Monday, February 25, 2008

Weekly Mortgage Recap

The interest-rate party was fun while it lasted, but it appears to be over – at least for awhile. Depending who you ask and when you asked him, the 30-year fixed-rate prime conforming mortgage spiked as much as 41 basis points (according to Bankrate), or as little as 32 basis points (according to Freddie Mac). Either way, the 30-year benchmark is well above levels this time last week, and even this time last year, exceeding 6.4% in some markets.

The punchbowl was swiftly removed because of a rising threat of inflation. The Labor Department reported that consumer prices jumped 0.4% in January and are up 4.3% in the past 12 months, nearing a 16-year high. Even stripping out sharply rising food and energy costs, prices rose 0.3%.

The same day inflation reared its ugly head, the Federal Reserve disclosed that it reduced its forecast for economic growth this year to between 1.3% to 2%, half a percentage point below the level of its previous forecast offered in October. Fed officials blamed the decelerating outlook on slumping housing prices, tighter lending standards and higher oil prices.

Somewhat remarkably, housing eschewed its familiar role as red-headed economic stepchild. For the second straight month, homebuilder confidence rose, according to the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo index of builder sentiment. The index increased to 20 in February, up from 19 in January. Disaggregating the index, sentiment increased to 24 in the Northeast, 15 in the West, 24 in the South and remained at 16 in the Midwest.

Perhaps the increased confidence resulted from an unexpected increase in new home sales, which inched ahead 0.8% to an annual rate of 1.01 million homes in January, and the fact that traffic in model homes picked up in January, according to the NAHB.

Eric P. Egeland

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