Economy Watch: Fannie Mae Delinquencies Still Falling

Fannie Mae reported that its single-family serious delinquency rate declined from 2.33 percent in January to 2.27 percent in February.

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Fannie Mae reported on Monday that its single-family serious delinquency rate declined from 2.33 percent in January to 2.27 percent in February. The GSE defines “serious delinquency” as a mortgage more than three months late, or actually in foreclosure, as it applies to loans owned or guaranteed by the company.

In February 2013, the Fannie Mae serious delinquency rate was 3.13 percent, and the current rate is the lowest since November 2008, just as the U.S. economy was in full free-fall. From that point, the serious delinquency rate rose for more than a year, peaking in February 2010 at 5.59 percent. A more “normal” rate is about 1 percent.

Last week, Freddie Mac reported that its single-family serious delinquency rate declined from 2.34 percent in January to 2.29 percent in February. Freddie’s rate is down from 3.15 percent in February 2013, and is at its lowest level since February 2009.

Euro-zone inflation dwindles to near zero

Though serious inflation hasn’t been a worry in the world’s industrialized economies in many decades, it’s currently so low in many places that it’s given rise to speculation about whether deflation is in the cards—something not really seen since the Great Depression. Monday’s report by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency, will likely add fire to the speculation. According to the agency’s first estimate of consumer prices in March, euro-zone inflation was at its lowest level in more than four years, with consumer prices rising at an annualized rate of 0.5 percent during the month, down from 0.7 percent in February.

Upward pressures came from food, alcohol and tobacco prices (up 1 percent), non-energy industrial goods (up 0.3 percent) and services (up 1.1 percent). Each of those components, however, recorded slower rates of gains than in the previous month. By contrast, energy prices fell 2.1 percent on an annualized basis, compared with a 2.3 percent decline in February. The “core rate” of inflation for March, which excludes energy, food, alcohol and tobacco prices, also slowed 0.2 percentage points to 0.8 percent, Eurostat said.

The report adds extra pressure to the European Central Bank ahead of its monthly policy meeting this week in Frankfurt. In response to the specter of deflation, the ECB trimmed its key lending rate to a record-low 0.25 percent following October 2013, after inflation that came in much less than expected, an annualized 0.7 percent.

Chicago business down, Texas manufacturing up

The Chicago Business Barometer decreased 3.9 points in March to 55.9, the lowest level since August, led by a decline in New Orders and a sharp fall in employment, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago on Monday. Employment, the second biggest contributor to the barometer’s decline, decreased sharply in March, erasing nearly all of February’s double-digit rise. Although New Orders remained firm above the 50 break-even level, they eased for the second consecutive month, pointing to a slight softening in demand.

In another important regional economic metric, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas said on Monday that Texas factory activity increased for the 11th month in a row in March, according to business executives responding to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. The production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, rose from 10.8 to 17.1, indicating output grew at a stronger pace than in February.

Wall Street kicked the week off with a healthy advance, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 134.6 points, or 0.82 percent. The S&P 500 advanced 0.79 percent and the Nasdaq was up 1.04 percent.

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