Existing-Home Sales Drop 2.3 Percent in April As Inventory For Sale Remain Missing

Yet another month of missing for-sale existing home inventory and rising median prices for existing home sales.

WASHINGTON (May 24, 2017) — Stubbornly low supply levels held down existing-home sales in April and also pushed the median number of days a home was on the market to a new low of 29 days, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, dipped 2.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.57 million in April from a downwardly revised 5.70 million in March. Despite last month’s decline, sales are still 1.6 percent above a year ago and at the fourth highest pace over the past year.

For-sale inventory of existing homes remains in the doldrums as the median price of existing homes continues to rise rapidly.

We see the same limited inventory effect in existing home sales MONTHS SUPPLY.  As the months supply collapses, median prices for existing home sales increases rapidly.

I wonder if The Fed was wise to keep The Fed Funds Target Rate at near zero and engage in a third round of quantitative easing (QE3)? Particularly when housing inventory was declining (meaning that low-rate funding was chasing scarce housing)?

As Verbal Kint said in The Usual Suspects, “And like that, (the for-sale inventory) was gone.”

The Fed’s Dual Mandate (And The Phillips Milk Of Magnesia Curve) — Why Wage Inflation Isn’t Happening

The Federal Reserve has a dual mandate to 1) promote maximum employment and to 2) keep prices stable.  The Fed has a target rate of core inflation that is 2%; however, it has been unable to achieve this target since the end of The Great Recession even though unemployment has declined.

Yes, the Dallas Fed’s trimmed mean Personal Consumption Expenditures Inflation Rate did exceed 2% back in January 2012, but generally it has been below 2% since June 2009.

But why is inflation so low even when unemployment is so low (as in 4.4% as of April 2017)?

A partial answer lies in the dismal earnings recovery after The Great Recession. Notice in the chart below that the U-3 unemployment rate (blue line) has declined below the natural rate of unemployment (red line) as economic recovery strengthens after each recession. Except for after The Great Recession. Once again, the U-3 unemployment rate has finally dipped below the natural rate of unemployment … yet no wage inflation.

The green line represents the inverse of YoY hourly earnings growth for the majority of the population (Production and Nonsupervisory Employees). You will notice that wage growth accelerates as unemployment declines, particularly when the underemployment rate is below the natural rate of unemployment. Except for the current “recovery.”

Bloomberg has a nice piece of several reasons why the current wage recovery is so low.  Another explanation that Bloomberg did not mention is that the US saw an unprecedented wave of regulations (Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank, EPA, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, etc.) most of which did nothing to help wage growth for mere mortals. Not to mention increase capital-labor substitution (robots replacing workers). But an easy answer is that the Phillips Curve is seemingly dead (decreased unemployment correlates with higher rates of inflation).

But WHY is the Phillips Curve dead? It makes intuitive sense that wages will rise as labor slack vanishes.  But what are some other explanations for the failure of the Phillips Curve to kick in? Or maybe it is about to kick in?

Clearly, outsourcing of higher-paying jobs overseas is a factor. Or could it also be the poor quality of American education that makes students uncompetitive in the modern economy? Or are US firms not investing in plants and equipment anymore?

But with commercial and industrial lending YoY slowing and the decline in real gross domestic investment (nonresidential equipment), wage growth may still be some time away.

The Fed’s zero interest rate policies (ZIRP) and quantitative easing (QE) ..

have certainly helped pumped up asset prices (like housing and the stock market).

But not wage growth (worst post-recession wage recovery in history … or at least since 1965). In other words, The Fed has not really benefitted wage growth, only asset price growth.

Suffice it to say that have full employment AND increased wage growth would be a blessing to the economy and housing market. I hope so. I am tired of reading research papers that claim that a HUGE Millennial wage of home purchases is going to kick in any quarter. At least I hope their predictions work better than the Phillips curve.

New Home Sales In April Tank -11.4% MoM As Median Price Declines -3% (The West Coast Suffers -26.32% Decline)

Another disappointing new home sales report.

New home sales tanked -11.4% MoM in April.

New home sales remain considerably below any level around the housing bubble. Despite the YUGE intervention by The Federal Reserve.

But while the level of new home sales is considerably below pre-2008 levels, the MEDIAN PRICE of hew home sales is considerably higher than at the peak of the housing bubble.

New home sales fell the most in The West (-26%) and The Midwest (aka, Kasich Kountry) at -13%. Bear in mind that new home sales in California are mega expensive and unless they start buildig more in Riverside and the Inland Empire, new home sales are likely to be weak.

Is this a bubble?

 

Office Bubble? Real Estate Deals Vanish in New York As Office Rents Decline (Northern Virginia Near Worst in Office Vacancy Rate)

Commercial office space has had a fantastic run since hitting bottom in 2009/2010. Much of it with the help of The Federal Reserve’s patented asset bubble blowing technology!

Bloomberg — Concern is mounting that real estate prices have peaked following six years of record-shattering growth, and there are signs of overbuilding in large cities such as New York and San Francisco—the biggest beneficiaries of the recent boom. Landlords are cutting rents and prices, spooked lenders are holding back, and the industry loses hope for Trump tax cuts. 

Much of the slowdown has nothing to do with Trump. Concern is mounting that real estate prices have peaked following six years of record-shattering growth, and there are signs of overbuilding in large cities such as New York and San Francisco—the biggest beneficiaries of the recent boom.

