Home builders maintained December's confidence level according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Housing Market Index for January. The latest reading of 60 mirrored December's reading, but was two points lower than expected. Readings of more than 50 indicate that more builders were confident about housing conditions than those who were not.
Although January's reading fell shy of October's reading of 65, which was a ten-year high for the home builder index. Any reading in the low 60's suggests gradual improvement in housing market conditions according to NAHB. While December's year-over-year reading for new home sales was 14 percent higher than in December 2014, home builders cited industry challenges including cost of new lots and a scarce labor force. The Fed's recent rate hike may have influenced builder confidence as higher mortgage rates would sideline some buyers.
National unemployment reached a seven-year low, which is pushing wages upward. Labor market readings are important to would-be home buyers, who typically need to be confident about jobs before investing in a home. Demand for homes continues to drive new home prices up and contributes to home builder confidence levels. The flip side of high demand is that rising home prices can price some would-be home buyers out of the market.
Components of Housing Market Index Mixed
The NAHB Housing Market Index readings are based on three components. January's readings were mixed. Builder confidence in current market conditions rose two points to 67, but builder confidence in market conditions over the next six months slipped three points to 63. Builder confidence in buyer traffic in new home developments slipped two points to 44; this was likely due in part to winter weather.
In related news, the University of Michigan released January's Consumer Sentiment Index last week. Consumer sentiment rose from December's reading of 92.60 to 03.30 and surpassed the expected reading of 93.0. Low inflation drove consumer confidence according to analysts. Low wage gains were offset by falling inflation rates. Strong consumer confidence readings suggest that more home buyers could enter the market as worries about economic conditions ease.