Economy Watch: Euro Summit Gladdens Investors for Now

Word from the negotiating nabobs in Europe on Friday seemed to be positive, though as usual, the details of the agreement remained a little elusive.

Word from the negotiating nabobs in Europe on Friday seemed to be positive, though as usual, the details of the agreement remained a little elusive. But it was clear that Germany finally gave in on the question of whether euro-zone bailout funds (EFSF/ESM, to use the euro-zone alphabet soup) could be used to support euro-zone banks directly, and so Spanish banks might get the bailout the Spain government has been asking for from those sources.

The deal has been compared to an EU version of TARP which, unpopular as it was, seems to have stabilized much of the US banking system in the wake of the Panic of 2008. Also, the summiteers agreed that some euro-zone bonds needed purchasing, though not by the European Central Bank, which amounts to a sort of mini-QE. They didn’t say anything about dealing with the ponderous public debt of Italy and Spain, or even Greece.

In any case, the agreement impressed investors, at least for the moment. On Wall Street on Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average spiked 277.83 points, or 2.2 percent, while the S&P 500 was up 2.49 percent and the Nasdaq advanced precisely 3 percent. These were the sharpest daily gains for these indices in about a decade and a half, ending a generally downward second quarter on a high note. The question now is how long such euphoria can last, since investor happiness about positive euro-zone announcements in the past has typically had a short shelf life.

Oil prices surged on Friday as well, in the neighborhood of $6 to $7 a barrel. Like the stock market, oil prices had been drifting downward from most of the quarter in response to slowing economies around the world, but having the bonus effect of taking pressure off the price of gas in the United States and elsewhere. Also like the stock market, euro-zone news that drives oil prices up has tended not to have that effect for long.

Housing foreclosures, delinquencies stable

CoreLogic reported on Friday that there were about 63,000 completed foreclosures in the United States in May 2012, an uptick from the 62,000 it reported in April. May 2011, on the other hand, saw 77,000 foreclosures. About 1.4 million homes, or 3.4 percent of all homes with a mortgage, were in the foreclosure inventory as of May 2012, more-or-less the same as in April, but a little down from a year ago, the company says.

The national foreclosure inventory might be steady, but that masks changes at the state level, according to CoreLogic. Some of the states hardest hit by the housing crisis, such as Arizona, Michigan and Nevada, have seen drops of 20 percent or more in foreclosure inventory, year-over-year. Meanwhile, the inventory in other places, such as Connecticut, Hawaii and New York, has been rising during the last 12 months.

“There were more than 819,000 completed foreclosures over the past year, or an average of 2,440 completed foreclosures every day over the last 12 months,” Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic, noted in a press statement. “Although the level of completed foreclosures remains high, it is down 27 percent from a peak of 1.1 million in all of 2010.”

In a report on a related subject from a separate source, Fannie Mae said on Friday that the single-family “serious delinquency” rate dropped in May to 3.57 percent from 3.63 percent during the previous month. The May 2012 level is the lowest since April 2009. In May 2011, the serious delinquency rate was 4.14 percent. Freddie Mac calculates the single-family delinquency rate in May as 3.5 percent, only a hair down from April’s rate of 3.51 percent. There wasn’t much change from May 2011, either, since Freddie Mac’s estimate of the rate a year ago was 3.53 percent.