February Existing Home Sales fell by 0.4 percent from January to 4.60 million units on an annualized basis. While this number was in line with estimates, it was 7.1 percent below the 4.95 million units registered in February 2013. The National Association of Realtors cited the unusually harsh winter weather, tightening of credit, and higher home prices as the cause behind the stagnant sales data.
The harsh weather was also blamed for the weak Housing Starts reading for February, which came in at 907,000, making this the third straight monthly decline. In addition, the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index came in at 47 for March. Readings below 50 indicate that more builders view conditions as poor, rather than good. On a positive note, Building Permits, which are a sign of future construction, surged by 7.5 percent to 1.018 million. It will be important to see if readings improve once the weather becomes milder around the nation.
In other news to note, weekly Initial Jobless Claims rose by 5,000 in the latest week to 320,000. Claims continue to hover near lows seen in November, as the labor markets work through the post-recession malaise. The 4-week moving average, which irons out seasonal abnormalities, came in at 327,000, the lowest level since the end of November.
What does this mean for home loan rates? Despite some weaker than expected economic reports, the Fed announced more tapering to its Bond buying program. Beginning in April, the Fed will purchase $30 billion in Treasuries and $25 billion in Mortgage Bonds (the type of Bonds on which home loan rates are based) to help stimulate the economy and housing market. This is down from the original $85 billion per month that the Fed had been purchasing. We will be watching closely to see how this decision impacts the markets and home loan rates as we head further into spring.
The bottom line is that now remains a great time to consider a home purchase or refinance, as home loan rates remain attractive compared to historical levels.