Last week's scheduled economic news included the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, Housing Starts and Building Permits. The Fed's Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) issued its usual statement at the conclusion of its meeting, and Fed Chair Janet Yellen also gave a press conference.
Home Builder Confidence Improves, but Housing Starts Slow
NAHB released its Housing Market Index report, which reached its highest reading in five months. The index moved up from 45 to 49; a reading of 50 indicates that more builders are confident about housing market conditions than those who are not. David Crowe, NAHB chief economist, said that builder confidence is in line with consumer confidence; he noted that consumers are waiting for a stronger economic recovery before buying homes and that builders didn't want to build more homes than markets would bear.
According to the latest figures from the Department of Commerce, May housing starts fell to 1.00 million from April's reading of 1.07 million on a seasonally adjusted annual basis, and missed the consensus reading of 1.02 million. Building permits issued in May fell by 6.40 percent to 991,000 permits issued for single and multi-family construction. In recent months, permits for single family homes have fallen, while permits for multi-family units are increasing. This concerns economists as single-family homes generate sales of retail goods including furniture and home improvement supplies, while multi-family housing is often occupied by renters and yields fewer home related purchases.
Warmer weather was expected to add to the pace of housing starts, but this did not occur during May.
Fed Reduces Asset Purchases, Mortgage Rates
FOMC members reduced the Fed's monthly asset purchases by $10 billion, for a monthly volume of $35 billion in Treasury securities and MBS. The meeting minutes noted FOMC concerns that inflation has not yet reached the committee's benchmark of 2.00 percent inflation as a benchmark of economic recovery.
The minutes reflected FOMC's position that it will maintain the target federal funds rate at between 0.00 and 0.25 percent for a considerable period after the asset purchases under the current quantitative easing program have ended. While analysts previously associated "considerable period" with a time frame of six months, Fed Chair Yellen stated during her press conference that there was no formula for determining the Fed's actions; she emphasized that the Fed and FOMC would monitor a wide range of economic indicators, economic reports and developments in support of any decisions to change current monetary policy.
In response to a question about tight credit, Chair Yellen cited banks' reluctance to lend to all but those with "pristine" credit scores as a factor contributing to slower recovery in the housing sector.
Mortgage Rates, Jobless Claims
Freddie Mac reported lower mortgage rates on Thursday. The reading for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 4.17 percent, a decline of three basis points. Discount points were also lower at 0.50 percent. The average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage was lower by one basis point at 3.30 percent; discount points were unchanged at 0.50 percent. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage fell to 3.00 percent from last week's reading of 3.05 percent. Discount points were unchanged at 0.40 percent.
New jobless claims were higher than expected at 312,000; analysts had predicted a reading of 310,000 against the prior week's reading of 318,000 new jobless claims.
No economic reports were released Friday.
This week's economic calendar includes several housing-related reports. Existing home sales, the Case-Shiller Housing Market Index and New Home Sales will be released along with multiple consumer-related reports and weekly updates for mortgage rates and new jobless claims.