Last week's economic data supported recent reports indicating that housing markets are slowing, The National Association of Home builders/Wells Fargo Home Builders Index (HBI) dropped by 10 points to a reading of 46 for February.
Home builder confidence dropped to its lowest reading in nine months, and fell below the benchmark of 50, which indicates that more builders are pessimistic about current market conditions than not.
Severe weather was blamed for the lower builder confidence reading, which fell below the expected reading of 56.
Regional readings of builder confidence were also lower:
- Northeast: Builder confidence fell from 41 to 33 points. This suggests that weather is a major concern as this area has experienced a series of nasty winter storms.
- South: The HBI reading fell from 50 in January to 46 in February and was the smallest decline among the four regions. Fewer index points lost in the South appears to support builder's concerns about bad weather in other regions.
- Midwest: Builder confidence dropped from 59 points to a reading of 50.
- West: Builder confidence fell by 14 points to February's reading of 57. Desirable areas in the West had been leading the nation in home price appreciation. February's reading may signal an easing of buyer enthusiasm as rapidly rising home prices have reduced affordable options for first-time and moderate income buyers.
Builders also cited concerns over labor and supplies as reasons for lower confidence readings.
Housing Starts Lower, Mortgage Rates Higher
On Wednesday, Housing Starts for January were released. Although analysts predicted a figure of 945,000 housing starts as compared to an upwardly adjusted 1.05 million housing starts in December, only 880,000 housing starts were reported for January.
The Department of Commerce also cited extreme winter weather as a cause for the drop in housing starts, which reached their fastest pace since 2008 in November. There is some good news. Economists said that housing starts delayed during winter could begin during spring.
According to Freddie Mac's weekly survey, average mortgage rates rose across the board. The rate for a 30-year fixed rate loan rose by 5 basis points to 4.33 percent. The average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage rose by two basis points to 3.35 percent.
The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage moved up by three basis points to an average rate of 3.08 percent. Discount points for all three products were unchanged with readings of 0.70 for 30-year and 15-year fixed rate mortgages and 0.50 percent discount points for 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that weekly jobless claims came in at 336,000 against expectations of 335,000 new jobless claims. The prior week's reading was for 339,000 new jobless claims. Analysts said that job growth may be slowing after last year's growth, but also noted that winter weather had slowed hiring in labor sectors such as construction and manufacturing.
Existing home sales fell by 5.10 percent in January according to the National Association of REALTORS®, which reported a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of home sales at 4.62 million sales against expectations of 4.65 million and December's reading of 4.87 million sales of pre-owned homes. The national average home price rose to $188,900, which was 10.70 percent higher year-over-year.
January's inventory of available existing homes was 1.9 million homes; this represented a 4.90 month supply of existing homes for sale. Real estate pros prefer to see at least a six month inventory of available homes for sale.
Next week brings a series of economic reports and opportunities for good news. The Case Shiller Home Price Indices, FHFA Home Price Index will be released. Consumer Confidence and the University of Michigan's Consumer Sentiment report along with New and Pending Home Sales reports round out next week's scheduled news.