December Housing Starts and Permits Figures Sag

Building permits and housing starts in
December were both below levels reported in November ‘according to data
released this morning by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
and the Census Bureau.  Both statistics
were, however, well above the levels one year earlier.

Building permits for privately owned
housing units were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 679,000, 0.1 percent
below the revised November rate of 680,000. 
Permitting activity was 7.8 percent higher than in December 2010 when
the pace of permits was 630,000.  The
November figure was revised downward from the 681,000 originally reported.

Permits were issued for single-family
houses at the rate of 444,000, up 1.8 percent from the 436,000 reported in
November.  Multi-family authorizations
(permits in buildings with five or more units) were at a rate of 209,000
compared to 223,000 in November.

The report estimates that there were 611,900
housing units issued during the whole of 2011, a 1.2 percent increase over the
604,600 issued in 2010.

On a regional basis, permitting
increased month-over-month in the Midwest by 5.8 percent and was up 13.4
percent on an annual basis.  Permits in
the West were unchanged from November and down 1.2 percent year-over-year.   Permitting fell 6.5 percent in the Northeast
and was 36.8 percent below that of one year ago while the South had a
fractional -0.6 percent change since November but permitting was still up 31.1
percent for the year.

Building Permits

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Privately-owned housing starts in
December were at a seasonally adjusted rate of 657,000, 4.1 percent below the
revised November estimate of 685,000 but a 24.9 percent increase from the
December 2010 rate of 526,000.  
Single-family starts were at a rate of 470,000, up 4.4 percent from the
previous month’s pace of 450,000 and 11.6 percent higher than in December 2010. 

There were an estimated 606,900 housing
units for which construction was started in 2011 compared to 586,900 in
2010.  This is an increase of 3.4
percent.

There were strong regional differences
in housing starts.  The Midwest saw a
jump of 54.8 percent in housing starts since November and a year-over-year
increase of 121.5 percent.  The other
regions did not fare nearly as well.  The
Northeast was down 41.2 percent for the month and 1.7 percent since December
2010.  The change in the South was -3.0
percent for the month and 19.0 percent for the year, and the West was down
-17.6 percent since November but up 1.5 percent annually.

Housing Starts

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Housing completions in December were at
a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 605,000, up 9.2 percent from the upwardly revised
(from 542,000) November figure of 554,000. 
Single family completions were at a rate of 448,000, a -0.9 percent monthly
change.

An estimated 583,900 housing units were
completed during 2011, 10.4 percent below the 2010 figure of 651,700.  At year’s end there were an estimated 78,800
permits that had been issued but for which work had not yet been started.  More than half of these permits (43,100) were
in the South.

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Builder Confidence Index At 54 Month High

Home builder confidence rose in January
for the fourth consecutive month as builders saw more buyer traffic and
anticipated higher sales.  The National
Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) rose
four points to 25
in January to reach its highest level since June 2007.  Each of the three components of the HMI also
increased for the fourth month and the improved confidence was evident across
every region of the country.

The HMI is the result of a monthly
survey of NAHB has conducted for 20 years. 
The survey asks the Association’s home builder members their perceptions
of current single-family home sales and their expectations for such sales over
the next six months, each graded on a scale of “good,” “fair,” or “poor.”  The survey also asks builders to rate the
current traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average,” or “low
to very low.”  Answers to each question
are used to calculate a component index and those comprise the composite
index.  For each index a number over 50
indicates more builders view conditions as good than as poor.

Each of the three component indices rose
three points in January.  The component
measuring current sales conditions is at 25 and the index measuring traffic of
prospective buyers is at 21, the highest point for each since June 2007; the
index reflecting expectations for the next six months rose to 29, the highest score
September 2009.

Bob Nielsen, NAHB chairman said of the
results, “This good news comes on the heels of several months of gains in
single-family housing starts and sales, and is yet another indication of the
gradual but steady improvement that is beginning to take hold in an increasing
number of housing markets nationwide. Policymakers must now take every
precaution to avoid derailing this nascent recovery.”

“Builders are seeing greater interest among potential buyers as employment
and consumer confidence slowly improve in a growing number of markets, and this
has helped to move the confidence gauge up from near-historic lows in the first
half of 2011,” noted NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “That said,
caution remains the word of the day as many builders continue to voice concerns
about potential clients being unable to qualify for an affordable mortgage,
appraisals coming through below construction cost, and the continuing flow of
foreclosed properties hitting the market.”

The HMI also posted gains in all four regions in January, including a
nine-point gain to 23 in the Northeast, a one-point gain to 24 in the Midwest,
a two-point gain to 27 in the South and a five-point gain to 21 in the West.

