Rates, Home Prices and the Federal Reserve

January 09, 2019

Mortgage rates continued to edge lower in the latest week to levels not seen since the spring of last year. The Mortgage Bankers Association reports that the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell 10 basis points to 4.74% with 0.47 in points. “This drop in rates spurred a flurry of refinance activity – particularly for borrowers with larger loans – and pushed the average loan size on refinance applications to the highest in the survey (at $339,800),” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President.

Home price gains are beginning to ease back to more normal levels after the big increases seen since the housing market recovery began. Black Knight reports that home price growth has slowed in 33 states and in 71 of the 100 largest markets. Black Knight said the West saw the most deceleration with California the hardest hit. Gains of +7% or more year-over-year couldn’t last forever.

The Fed minutes from the December meeting will be released today at 2:00 p.m. ET. The minutes are sort of in the rear view mirror after Fed Chair Powell spoke last Friday and sparked a rally in the U.S. stock markets with his dovish remarks on monetary policy. Fed Fund Futures show a zero percent chance of a rate hike at least through the first half of this year and maybe none at all in 2019, given the current low inflation environment. A dovish tone means that Fed members favor looser, more accommodating interest rate policies. A hawkish policy is the opposite.

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Business and Hiring Remain Strong

January 08, 2019

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index was essentially unchanged in December just below record highs at 104.4. The NFIB said that unfilled jobs and the lack of skilled qualified applicants continue to be the primary driver of the frothy index, with job openings setting a record high and job creation plans strengthening. ÔÇťOptimism among small business owners continues to push record highs, but they need workers to generate more sales, provide services, and complete projects,” said NFIB President and CEO Juanita D. Duggan.

The JOLTS report (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey) showed that there were 6.9 million job openings at the end of November, just below record high of 7.1 million set back in August, strengthening the data from the NFIB. Job openings increased in transportation, warehousing, and utilities while declines were seen in other services and construction. The December Jobs Report showed a whopping 312,000 new workers were hired as the labor market continues to move to greener pastures.

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