Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - September 19, 2017 Real Estate Report - Significant News for the Fed

Meetings of the Federal Reserve Board are very news worthy for the markets by themselves. On the other hand, thinking about how much news and data the Fed has to consider before they make a decision regarding interest rates and other activities is almost mind boggling. It is not as if they look at the jobs data and make a decision based upon that report. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of points of data to consider. Add the current events happening today, and one would not want to be in that decision-making position. Between Korean nuclear tests, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, legislative and administrative actions, and more; there is no lack of information which might influence the Fed. In other words, the economic data is very complex, but adding all these other factors make the decision-making environment totally convoluted. Before the current events intervened, the betting line was that the Fed would announce tomorrow that they will start paring down their assets -- most likely starting in October. They were expected to hold open the possibility of raising rates again before the end of the year, but were not likely to act at this meeting. We believe that the current events make it even less likely that the Fed will raise rates at today's meeting and the decision to start paring down in October may still stand, but even this expected move could be delayed. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - September 12, 2017 Real Estate Report - America is Tested Again and Again

All through our economic commentaries we always are fearful of making predictions. No matter how much information we have, there are always unknown factors which can change the future to a significant degree. There is no better example of this than what Texas and Louisiana just faced with Hurricane Harvey. An entire region of our country devastated with an amazing amount of support pouring in throughout the country. There is no doubt about the fact that this natural disaster will have a major effect upon our economy -- as well as Irma and whichever storms follow. From the devastation of local economies to gas prices, there will be a multitude of factors we will be facing. In the long-term there will be an economic revival as we rebuild lives, houses and infrastructure. We have rebuilt successfully before and we will rebuild again. America has always demonstrated our resiliency. However, there are major questions which will remain far beyond this event. For example, we all know that houses are expensive to build and "excessive" regulations are part of that equation. On the other hand, as the insurance companies continue to point out, the lack of adequate building and zoning standards in some areas of the country have increased the cost of rebuilding significantly. In other words, we have some very hard questions to address, questions which are very difficult to answer. And coming out with the right answers will help us pass this test in the future long after we rebuild this time around. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - August 29, 2017 Real Estate Report - Fall Forward

Though the calendar states that fall comes later in September, Labor Day weekend is actually the real end of summer for most Americans. It means back to school for the kids and the end of vacation season. Congress is back in session after their August recess. Though many think that Congressmen go on vacation during recesses, most are back in their districts meeting with their staffers and gauging the temperature of their constituents. Fall starts the second homebuying season of the year. Though not as strong as the spring season, the fall is a time that people list their homes and want to be settled in a new home before the holiday season arrives. This fall we are hopeful that more are listing their homes because the market has been constrained by a listing shortage. Before we go out to enjoy the Labor Day weekend, we will have something of an economic report anomaly. Since the first day of September is on Friday, the employment report will be released early before the holiday weekend starts. Many will be on vacation this week and others will be leaving early for the holiday. Thus, the markets may be prone towards more volatility if there is a surprise in the report. If there is a surprise, it will be like saying -- Surprise, we had ___ jobs added. Have a nice holiday weekend to think about it! Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - August 22, 2017 Real Estate Report - Saber Rattling

Last week we spoke about the Dog Days of Summer when things are expected to be quiet. On the other hand, we also indicated that the world does not take vacation in August and unexpected events can have a greater affect upon the markets when so many are on vacation. And so it is with regard to the North Korean situation. Thankfully, thus far this is not an event, but a heightened course of saber rattling threatening all sorts of things. Of course, we were all hopeful there would be no event, and that the sabers would quiet down. But we have seen more volatility in the markets as a result of all of the noise. And the events in Europe late last week just added to the consternation. Even so, the drop in stocks has been miniscule as compared to the rally we have witnessed over the past nine months. Even without these events, one would be quite surprised if there are not more mini-corrections in store for the markets because of how far they have moved to the upside. Another area affected by the noise is interest rates. It is hard to tell whether the recent moderate drop in long-term rates is due to a flight to safety in anticipation of a possible crisis, or a reaction to the news that the economy continues to grow along with reports that are showing inflation continues to be contained. With the markets, we never know why they move, and in this case the easing of long-term rates could be a result of several factors. The move could also be quite temporary. Thus, if you are house or car shopping, you may only have a small window of opportunity. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - August 8, 2017 Real Estate Report - The Economic Expansion Continues

