The housing market is emerging from its winter doldrums: Several different measures released this morning all point to a recent pickup in the real estate market.
Sales of existing homes jumped 6.1 percent in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.19 million — well above expectations and the best month since September 2013. “The pickup in sales is echoed in stronger mortgage applications, new home sales, and faster rising prices—all suggesting a rebound in demand as the spring selling season approaches,” UBS economists wrote Wednesday.
The median sale price last month was $212,100, up 7.8 percent from a year earlier (compared with a 7.2 percent annual gain as of February). “It looks like the combination of limited available inventory and a decline in the share of distressed sales in the market continue to put upward pressure on prices,” J.P. Morgan economist Daniel Silver wrote.
Mortgage purchase applications, meanwhile, rose 5 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis in the week ending April 17, suggesting that the increased activity from March has also continued into April.
That trend may also reflect a policy change by the Federal Housing Administration in January. “Almost immediately after the mortgage insurance premium was cut by 50 basis points, purchase applications started to climb to highs not seen since the summer of 2013,” the IHS Global Insight economists Patrick Newport and Stephanie Karol wrote Wednesday. “We expect that the rule change will support market entry among younger buyers.” First-time homebuyers played an important part in the March increase, they suggest, as they increased their purchases by 10 percent year-over-year. Investors, meanwhile, bought 9 percent fewer properties than they had in March 2014, as the charts below from UBS detail.
The housing recovery had softened in recent months, even beyond the winter’s weather-related issues, so the new data — while not yet signaling a stronger trend — is an encouraging sign for increased activity in the spring and potentially beyond. “Home sales should pick up through the rest of 2015,” Gus Faucher, senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group, wrote Wednesday. “The fundamentals for housing are solid, with average job growth (200,000+ per month), good affordability, very low mortgage rates, increasing consumer confidence, expanding access to credit, and significant pent-up demand after years of depressed sales.”
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The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated this week that President Trump has now signed legislation that will add a total of $4.7 trillion to the national debt between 2017 and 2029. Tax cuts and spending increases account for similar portions of the projected increase, though if the individual tax cuts in the 2017 Republican overhaul are extended beyond their current expiration date at the end of 2025, they would add another $1 trillion in debt through 2029.
Are interest rates destined to move higher, increasing the cost of private and public debt? While many experts believe that higher rates are all but inevitable, historian Paul Schmelzing argues that today’s low-interest environment is consistent with a long-term trend stretching back 600 years.
The chart “shows a clear historical downtrend, with rates falling about 1% every 60 years to near zero today,” says Bloomberg’s Aaron Brown. “Rates do tend to revert to a mean, but that mean seems to be declining.”
Lawmakers are considering three separate bills that are intended to reduce the cost of prescription drugs. Here’s an overview of the proposals, from a series of charts produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation this week. An interesting detail highlighted in another chart: 88% of voters – including 92% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans – want to give the government the power to negotiate prices with drug companies.
From Gallup: “A record 25% of Americans say they or a family member put off treatment for a serious medical condition in the past year because of the cost, up from 19% a year ago and the highest in Gallup's trend. Another 8% said they or a family member put off treatment for a less serious condition, bringing the total percentage of households delaying care due to costs to 33%, tying the high from 2014.”