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Credit Defaults Increase, Led by Mortgage Markets

Bank cards were the only type of
consumer debt to see a decline in defaults during December according to data
released today by S&P Indices and Experian. 
The S&P Experian Consumer Credit Default Indices showed increased
defaults in both first and second mortgages and in auto loans.  Driven primarily by the increase in mortgage
defaults, the national composite index rose from 2.22 percent in November to
2.24 percent in December, the highest rate since April of 2011.  In December 2010 the Index stood at 3.01
percent.

The default rate for second mortgages increased
from 1.26 percent to 1.33 percent, auto loan defaults rose to 1.27 percent from
1.17 percent and first mortgage defaults increased to 2.19 percent from 2.17
percent.  The default rate for bank cards
however dropped from 4.91 percent to 4.60 percent.  All rates have improved from those of one
year earlier when the default rate for second mortgages was 1.74 percent; first
mortgages, 2.93 percent; auto loans, 1.69 percent; and bank cards, 6.73
percent.

“Led by the
mortgage markets, the second half of 2011 saw a slight reversal of the two-year
downward trend in consumer credit default rates,” says David M. Blitzer,
Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee for S&P Indices.
“First mortgage default rates rose for the fourth consecutive month, as did the
composite. Since August, first mortgage default rates have risen from 1.92% to
the 2.19%. The composite also rose those months, from 2.04% to 2.24%.  The
recent weakness seen in home prices is reflected in these data.  Bank card
default rates, on the other hand, were favorable, falling to 4.6% in December.
This is more than a full percentage point below the 5.64% we saw as recently as
July 2011.

S&P Experian data highlighted
five Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). 
Three of the five showed increases in default rates for the month: Miami
increased from 4.47 percent to 4.73 percent; Dallas from 1.38 percent to 1.56
percent, and Los Angeles to 2.54 percent from 2.53 percent.  Chicago was unchanged at 2.84 percent and New
York decreased from 2.21 percent n November to 2.13 percent in December. 

Blitzer said
of the MSA data, “Given what we know about the mortgage markets, it is likely
that these cities are seeing this recent weakness because their housing markets
have still not stabilized.”


 

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Case-Shiller: Seven Months of Price Declines Comes to an End

For the first time in eight months the S&P/Case-Shiller
Home Price Indices rose over levels of the previous month.  Data through April 2012 showed that on
average home prices increased 1.3 percent during the month for both the 10- and
20-City Composites.

Prices are still down 2.2 percent for
the 10-City and 1.9 percent for the 20-City over figures for one year earlier
but this is an improvement over the year-over-year losses of 2.9 and 2.6
percent recorded in March.  Improvements
in the annual figures were also recorded by 18 of the 20 cities when compared
to March with only Detroit and New York faring worse.  The 10-City Composite now has an index of
148.40 and the 20-City 135.80; the base of 100 was set in January 2000.

Nineteen of the 20 cities and both
Composites posted positive monthly returns, with Detroit being the only
exception.  Phoenix continues to lead
cities with improving trends and had a 2.5 percent increase in April and the
highest annual rate of return among all 20 cities.  Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, and Ls Vegas
continue to have average home prices below their January 2000 levels while both
Composites have returned to levels in the early and mid 2003 period.

David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index
Committee at S&P Indices said, “With April 2012 data we finally saw some
rising home prices.  While one month does
not make a trend, particularly during seasonally strong buying months, the combination
of rising positive monthly index levels and improving annual returns is a good
sign.”

 “We
were hoping to see some improvement in April,” Blitzer said.  “First, changes in home prices are very
seasonal, with the spring and early summer being the most active buying months.  Second, while not as strong, and we believe
less reliable, the seasonally adjusted data were also largely positive, a
possible sign that the increase in prices may be due to more than just the
expected surge in spring sales. 
Additionally, the last few months have seen increased sales and housing
starts amidst a lot of talk of better housing markets, so some price gains were
anticipated.”

Atlanta posted the only double-digit
negative annual return at -17.0 percent, its 22nd consecutive month
of negative annuals returns.  Ten of the
20 cities saw positive annual returns – Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver,
Detroit, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Tampa, and Washington, DC.  There were no new city lows in April.”

Atlanta and Phoenix, two markets we
have followed closely in 2012 for their contrasting trends, have continued
along their opposite paths,” Blitzer said. 
“Atlanta continues to be the only city with double-digit negative annual
returns – 17.0 percent, whereas Phoenix fared the best in terms of annual
returns at +8.6 percent in April.”

Case-Shiller Home Prices

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