November 21st, 2017
Last week’s economic news included remarks by Fed Chair Janet Yellen about the diversity of opinions in the Federal Open Market Committee, readings on inflation, and the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index. The Commerce Department issued reports on housing starts and building permits issued; Freddie Mac and the Commerce Department issued weekly readings on mortgage rates and new jobless claims.
Fed Chair Discusses Pros and Cons of Diverse Opinions Among Policymakers
During a panel presentation of global economic leaders, outgoing Fed Chair Janet Yellen discussed the pros and cons of having 19 members on the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee, which is responsible for the Fed’s policymaking decisions.
Chair Yellen said that it was “challenging” in terms of expressing diverse member opinions into a pat statement of Fed policy. She noted that multiple opinions on any aspect of the Fed’s decisions could be confusing for the public. She also said that individual and varied opinions were essential in considering all aspects of the Fed’s policy decisions: “The most important strength is that we avoid ‘group-think,’ which is a real pitfall for policy committees.”
NAHB: Home Builder Confidence Hits Eight–Month High
The National Association of Home Builders reported its highest housing market index reading in eight months. The monthly survey of home builders consists of readings on builder confidence in present housing market conditions, market conditions within the next six months and the volume of buyer traffic in new housing developments. Any reading over 50 indicates that more builders are confident about housing market conditions.
November’s reading of 70 was two points higher than in October; analysts expected a one-point decline to 67. Concerns over tax reforms potentially impacting homeowner tax deductions for mortgage interest were expected to impact builder confidence, but NAHB did not mention tax reform in their summation of builder confidence readings for November.
Component readings used to comprise the HMI reading were mixed. Builder sentiment increased two points to 77 for current housing market conditions. Builder confidence in market conditions over the next six months dipped by one point to 77 and builder confidence in buyer traffic in new home developments rose two points to an index reading of 50.
Builders have repeatedly cited concerns about shortages of lots and labor as well as increasing costs for building materials. NAHB said in a statement that November’s Housing Market Index reading was a “strong indicator that the housing market continues to grow steadily.”
According to the Commerce Department, October housing starts rose to 1.29 million on a seasonally-adjusted annual basis; analysts expected 1.20 million starts based on September’s reading of 1.14 million starts. 5.30 percent of housing starts were single-family construction.
Builders also took out more building permits in October; 1.30 million permits were issued against 1.23 million permits issued in September. The increased volume of building permits was partially attributed to reconstruction after hurricanes in Florida and Texas, but in the Northeast, building permits rose by 42 percent. The Northeast region is the smallest reported, but warm weather was cited as boosting permits issued.
Builder sentiment has been strong all year and was propelled by healthy job markets and lower mortgage rates.
Mortgage Rates, New Jobless Claims Rise
Fixed mortgage rates rose last week with the average rate for an average 30-year fixed rate of 3.95 percent; the average 15-year mortgage rate rose seven basis points to an average of 3.31 percent. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage dipped one basis point to 3.21 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 to 249,000 last week as compared to estimates of 235,000 new claims and the prior week’s reading of 239,000 new jobless claims. Jobs lost and a backlog of first-time claims due to recent hurricanes were cited as the primary cause for the rise in new jobless claims.
This week’s scheduled economic news includes readings on previously-owned home sales, minutes from the Fed’s last Federal Open Market Committee meeting. Weekly readings on mortgage rates and new jobless claims are also scheduled.