fed Funds Rate within its target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.

In its press release, the FOMC noted that the U.S. economy “has continued to pick up”, that the jobs markets is getting better, and that housing market has shown “some signs of improvement” lately.

It’s the fourth straight statement in which the Fed speaks optimistically about the U.S. economy — a signal that the worst of the recession is likely behind us.

The economy isn’t without threats, however, and the Fed identified several, including:

  1. Tight credit conditions for consumers
  2. Reluctancy of businesses to hire new workers
  3. Lower overall housing wealth

The message’s overall tone remained positive, however and inflation appears to be held in check.

Also in its statement, the Fed confirmed its plan to hold the Fed Funds Rate near zero percent “for an extended period” and to honor its $1.25 trillion commitment to the mortgage bond market. That plan — due to expire at the end of March 2010 — should be noted by today’s homebuyers. Fed insiders estimate that the program suppressed rates by 1 percent through 2009.

Mortgage market reaction to the Fed press release is negative. Mortgage rates are rising this afternoon.

The FOMC’s next scheduled meeting is January 26-27, 2010.

 | Posted by | Categories: Uncategorized |

Being approved for a mortgage is getting tougherFannie Mae raised the bar for mortgage applicants this past weekend. Getting approved for a home loan just got harder.

In its official announcement, Fannie Mae says the updates minimize long-term lending risks. If that’s the case, this won’t be the last guideline change Fannie Mae makes — especially with loans defaulting at an above-normal clip.

The immediate changes are major. The first pertains to credit scores.

Effective December 13, 2009, the bulk of Fannie Mae’s loans require a 620 credit score minimum. There are very few exceptions.

A second relates to loans with private mortgage insurance.

Homeowners whose loan-to-value exceeds 80 percent now have a choice:

  1. Pay higher mortgage insurance premiums month-after-month
  2. Pay a one-time fee paid at closing to compensate for higher risk

Both options result in higher consumer loan costs.

A third change concerns maximum debt-to-income ratio. Fannie Mae will no longer approve loans with debt ratios exceeding 45 percent except with very strong assets and very high credit scores.

In no case whatsoever may debt-to-income exceed 50 percent.

There are other changes, too, including the elimination of seldom-used mortgage products and additional risk-based fees for “expanded level” mortgage approvals. These updates affect just a small part of the population.

So, home prices are rebounding, mortgage rates are low, and — for 5 more months at least — there’s a federal tax credit for qualified buyers. You don’t have to buy a home now, but with mortgage guidelines sure to tighten in 2010, now may be a better time than later.

The best “deal” won’t matter if you can’t get qualified on your mortgage.

 | Posted by | Categories: Uncategorized |

Interest rate spread between the 30-year fixed rate mortgage and Fed Funds Rate (2000-2009)The Federal Open Market Committee meets today for the last time in 2009. It’s a 2-day meeting and the Fed is expected to leave the Fed Funds Rate near 0.000 percent.

But that doesn’t mean mortgage rates won’t change.

See, a major misperception among the public is that the Federal Reserve sets mortgage rates. That’s false. Mortgage rates are based on the price of mortgage-backed bonds.

As an example, since 2000, the Fed Funds Rate and the 30-year fixed rate mortgage have been within 1 percent of each other at times, and as far apart as 5 percent at others.

If there was a direct relationship between the two, such a spread would be impossible.

The Federal Reserve doesn’t set mortgage rates. Wall Street does. However, whenever the Fed adjourns from its meetings, mortgage rates are susceptible to change.

For home buyers and rate shoppers, this week’s Fed meeting takes on added significance.

Over the last half-year, the Fed has used its post-meeting press releases to acknowledge an improving economy in which growth is tempered by job loss and tepid spending. In November, though, net job gains nearly went positive and Retail Sales data proved strong.

If the Fed gets more positive in its message tomorrow, mortgage rates will suffer. This is because Wall Street will use the Fed’s position on the economy as a reason to buy stocks. Some of the cash to fuel those buys will come from the mortgage bond market.

As extra bond supply hits Wall Street, mortgage rates go up.

Similarly, if the Fed’s message goes negative on the economy, investors are expected to sell their stock positions in favor of buying bonds. This makes rates go down.

So, the Federal Reserve doesn’t make mortgage rates, but it does exert an influence on them. In other words, rate shoppers would be wise to watch for the FOMC’s 2:15 PM adjournment. Even though the Fed Funds Rate is expected to remain unchanged, mortgage rates certainly are not.

 | Posted by | Categories: Uncategorized |

The FOMC meets this week -- mortgage rates will be volatileMortgage markets worsened for a second consecutive week last week amid debt default concerns and stronger-than-expected economic data. Dollars left the bond market and mortgage rates suffered.

After re-reaching an all-time low December 1, mortgage rates have since rolled back to mid-November levels.

Rates are still low right now. Just not as low.

And meanwhile, last week’s big story — the one that should concern mortgage applicants between now and early-2010 — is the story of Retail Sales.

Last week, a government report showed that American consumers are spending more this holiday season than was expected. The Retail Sales data implies that consumers are feeling more confident in themselves, and in the economy overall.

This is one of the last remaining pieces in the economic recovery puzzle. Job growth, of course, is another, and both will be in focus this week as the Federal Open Market Committee meets for its final 2-day meeting of the year.

The FOMC isn’t expected to raise the Fed Funds Rate from its current “target range” near 0.000%, but when the FOMC adjourns at 2:15 PM Wednesday, its press release will dominate the news.

Specifically, watch for verbiage on the expected economic growth for 2010 because no matter what the Fed says, mortgage rates will be in flux. As one example:

  • If the Fed says inflation is under control, mortgage rates should fall
  • If the Fed says inflation pressures are growing, mortgage rates should rise

There’s other news this week, too, including PPI and CPI — 2 popular inflation gauges, plus some housing data, too.

