Economy Watch: Housing Mostly Stable, Consumers and Investors Mostly Optimistic

Good news for the housing industry.

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Ahead of the jobs report this week came news about housing. Mostly, it’s good news, in that housing isn’t bubbling like it did in the mid-2000s, but it also isn’t in a downward spiral, as in the late 2000s. With some localized exceptions, housing prices continue to rise modestly, and still remain well below their bubble peaks, at least in real terms. The latest Case-Shiller indexes all point that way: Both Composites and the National index showed slightly lower year-over-year gains compared to last month. The 10-City Composite gained 4.6 percent since last year, while the 20-City Composite gained 4.9 percent. A separate report by Black Knight found that U.S. housing prices—a broader sample than Case-Shiller—were up 4.9 percent for the year.

Moreover, mortgage delinquencies, which used to be a major headwind for the housing market only a few years ago, continue to dwindle. They aren’t at the “normal” rate of roughly 1 percent yet, but they’re getting there. Fannie Mae reported on Tuesday that its Single-Family Serious Delinquency rate declined in May to 1.7 percent, compared with 2.08 percent in May 2014, coming in at its lowest level since August 2008. Last week, Freddie Mac likewise reported that the Single-Family Serious Delinquency rate declined in May to 1.58 percent, down from 2.1 percent in May 2014, and is at its lowest level since November 2008.

Also on Tuesday, after the University of Michigan reported that consumer sentiment was up much more than expected, the Conference Board said that its Consumer Confidence Index, which had declined in April, turned around in May. The index now stands at 95.4 (1985 = 100), up from 94.3 in April. The Present Situation Index increased to 108.1 in May from 105.1 last month. Taking a more global perspective, State Street Global Exchange said on Tuesday that its Investor Confidence Index was up in June 5.6 points, to 127.0. Confidence among North American investors increased enough to outweigh a drop among Asian and European investors.

What could be upsetting Euro-investors? On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund’s director of communications told the world: “I confirm that the SDR 1.2 billion repayment (about EUR 1.5 billion) due by Greece to the IMF today has not been received. We have informed our Executive Board that Greece is now in arrears and can only receive IMF financing once the arrears are cleared. I can also confirm that the IMF received a request today from the Greek authorities for an extension of Greece’s repayment obligation that fell due today, which will go to the IMF’s Executive Board in due course.” All bets are off now.

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