Last week’s economic reports included readings from the National Association of Home Builders on housing markets and the monthly post-meeting statement from Federal Reserve policymakers. Fed Chair Jerome Powell also gave a press conference. Weekly readings on mortgage rates and jobless claims were also published.
Builder Confidence in Housing Markets Rises by One Point in December
Homebuilder confidence in current national housing market conditions rose one point to an index reading of 84 in December and met analysts’ expectations. December’s reading was the highest since February. Component readings for the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index were lower in December. Builder confidence in current markets dropped to 90 from 92; builder confidence in housing market conditions in the next six months dropped by one point to 84 and builder confidence in buyer traffic in new housing developments fell three points to an index reading of 70.
Regional readings for builder confidence were mixed. The Northeast reported a 10 point gain in confidence from 69 to 79; the Midwestern region reported builder confidence fell by one point to 74. The South reported a two-point gain to 89 and the West posted a one-point decline in builder confidence in current housing market conditions to an index reading of 87.
Builder confidence was boosted by high demand for homes coupled with low inventories of available homes. Home prices rose rapidly in 2021, but predictions of higher mortgage rates and affordability concerns could slow the pace of buyer demand and builder confidence in 2022.
Federal Reserve Policymakers Hold Benchmark Rate Range Steady
The Federal Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve issued its post-meeting statement and said it would hold its target interest rate range at 0.00 to 0.25 percent. The Committee committed to using its “full range of tools” to support the U.S. economy and promote the Fed’s dual mandate of achieving maximum employment and price stability. The FOMC statement indicated that economic indicators were stronger, job gains were solid and unemployment has fallen significantly.
The pandemic continues to fuel supply and demand disruptions and inflation. The Committee cautioned that emerging variants of the coronavirus could cause increased risk to the economy and it would make necessary adjustments to economic policy based on changing economic and public health conditions.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell gave a press conference after the FOMC meeting and said that inflation was expected to exceed the Fed’s target growth rate of two percent weel into next year. While wages have risen, Mr. Powell said that wage growth was not a major contributor to inflation. Job gains averaged 378,000 jobs per month and the unemployment rate fell to 4.2 percent in November. Chair Powell said that labor force participation was negatively impacted by an aging workforce, retirements, and factors related to the pandemic including caregiving and concerns about emerging variants of the virus.
Mortgage Rates, Jobless Claims Show Mixed Readings
Freddie Mac reported mixed movement for average mortgage rates as the rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages rose two basis points to 3.12 percent. Rates for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages fell by four basis points on average to 2.34 percent. The average rate for 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages was unchanged at 2.45 percent.
Discount points averaged 0.60 percent for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages and 0.70 percent for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages. Discount points for 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages averaged 0.30 percent.
First-time jobless claims rose by 206,000 initial claims filed as compared to the prior week’s reading of 188,000 initial jobless claims filed. Continuing jobless claims fell to 1.85 million claims from the prior week’s reading of two million ongoing claims filed.
This week’s scheduled economic reporting includes readings on sales of new and previously-owned homes, inflation, and consumer sentiment.