If you need to lock a rate this week, it may be safer to lock prior to the FOMC’s adjournment. Given the recent strength in Retail Sales and the reports of “crowded malls” this past weekend, the Fed may choose to revise its growth estimates for the economy — a move that would be awful for mortgage rates.

 | Posted by | Categories: Uncategorized |

Retail Sales Data November 2009If you wonder what mortgage rates and home affordability will look like next year, today’s Retail Sales data may hold your answer.

Versus October, November’s ex-auto sales were up by more than 1 percent. Analysts expected the increase, but not an increase of this magnitude.

“Ex-auto” means that motor vehicles and parts are excluded from the data.

Home values are increasing in many parts of the country and household net worths are rising, too. Therefore, we can infer from the Retail Sales report that U.S. consumers are starting to feel better about their individual finances, and about the economy overall.

To homebuyers and rate shoppers, strong Retail Sales data may foreshadow higher rates for mortgages ahead. This is because sales data is a by-product of consumer spending and consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy.

As spending increases, the economy tends to expand, drawing investment dollars into stock markets and away from bond markets — including mortgage-backed bonds, the basis for conforming mortgage rates.

Less bond demand leads to higher rates and, therefore, lower levels of home affordability.

Despite the Holiday Season momentum, however, 2009 will likely mark just the second time that Retail Sales data fell year-over-year since the government started tracking it 40 years ago. The other year was 2008.

But, if November’s Retail Sales is a reliable indicator of consumer sentiment overall, we should expect 2010 to rebound strongly. And when it does, mortgage rates should suffer.

The housing market is recovering, mortgage rates are still near all-time lows, and the government is offering an $8,000 tax credit to qualified buyers through April 30, 2010. If you plan to buy a home next spring, you may want to consider moving up your timeframe. Waiting may be costly.

 | Posted by | Categories: Uncategorized |

Foreclosures concentrate in 4 states (November 2009)Since peaking in July 2009, national foreclosure activity has dropped through 4 consecutive months.

On a month-to-month basis, November’s foreclosure activity fell another 8 percent.

However, national foreclosure activity continues to be dominated by a minority of states.

As reported by RealtyTrac.com, more than half of November’s foreclosure-related activity sourced from just 4 states:

  1. California
  2. Florida
  3. Illinois
  4. Michigan

These are the same 4 states that topped October’s foreclosure activity despite three of them posting month-to-month declines last month.

The remaining Top 10 states in terms of total foreclosure activity include Arizona, Texas, Ohio, Georgia, Nevada and New Jersey.

If you’ve been actively looking at REO lately, you’ve likely noticed that true bargains are harder to find. This is because buyers of all types — first-timers, move-ups, and investors — are purchasing bank-owned homes aggressively and getting better at identifying the “best ones”.

But just because supplies are dwindling doesn’t mean you should just jump in. Buying foreclosures isn’t for everyone for two very strong reasons:

  1. Homes are often sold as-is and may have “issues”
  2. The closing process can be unpredictable

Therefore, if you’re thinking of buying a foreclosed home, be sure to talk with your real estate agent about potential problems before going under contract. Better too soon than too late.

There are still good deals in the foreclosure market, but based on November’s data, they may not last through the winter. “Distressed home” sales now account for 30 percent of home resale activity.

 | Posted by | Categories: Uncategorized |

Foreclosures concentrate in 4 states (November 2009)Since peaking in July 2009, national foreclosure activity has dropped through 4 consecutive months.

On a month-to-month basis, November’s foreclosure activity fell another 8 percent.

However, national foreclosure activity continues to be dominated by a minority of states.

As reported by RealtyTrac.com, more than half of November’s foreclosure-related activity sourced from just 4 states:

  1. California
  2. Florida
  3. Illinois
  4. Michigan

These are the same 4 states that topped October’s foreclosure activity despite three of them posting month-to-month declines last month.

The remaining Top 10 states in terms of total foreclosure activity include Arizona, Texas, Ohio, Georgia, Nevada and New Jersey.

If you’ve been actively looking at REO lately, you’ve likely noticed that true bargains are harder to find. This is because buyers of all types — first-timers, move-ups, and investors — are purchasing bank-owned homes aggressively and getting better at identifying the “best ones”.

But just because supplies are dwindling doesn’t mean you should just jump in. Buying foreclosures isn’t for everyone for two very strong reasons:

  1. Homes are often sold as-is and may have “issues”
  2. The closing process can be unpredictable

Therefore, if you’re thinking of buying a foreclosed home, be sure to talk with your real estate agent about potential problem before going under contract. Better too soon than too late.

There are still good deals in the foreclosure market, but based on November’s data, they may not last through the winter. “Distressed home” sales now account for 30 percent of home resale activity.

 | Posted by | Categories: Uncategorized |

The average family spends $2,200 per year in electric bills and the average home is responsible for twice the amount of greenhouse gases than the average automobile.

Whether you want to save money or save the environment, this 5-minute piece from the NBC Today Show is for you. In it, you’ll learn that just by being aware of your energy consumption, you can reduce it by up to 15 percent.

The piece centers on a device called a Power Monitor which retails from $30 to $100, depending on the model. It measures the actual cost of using an appliance, or using a light, or charging a laptop, or any other household energy use.

Among the cost findings:

  • A plugged-in phone charger no phone attached costs $0.10 per hour
  • Cooking with a microwave costs $0.88 per hour
  • Big screen TVs cost $0.06 per hour to operate

Obviously, turning off lights when rooms aren’t in use saves money, too.

By making small changes — most of which aren’t inconvenient — the average family can drop its energy bill by hundreds of dollars each year.

 | Posted by | Categories: Uncategorized |