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

Click Here to View the Housing Permits Chart

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

Click Here to View the Housing Starts Chart

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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Consumer Mortgage Hotline Up and Running

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
(CFPB) is now accepting mortgage complaints from consumers who have experienced
problems across the spectrum of the mortgage universe, i.e. documents,
servicing, and foreclosures.  The Bureau announced
the mechanism for submission on its website, http://www.consumerfinance.gov.

Complaints will be reviewed by CFPB
staff and then forwarded to the relevant financial institution for review and
resolution.  Institutions have 15 days to
respond to CFPB regarding each complaint and are expected to resolve the
majority of them within 60 days.  During
the process consumers will be able to check the complaint’s status on the
website and ultimately will have the option of disputing any resolution.

The Bureau started taking credit
card related complaints and inquiries last July and will expand Consumer
Response to handle complaints and inquiries about all other consumer financial
products and services – including those involving nonbanks such as payday lenders,
debt collectors, and credit reporting agencies – by the end of 2012.

In addition to the website, consumers
may submit complaints, inquiries, feedback, or just tell CFPB their story via: 

  • Toll-free call  –
    1-855-411-CFPB (2372)
  • Fax – 1-855-237-2392
  • Letter –  P.O.
    Box 4503, Iowa City, IA 52244

New CFPB director Rich Cordray appeared
on The Last Word television program
Thursday evening and was challenged by host Lawrence O’Donnell to return within
six months with proof that the agency is providing transparency and real
assistance.  Cordray accepted the
challenge.  Stay tuned.  

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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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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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Refinance Applications Surge 26.4% as Rates Set New Lows

Mortgage applications jumped 23.1
percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the week ended January 13,
2012.  The increase in the Market
Composite Index, a measure of loan application volume maintained by the
Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reflected improvements in both the purchase
and refinance business following the traditionally slow Christmas and New Year
holiday period.  On an unadjusted basis
the index increased 38.1 percent.

The Refinance Index increased 26.4
percent
from the week ended January 6 to its highest point since August 8,
2011.  The seasonally adjusted Purchase
Index rose 10.3 percent, returning to pre-holiday levels.  The unadjusted Purchase Index was up 28.4
percent from the previous week and was 2.2 percent higher than during the same
week in 2011.

The four-week moving average for each
index also increased; the Composite Index increased by 5.99 percent, the
seasonally adjusted Purchase Index by 1.96 percent and the Refinance Index by
7.0 percent.

Refinancing took an 82.2 percent share
of all application activity, up from 80.8 percent the previous week and the
highest share since October 22, 2010.  Applications
for adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) constituted represented a 5.6 percent
share of applications, up two basis points from the previous week.

Purchase Index vs 30 Yr Fixed

Click Here to View the Purchase Applications Chart

Refinance Index vs 30 Yr Fixed

Click Here to View the Refinance Applications Chart

 “Interest
rates
dropped last week due to continuing anxieties regarding the fragile
economic situation in Europe,” said Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s Vice
President of Research and Economics.  “With mortgage rates reaching
new lows, refinance volume jumped and MBA’s refinance index reached its highest
level in the last six months.  Purchase activity also increased as buyers
returned to the market after the holiday season.”

With
the exception of jumbo loans (with balances over $417,500) interest rates continued
their downward trend. Three of the rates, in fact, hit the lowest level in the
history of the MBA applications survey.  The
jumbo rate – for 30-year fixed-rate (FRM) loans – increased to 4.40 percent
from 4.34 percent with points decreasing to 0.37 from 0.47 point.  The effective rate also increased.

Thirty-year
FRM with conforming (under $417,500) balances hit a new low, decreasing to 4.06
percent with 0.48 point from 4.11 percent with 0.41 point. The effective rate
also decreased.

Rates
for FHA guaranteed 30-year FRM were
at 3.91 percent with 0.59 point, the lowest FHA
rate in the history of MBA’s application survey, down from 3.96 percent with 0.72 point.  The effective rate also decreased from the previous week.

The
third all-time low is the 3.33 percent rate with 0.39 point for the 15-year FRM. 
This was a drop from 3.40 percent with 0.37 point rate the previous week.  The effective rate also decreased.

The
average contract interest rate for 5/1
ARMs was unchanged at the record low 2.90 percent established the previous
week.  Points decreased to 0.45 from 0.49.   The
effective rate also decreased from last week.

All
rates quoted are for 80 percent loan-to-value originations and points include
the application fee.

 MBA’s covers
over 75 percent of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications, and has
been conducted weekly since 1990.  Respondents include mortgage bankers,
commercial banks and thrifts.  Base period and value for all indexes is
March 16, 1990=100.

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