Economy Watch: Home Starts Go from Comatose to Less Comatose

Home building spiked upward in August by 10.5 percent compared with a very weak July, according to the latest report by the U.S. Department of Commerce on Tuesday.

September 22, 2010
Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons user Lee Coursey

Home building spiked upward in August by 10.5 percent compared with a very weak July, according to the latest report by the U.S. Department of Commerce on Tuesday. The number of new permits was up as well month-over-month, by 1.8 percent.

Housing starts were at an annualized rate of 598,000 units, with single-family home starts coming in at a rate of 438,000 units. The overall annualized rate is still considerably below that in April, when the pace was 670,000 units, but at least the August 2010 rate was 2.2 percent more than during August 2009.

Considering the sucker-punch that the housing market took after the federal homebuyer tax credits expired, these numbers might be the best the market can hope for, as long as unemployment lingers in the “post-recession” economy and a glut of foreclosed properties characterize a lot of U.S. markets.

Mortgage Disclosure Simplification on Warren’s Front Burner

Elizabeth Warren, lately given a sort of leadership position with the nascent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, took on the subject of simplifying mortgage disclosure documents at a forum with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and others on Tuesday. Under discussion were ways to cut through the thicket for small-type common to mortgage documents and clarify exactly what the loan costs before closing.

Until recently, the mortgage industry has been uninterested in charging the present system and the federal government has gone along with that. Currently, mortgage applicants receive overlapping disclosure forms with their genesis in two different laws that didn’t specify exactly the same kind of disclosure: the Truth in Lending Act of 1968 and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974. Moreover, both laws were drafted when most mortgages were almost quaint as non-ARM, pre-subprime vanilla structures.

“Fine print obscures the cost of credit and makes it impossible for families to compare products,” Warren said in a statement. “Too often, families come to understand the legalese only when they get bitten by it. Streamlined disclosure can level the playing field and give families better tools to make better choices.“

Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite

Has the U.S. bedbug problem reached the level of “hysteria” yet or even “panic”? Many of the attendees at the first-ever Bedbug University North American Summit in Rosemont, Illinois, on Tuesday, which included vendors and pest control specialists and property managers and bug experts, probably hope so. Public concern, even unreasoning fear, is bound to be good for business for that property management subspecialty that poisons, fries, freezes, traps or otherwise deals with the nighttime vermin.

According to the organizers of the conference, about 400 registered for the summit, with hundreds more on a waiting list. Among other topics covered were “Fumigation,” “Chemical Treatments,” “Legal & Risk Management,” and “Group Homes–Unique Challenges in Transient Settings.”

Wall Street decompressed from its up day on Monday with mixed results on Tuesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average eked out a 7.41-point gain, or 0.07 percent, but the S&P 500 lost 0.26 percent and the Nasdaq dropped 0.28 percent.