The long road back from the Great Recession began in mid-2009 and July marks the 96th month of recovery. This makes it the third longest expansion on record, and if we continue at the present pace, this recovery will become the second longest expansion in history in the middle of next year. There are two reasons for the length of this recovery. First, the Great Recession was a very deep recession, thus we had a very long road back. Second, the recovery has been slow and steady. Even though our growth has not been strong, we have stayed out of a recession partly because the economy has not overheated. If the economic expansion did heat up, then interest rates would be much higher and this could endanger the recovery. We have enjoyed very low interest rates for the past decade and this year is no exception. Nowhere is the length of the recovery more evident than the jobs market. The economy lost close to nine million jobs in a very short period of time. In the decade that has followed, we have added approximately 17 million jobs. While these are really strong numbers, we have only added eight million jobs net of the recession, and this averages out to less than one million per year over the past decade. This helps us put July's job numbers in perspective. We added just over 200,000 jobs for the month with an unemployment rate of 4.3%, both solid numbers. We still have some work to do in creating better paying jobs and taking care of those who have left the workforce but did not retire. However, we have come a long, long way. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - July 18, 2017 Real Estate Report - The Brexit Adjustment

Sometimes it is hard to explain why certain things happen in the markets. Much of the time the markets seem to have a mind of their own, and market analysts are reaching for explanations as to what happened after the markets moved in one direction or another. Of course, usually there are several factors affecting the markets at once and it is typically impossible to determine which is the dominant factor. For example, let's discuss the recent movement in interest rates. The Federal Reserve Board has raised rates three times in the past six months or so. To the public, this would indicate higher rates to borrow money to purchase homes or cars. But as we have indicated previously, the Fed controls short-term rates and they have an indirect influence on long-term rates. Indeed, the Fed has raised short-term rates by 1.0% overall, but as of a few weeks ago, long-term rates for home loans had barely moved half of that amount. One reason long-term rates have not moved is the fact that the economy is not overheating and there is no sign of inflation. Job growth continues to be solid, but the economy grew by less than 2.0% in the first quarter. Then why did long-term rates start rising more recently? Remember Brexit and how the markets were worried that slow growth in Europe would affect our economy? Well, apparently Europe has shaken off the Brexit worries and growth is stronger than expected overseas. Like here, there are no signs of the European economies overheating. Thus, while rates remain low, the fact that Europe appears to be awakening from their slumber has put some pressure on the bond markets, and thus our long-term rates. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - July 11, 2017 Real Estate Report - Jobs and The Cost of Housing

Last week we counted our blessings with regard to the shape of the economy. This week we will talk about the release of the June jobs numbers which give us another reading regarding the health of the economy. Overall this reading was stronger than forecasts. Thus far this year, job growth has been solid, with just over one million jobs created in the first half of the year. This compares to 2.2 million jobs created in 2016, which puts the economy on track to match last year's numbers. Despite strong jobs growth for the month, the unemployment rate rose to 4.4% last month, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, as it typically means that more long-term unemployed are re-entering the workforce. Just as important as the jobs created, wages increased by 0.2% last month and 2.5% over the last year, which was slightly lower than economists expected. Higher wages are important, because they positively influence consumer spending for big ticket items. For example, if wages do not go up as fast as the cost of housing, this provides a burden on renters and discourages home buying as well. Recently, home price data for April, as measured by the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index, showed another record high -- the fifth consecutive month of new peaks. Does that mean that housing will become unaffordable? We caution you against reaching that conclusion. The First American Real Home Price Index currently shows that housing prices are still around 33% below their peak. To calculate the "real" cost of housing under the Real Home Price Index, incomes and mortgage rates are used to inflate or deflate house prices which are unadjusted for inflation in order to better reflect consumers' purchasing power and capture the true cost of housing. It should be noted that lower interest rates do not directly benefit renters. The message? As long as rates stay low, housing is still more affordable today than it was when peak prices were achieved a decade ago. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000