QUOTE OF THE WEEK… “Always try to be a little kinder than necessary.” –J.M. Barrie, Scottish writer and dramatist
INFO THAT HITS US WHERE WE LIVE… The creator of Peter Pan could well be describing last week’s rash of kindly housing news, which just a short time ago would have seemed like a description of a real estate Neverland. Pending Home Sales, measuring contracts signed on existing homes, went up 0.2% In November, its first gain in six months. This should indicate an increase in existing home sales in December and January. November also saw a 1.0% increase in construction spending, taking it to its highest level since March 2009, with private single-family homebuilding leading the way.
On the price front, the S&P/Case-Shiller index of home prices in the 20 largest metros went up 1% in October and is now up 13.6% this past year. That was the seventeenth month in a row that the index reported an annual increase. October’s yearly gain was the highest since February 2006. However, many observers do see a slight cooling off in home prices. The chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices observed: “Most forecasts for home prices point to single digit growth in 2014.”
BUSINESS TIP OF THE WEEK… Marketing experts feel social media will still be important in 2014, but businesses should also focus on creating mobile-friendly websites and more video content, which has soared in popularity.
>> Review of Last Week
HOLI-DAZE… The financial markets seemed in a daze during the New Year week’s four trading sessions. Low volumes shrank even further on Friday, as the few traders not out of the office for the holidays stayed home rather than deal with a major Northeast snowstorm. Thin volumes on Wall Street and mixed economic data left the three big stock indexes down just a bit for the week. Nonetheless, the year ended Tuesday with the Dow and the S&P 500 posting new all-time highs and the Nasdaq up over 38%. This indicates investors remain positive about our continued economic growth as we wend our way through 2014.
However, the economic data chronicling that progress remained mixed. Pending Home Sales, though up for the month, rose less than expected. Likewise, the Chicago PMI measure of manufacturing in the Midwest showed growth below estimates. But the ISM index of manufacturing across the country beat forecasts, coming in at its second highest level since April 2011. Consumer Confidence also blew past expectations and weekly Initial Unemployment Claims dropped again, to 339,000, while Continuing Unemployment Claims sank by 98,000, to 2.830 million.
The week ended with the Dow down 0.1%, to 16470; the S&P 500 down 0.5%, to 1831; and the Nasdaq down 1.3%, to 4132.
Participation in the bond market was light, with investors on vacation or simply snowed in. This left prices little changed. The FNMA 3.5% bond we watch ended the week up just .04, to $99.13. Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey for the week ending January 2 reported national average fixed mortgage rates up slightly from the week before, “on signs of a stronger economic recovery.” Remember, mortgage rates can be extremely volatile, so check with your mortgage professional for up to the minute information.
DID YOU KNOW?… Freddie Mac, established by Congress in 1970, provides mortgage capital to lenders. Today, it makes homes possible for one in four home borrowers and is one of the largest financing sources for multifamily housing.
>> This Week’s Forecast
GROWTH IN SERVICES AND JOBS, PLUS WE EAVESDROP ON THE FED… The services sector of the economy is forecast to show growth in December, according to the ISM Services index. Growth is also expected for jobs, though at a slower pace, in the December Employment Report. Nonfarm Payrolls are predicted to be back down below 200,000, while the Unemployment Rate holds.
Wednesday’s release of the FOMC Minutes from the Fed’s December 18 meeting will let us eavesdrop on the proceedings that led to the announcement that the central bank would begin tapering its bond buying program. Might be enlightening.
>> The Week’s Economic Indicator Calendar
Weaker than expected economic data tends to send bond prices up and interest rates down, while positive data points to lower bond prices and rising loan rates.