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January was a refreshingly strong month for many economic reports, but especially for metrics relating to the housing and mortgage markets. This wasn't too hard to reconcile with December and January having much lower mortgage rates, on average than October and November. There's also a point at which housing market has sustained enough damage that buyers start seeing more value. This sentiment has also been in play depending on the market in question. In other words, prices and sales had lost enough ground that prospective buyers were seeing more value. Lower rates only compound the effect. The concern was that February's sharply higher rates might push back in the other direction. There was already some evidence for this based on the noticeable decline in purchase applications reported in the MBA's weekly numbers. Today's release of February's Pending Home Sales figures from the National Association of Realtors adds to the case for resilience in the housing market. Despite the rising rates in February and a forecast calling for a drop of more than 2%, Pending Sales managed to increase by 0.8%. No one would confuse the outright level of sales with being strong. In fact, the index continues to operate near record lows. But the point is that we're seeing resilience in yet another report despite expectations for a poorer showing. Long journeys and single steps, etc...
Applications for both home purchases and refinancing rose for the fourth time during the week ended March 24. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) said its Market Composite Index, a measure of application volume, increased 2.9 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis and 3.0 percent unadjusted compared to the week ended March 17. The Refinance Index was 5 percent higher than the previous week and the refinance share of activity increased to 29.1 percent of total applications from 28.6 percent. The Index was 61 percent lower than the same week in 2022. [refiappschart] Purchase applications were 2.0 percent higher than the prior week on both an adjusted and an unadjusted basis but the unadjusted Purchase Index was 35 percent lower than the same week a year earlier. [purchaseappschart] “Application activity increased as mortgage rates declined for the third straight week. The 30-year fixed rate declined to 6.45 percent, the lowest level in over a month,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Vice President and Deputy Chief Economist. “While the 30-year fixed rate remained 1.65 percentage points higher than a year ago, homebuyers responded, leading to a fourth straight increase in purchase applications. Home price growth has slowed markedly in many parts of the country, which has helped to improve buyers’ purchasing power. Purchase applications remain over 30 percent behind last year’s pace , but recent increases, along with data from other sources showing an uptick in home sales, is a welcome development.”
Some people might like the idea of perpetual appreciation in the housing market, but others know that the industry was badly in need of a cool-down after values surged at an unprecedented pace post-pandemic. While the interest rate spike of 2022 wasn't entirely unprecedented, it was the fastest in decades and it left no doubt as to when home prices should embark on the much-needed correction. Two of the most official methods to track home price progress are the FHFA and Case Shiller Home Price Indices (HPIs), released concurrently once per month. January's update just came out this morning and the results are mixed. In annual terms, price appreciation continues to decline rapidly: Based on price trends over the past 12 months, it would be almost impossible for the annual pace to avoid dipping into negative territory in the coming months. That will be more a reflection of how high prices were a year ago than an absence of resilience in the present. In fact, the most recent trends in prices are more resilient than expected--especially when viewing the broader FHFA data set. FHFA's monthly HPI moved back into positive territory in January. Case Shiller was down 0.4%, but that's an improvement from December's drop of 0.5%. Both are well off their sharpest months of depreciation late last year. So yes... home prices are declining from last year and depending on the metro area, prices are still declining month-over-month to a small extent. But the declines were expected. The surprise is how shallow they've been and how quickly the resilience seems to be stepping in.