Last week's economic news was dominated by the Federal Reserve's decision not to taper its $85 billion in monthly securities purchases.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke noted in a scheduled statement after the Federal Open Market Committee meeting that economic conditions were not yet adequately improved to withstand any decrease in the federal quantitative easing program.
The Fed also reaffirmed that the target federal funds rate would remain at 0.00 to 0.25 percent until the national unemployment rate reached 6.50 percent and inflation reaches 2.00 percent.
The national unemployment rate was 7.30 percent and the Fed projects that inflation will remain under 2.00 percent through 2015.
In both the FOMC statement and his press conference, Chairman Bernanke repeatedly emphasized that the Fed would take no action to reduce QE until the economy strengthens. No automatic reduction of QE purchases would take place without full consideration of the nation's economy.
The QE program is intended to keep long-term interest rates low, and the announcement that QE would not be tapered brought mortgage rates down after they had increased by more than one percent since May.
Builder Confidence High, Mortgage Rates Lower
The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index for September revealed that home builder confidence in housing market conditions remained stable at 58; a reading of 59 was expected. Readings over 50 indicate that more builders are confident about market conditions than not.
Housing starts for August did not reflect the high level of builder confidence and fell short of expectations at 891,000. Expected housing starts were estimated at 921,000. There was good news in that August's reading surpassed the July reading of 883 housing starts. Building permits for August also dropped to 918,000 against expectations of 955,000 and July's reading of 954,000 building permits.
Higher labor and materials costs and concerns over tight mortgage credit and rising mortgage rates likely contributed to the lower than expected readings for housing starts and building permits.
Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey reported that average mortgage rates dropped across the board on Thursday. The average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell by seven basis points to 4.50 percent with discount points moving from 0.80 percent to 0.70 percent.
The average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage fell by five basis points from 3.59 percent to 3.54 percent with discount points unchanged at 0.70 percent.
The average rate for 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage was lower by 11 basis points to 3.11 percent. Discount points were unchanged at 0.50 percent. This provides a break for home buyers who've been faced with rising mortgage rates and home prices amidst a shortage of available homes in many areas.
Economic news scheduled for this week includes the Case/Shiller Home Price Index for July, the FHFA Home Price Index also for July. New home sales and the pending home sales index will be released.
Freddie Mac will release its weekly summary of average mortgage rates and weekly jobless claims will also be released Thursday. The week will end with consumer related data including personal income and consumer spending for August along with the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index for September.