Last week's economic news largely concerned the Federal Reserve's FOMC meeting statement and a post-meeting conference given by Fed Chair Janet Yellen. The FOMC statement indicated that the Fed continued its wind-down of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities and that its purchases are expected to cease after the next FOMC meeting.
The FOMC statement said that committee members find the economy to be improving at a moderate pace and currently strong enough to further reduce the QE3 monthly asset purchases. The Fed seeks to achieve and sustain its dual mandate of maximum employment and an inflation rate of 2.00 percent. While the unemployment rate is lower than the Fed's benchmark of 6.50 percent, FOMC members cited concerns that the labor force is underutilized and that labor markets, while recovering, could use further improvement. The Fed repeated its customary statement that the Fed's monetary policies are not on a pre-determined course, and that FOMC members continually review and interpret developing financial and economic news as part of their decision-making process.
Chair Yellen explained during her press conference that it is not possible to provide a specific date when the Fed will change its target federal funds rate. Economists and media analysts expressed concerns that raising the target federal funds rate, which is currently at 0.00 to 0.250 percent, could cause overall interest rates to rise. Chair Yellen said that she expects the current target federal funds rate to remain for a “considerable time” after the QE asset purchases cease. She also said that it is impossible to provide a specific date when the Fed will change its target federal funds rate and cited multiple influences considered by FOMC when changing monetary policy.
Home Builder Confidence Grows, Housing Starts Fall
The National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index rose by three points in September for a reading of 59. Analysts had predicted an index reading of 56 against August's reading of 55. September's reading was the third consecutive reading above 50. Stronger labor markets were cited as supporting the higher reading, but builders were also concerned by tight mortgage credit standards. Any reading above 50 indicates that more builders perceive market conditions for new homes as positive as those that do not.
August's housing starts were inconsistent with the Home Builders Index; according to the Department of Commerce, construction of new homes fell by 14.4 percent from July's reading to 956,000. Analysts expected 1.03 million starts against July's reading of 1.12 million homes started.
Mortgage Rates Rise, Weekly Jobless Claims Fall
Freddie Mac reported higher mortgage rates last week. Average mortgage rates rose across the board with the rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage 11 basis points higher at 4.23 percent. The rate for a 15-year mortgage also rose by 11 basis points to 3.37 percent and the rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage rose from 2.99 to 3.06 percent. Average discount points were unchanged for all mortgage types at 0.50 percent.
New weekly jobless claims dropped to 280,000 against an expected reading of 305,000 and the prior week's adjusted reading of 316,000 new jobless claims. The original reading for the prior week was 315,000 new jobless claims. The less volatile four-week average of new jobless claim fell by 4,750 new claims to a reading of 299,500 new claims.
This week's scheduled economic news brings multiple housing-related reports. The National Association of REALTORS® will release its Existing Home Sales report for August. Case-Shiller's monthly Housing Market Index report and the FHFA's Home Value report will bring new light to national market trends. The Department of Commerce will release its New Home Sales report, and as usual, Freddie Mac's weekly report on mortgage rates will come out on Thursday.