Let’s take a look at weighted-average asking rents for office space for the lowest 35 metro areas in terms of rent growth from 2016 Q1 to 2017 Q1. Silicon Valley leads the nation in largest asking rent decline (-12.19%) since 2016 Q1 while Midtown New York actually grew 0.40% over the past year. Suburban Maryland (-3.23%) and Northern Virginia (-0.25%) both saw declines in asking rents.

Here are the top 35 Metro area in terms of percentage change in asking rents. Notice that while Manhattan asking rents are flat to falling while Brooklyn asking rents rose 16.51%.  Same story holds for Silicon Valley (aka, San Jose). Silicon Valley fell -12.19% over the past year while just up the road in Oakland/East Bay, asking rents rose 15%.

Average office vacancy rates nationally stands at 13.2% in 2017 Q1, down ever so slightly from 13.4% in 2016 Q1. Northern Virginia (21.3%) was edged out for the worst office vacancy rate in the US by Dayton Ohio (23.3%) and Fairfield County, CT (23.1%).  Here is the Cushman Wakefield report on Northern Virginia’s overbuilt office market. CW_VA_Survey_1Q17 (1)

The lowest vacancy rate in the nation? El Paso, Texas at 6.4%. That is a far cry from Northern Virginia’s 21.3% office vacancy rate.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen standing next to her patented asset bubble machine.

 

Commercial/Multifamily Borrowing Up 9 Percent from Last Year (Retail Originations Down 23%)

The retail sector can’t seem to buy a break these days. With 8,600 brick-and-mortar stores may close their doors in 2017, lending was expected to decline.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, commercial/multifamily originations rose 9% from Q1 2016.

That is the good news.

The bad news? 1) Retail originations fell 23% from Q1 2016.  2) CMBS/Conduit originations were down 17%. 3) Hotel originations were down 40%.

The good news? 1) Healthcare originations were up 22%. 2) Industrial originations were up 40%. 3) Multifamily originations were up 14%.

Notice that Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac multifamily origination programs were up 33% from Q1 2016.  At the same time, Life Insurance Companies saw 0% growth in commercial/multifamily originations.

Thanks to The Federal Reserve, short-term interest rates remain suppresed and have for the last ten years.

Office originations grew at a listless 2% from Q1 2016. On-line retailers like Amazon have helped shrinked the retail footprint. But will shared office space and the internet finally drive a spike through office space when employees can work remotely?

So, will this be the final countdown for office space?

Have Mortgage Applications Peaked For 2017? Purchase Applications Fall 2.75% WoW (Up 9% YoY), Refi Apps Fall 5.7%

 

Mortgage applications decreased 4.1 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending May 12, 2017.

The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 3 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 3 percent compared with the previous week and was 9 percent higher than the same week one year ago.

Typically, applications for a purchase mortgage peak in May (sometimes in April, sometimes in June). So, last week’s mortgage purchase applications print may have been the high water mark for 2017.

The Refinance Index decreased 6 percent from the previous week.  But notice that while mortgage refinancing applications plummeted aroud MayJune rapid the rise in the Freddie Mac 30 year mortgage survey rate (thanks to Fed Chair Bernanke saying that The Fed might end their asset purchase programs), the recent rise in the 30 year mortgage rate has produced decline in refi application.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($424,100 or less) remained unchanged at 4.23 percent, with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.31 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

Mortgage originations have not recovered to previous levels due to the amazing disappearance of subprime (sub 620 credit score) lending,

So, we at (or near) the peak for 2017 in terms of mortgage purchase applications. Historically, it will be all down hill until January 2018. But a 9% increase in mortgage purchases applications YoY is pretty impressive!

 

“The Big Short” Revisited: Housing Starts Fall 2.6% In April, Multifamily Starts Fall 9.6%

Tra-la, its May!  And it is time for the April housing construction release from the US Census!!

While total housing starts are down -2.58%, 1 unit starts are actually up slightly.  So where is the big drop off? 5+ unit (multifamily) starts fell 9.6% in April.

1 unit housing starts peaked in January 2006, crashed, and are now back to levels seen at the end of the 1991 recession.

What does this have to do with the book and movie “The Big Short?” Well, there was an enormous housing construction bubble that started building after the 1991 recession culminating in the peak in January 2006. It has taken over 10 years to get back to 1991 levels.

5+ (Multifamily) starts? While they declined nearly 10% in April, they are still generally higher since before The Great Recession.

Multifamily serious delinquency rates have been quite tame for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, even during the financial crisis. This chart compares Fannie and Freddie multifamily delinquency rates withe FHA’s overall delinquency rate that includes single family. (Note: the FHA serious delinquency rate is so high that it is on the left axis).

While the book and the film “The Big Short” blamed Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) for the financial crisis, clearly the US went on single-family housing construction boom that fizzled-out in after peaking in January 2006.

Construction loans, funded at the shorter-end of the Treasury curve, dropped dramatically with The Fed’s dropping of their benchmark Fed Funds Target rate.

As the rate remained depressed, home prices started to rise rapidly as construction spending spiked. As The Fed tried to cool off the bubble, it was too late.

Blaming CDOs, CDO^2 and synthetic CDOs was too easy of a target for blame.  How about the US economy was running out of gas and we relied on housing construction to drive GDP growth?

At least The Big Short got part of the over-building fiasco correct in Florida, but then blamed it on mortgage brokers.