Slippery Slope for Restaurants

More than a dozen Park Slope eateries have shut down in recent months, with owners citing everything from the economy to changing tastes.

Momentum Seen for Home Improvement Spending

Spending
on home improvements and remodeling have shown signs of a rebound and the
Remodeling Futures Program at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies is
projecting that sector of the economy will end 2012 on a positive note.

The
Joint Center produces the Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA) each
quarter.  It is designed to estimate
national homeowner spending on improvements for the current quarter and the
following three quarters.  The indicator, measured as an annual rate-of-change
of its components, provides a short-term outlook of homeowner remodeling
activity and is intended to help identify future turning points in the business
cycle of the home improvement industry.

The
figures from the most recent quarter, the fourth quarter of 2011, showed an
estimated four-quarter moving total of $112.4 billion in home improvement
spending compared to $113.8 billion in the third quarter.  This number is expected to dip further in the
first quarter of 2012, to $108.1 billion before starting to build at mid-year.

 “Sales of existing homes have been increasing
in recent months, offering more opportunities for home improvement projects,”
says Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint
Center.  “As lending institutions become less fearful of the real estate
sector, financing will become more readily available to owners looking to
undertake remodeling.”

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Slippery Slope for Park Slope Restaurants

More than a dozen Park Slope eateries have shut down in recent months. Owners and business leaders say the reasons range from the still-fragile economy to changing tastes of customers.

Freddie Mac: Speedy Recovery Seems Unlikely in 2012

“Perspectives on the housing market
depend on where you sit,” according to Freddie Mac’s U.S.
Economic and Housing Market Outlook

for January.  The monthly forecast noted
that existing home sales increased in November, the inventory of unsold homes
decreased to a six to seven month supply, and Freddie Mac’s economists predict
home sales will grow between 2 and 5 percent in 2012. 

But
there is “a historically large gap between sentiments of buyers and sellers.”  Nearly 80 percent of American households
believe it is a good time to buy a home, but sellers are not as happy, with
only 7.6 percent who responded to a Mortgage Bankers Association survey
believing that it is a good time to sell. 
If this gap doesn’t narrow, Freddie Mac’s economists say, the
housing-market recovery will be delayed.

The monthly report titled Toasting the New Year with a Glass Half Full
concludes that, while the economy is undoubtedly in a better place that the
same time a year ago, a speedy recovery still seems unlikely this year. 

Other highlights of the Outlook

  • Economic growth will likely
    strengthen to about 2.1 percent in the first quarter.
  • The current U.S. unemployment rate
    of 8.5 percent is likely to increase after seasonal gains are reversed.
  • Mortgage rates are projected to
    remain very low, at least in the beginning of 2012.

Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac, vice
president and chief economist said, “With the new year comes a sense of
cautious optimism. There are some positive signs in the job market and consumer
confidence; housing is starting to raise hopes for continued gradual economic
recovery. But the economy still is giving some mixed messages.”

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David H. Stevens Staying at MBA

Slightly more than a month after it confirmed
he was leaving his post as President and CEO, the Mortgage Bankers Association
(MBA) announced that David H. Stevens would remain at the head of the trade
association.  Steven’s resignation and
appointment as president of Sun Trust Mortgage was announced by both MBA and
the parent company of his new employer, Sun Trust Bank, on May 30.  The announcement came almost simultaneous
with Steven’s first year anniversary with MBA.

In a statement released this morning MBA
said they were pleased to announce that Stevens “has agreed to stay on as
President and CEO.”  MBA Chairman Michael
W. Young said that, “Over the past several
weeks, MBA’s leadership, members and staff impressed upon Dave the important
role he was playing for the industry and his unique qualifications to lead the
association.  The importance and
significance of MBA’s voice during this critical time coupled with Dave’s
experience and talents encouraged us to do all we could to retain him.”

“The past few weeks have been extremely
difficult for me personally and professionally,” Stevens said.  “After serious thought and consideration, I
simply cannot leave the MBA at such a critical time for the industry and the
association.  Frankly, at the end of the
day, stepping away now when so much progress is being made and so much still
left to be done, did not feel right.

 “Going
through this experience left me encouraged by the tremendous opportunity that
lies within our industry and reinforced the essential component mortgage
finance will continue to play in helping our nation’s economy recover.” he
noted.  

Stevens joined MBA in May 2011 after serving as Assistant
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Commissioner of the Federal
Housing Administration (FHA). 

Mr. Stevens was to have joined the Company on July 16, reporting to SunTrust Mortgage President and CEO Jerome Lienhard.

“We have a strong leadership team in place, and continue to execute our business plan and serve the needs of the clients of SunTrust Mortgage,” said Mr. Lienhard.

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