Last week’s economic releases included readings on new and pre-owned home sales and the Federal Open Market Committee’s customary post meeting statement. Fed Chair Jerome Powell gave his first press conference as Chair of the Federal Reserve and FOMC. Weekly readings on mortgage rates and first-time jobless claims were also released.
February Sales of Pre-Owned Homes Exceed Expectations, New Home Sales Fall Short
Sales of previously-owned homes exceeded expectations at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 5.54 million sales. Analysts expected a rate of 5.40 million sales based on January’s reading of 5.38 million sales.
Lawrence Yun, National Association of Realtors® Chief Economist, said that low inventories of available homes continued to impact rising home prices. Mr. Yun said that he did not expect any let-up on home price growth. February’s inventory of available homes slipped to a 3.4 months supply; a six-months supply of homes for sale is considered average and an indication of healthy housing markets.
Mr. Yun said that he may adjust forecasts for home price growth. First-time buyers are being squeezed out of housing markets due to rapidly rising home prices. The average price for a home was $241,700 in February. First-time buyer participation dropped to 29 percent of buyers as compared to an average of approximately 40 percent.
Regional sales of pre-owned homes were mixed. Sales in the Northeast dipped 12.30 percent; Midwest sales dipped by 2.40 percent. The South posted 6.60 percent growth in home sales, and the West reported 11.40 percent growth in home sales year-over-year.
Sales of new homes dipped in February.to 618,000 sales as compared to expectations of 630,000 sales and January’s reading of 622,000 sales of new homes. Combined effects of seasonal weather and homebuyer concerns over rising mortgage rates and home prices likely contributed to the drop in new home sales.
FOMC Raises Key Rate, New Fed Chair Sees Stronger Economy
The Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee raised the target federal funds rate to a range of 1.50 -1.75 percent, a move that was widely expected. Fed Chair Jerome Powell indicated that the Fed would continue a modest pace of raising rates in 2018 but indicated a more aggressive pace for raising rates may be appropriate in 2019.
Federal Reserve analysts predicted eight rate hikes between 2018 and the end of 2020; this estimate includes that last three rate increases. Wednesday’s rate hike was the sixth quarter-point rate hike since December 2015.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell gave his first press conference as Fed Chair after the FOMC post-meeting statement. He indicated he is not fearful of inflation overheating and said that he would protect recent tax cuts.
Mortgage Rates, New Jobless Claims Rise
Freddie Mac reported that mortgage rates ticked up by one basis for all three types of mortgages it tracks. The average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 4.45 percent; the rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage averaged 3.91 percent and the average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage was 3.68 percent. Discount points averaged 0.50 percent for fixed rate mortgages and 0.40 percent for 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages.
New jobless claims rose last week to 229,000 new claims filed as compared to an expected reading of 225,000 new claims and the prior week’s reading of 226,000 new jobless claims filed. Analysts noted that winter readings for jobless claims can be unpredictable and don’t indicate weakening job markets.
This week’s scheduled economic releases include readings from Case-Shiller on home prices, readings on pending home sales and weekly reports on mortgage rates and new jobless claims.