Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - March 20, 2018 Real Estate Report - The Fed Meets Today

The Federal Reserve Board's Open Market Committee meets today and tomorrow. While the vast majority of the world will be going about their business, thousands of financial analysts will be on the edge of their seats trying to determine what the Fed's direction will be. Like all Americans, they are concerned that the Fed will raise short-term rates. However, this action would not be unexpected, and thus it is not the top concern of these analysts. They are more concerned about what the Fed will say about the future. The markets have already built-in two to four rate increases this year into their thinking. But there is a big difference between two increases and four. Market rates have already moved up in anticipation of these rate hikes. Any talk of accelerating inflation from the Fed and the markets could become amped up further. If the Fed indicates that they remain on a slow and steady path of rate increases, we might see the markets calm down a bit. For the most part, the economic news leading up to the meeting does not seem to indicate an overheating economy -- except for last month's jobs report. Existing home sales are constrained due to tight inventories, personal spending increases have been moderate and so has manufacturing growth. A slow and steady expansion actually could be the best news for all concerned, as we would see continued job gains without rates moving up to a point in which the economy starts to be adversely affected. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

March 13, 2018 Real Estate Report - The Jobs Machine Hums

The wild year has continued with regard to volatility in the markets, political headlines and, sadly, national tragedies. Through it all, we have seen three patterns emerge. First, the volatility has been focused mostly in the stock and bond markets. Stock gains were some of the strongest in memory in January and the losses in February came close to wiping out those gains. The bond market has been weak, and this has led to higher long-term interest rates. Secondly, we have seen an economy which has continued to strengthen, but not overheat. There is no longer talk of the lack of inflation being a threat to growth. But, on the other hand, inflation has not been a major issue either. Lastly, up until now, jobs growth has been rather steady. Other than a hiccup late last year due to the devastating storms we had during the hurricane season, our jobs growth has been holding at a strong enough level to keep unemployment low. February's job report saw this trend grow stronger with 313,000 jobs added. The unemployment rate remained at 4.1%. With regard to wages, the story there showed no acceleration of wage growth. Overall this report was viewed as good news. For those waiting and wondering what the Federal Reserve Board's Open Market Committee will do with interest rates next week when they meet, the consensus is that this report will not change the odds much that the Fed will increase rates. Nothing is a certainty, but if you listened to the Congressional testimony of the new Chairman, Jerome Powell, a rate hike this month is definitely a strong possibility. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

February 20, 2018 Real Estate Trends - The Wild Ride

We are dedicated to helping Americans achieve and maintain the American Dream of Homeownership. Our commitment is to provide the highest quality service while working to help our clients achieve their financial objectives within the real estate process. We are proud of our work that has made us the area's company of choice for so many working towards their long-term goals. February 20, 2018 The Wild Ride Several weeks ago, we spoke about the negative effects of economic growth. The two factors we cited were higher interest rates and higher oil prices. Now we are starting to see the markets react to this new reality. Many are blaming rising interest rates for causing what we can now call a stock market correction. A correction which we have not seen for some time. Why would higher rates cause stocks to falter? Abnormally low rates have propped up the markets for years. Why keep your money in the bank earning 1.0% interest when you can earn 10% or more in the stock market? That is an over-simplification, but certainly higher rates are taking some of this extra stimulus out of the equation. Not that rising rates are the only explanation with regard to the trepidation in stocks. As we also explained several weeks ago, the tax plan was great news for stocks because it immediately made companies more profitable by lowering their tax rates significantly. Stocks have been rallying for nine years, comprising the second longest bull market in history, but the rally intensified in anticipation of the tax plan. We surmised that all the good tax news was already built into stocks, but the rally continued anyway -- until rates started rising. The question now is whether this is just a healthy and long-overdue correction which may reverse quickly, or is it the beginning of the end for the bull run? As always, we will stay away from predictions. Rates could ease back down or stabilize -- and the market could climb back. Right now, the economy is healthy and rates have not risen far enough to cause the economy to pause. Actually, if the growth eased a bit, this could cause the Federal Reserve Board to be less concerned with inflationary pressures and perhaps permit them to take their foot off the pedal. For now, we have a pretty wild ride going on. A government shut-down has been averted and the compromise has produced good news for real estate. The two-year, $400 billion spending deal came as a result of a bipartisan group of lawmakers supporting the agreement. Congress now has until March 23 to write the legislation to accompany the spending deal that will fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. The National Association of REALTORS® fought and achieved a number of wins for real estate, including a temporary extension of federal flood insurance and extension of NAR-backed tax provisions. Here are the details: • Flood insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program has been extended until March 23, giving lawmakers time to work out an extension that could last until September 30. The deal also adds $27 billion in mitigation and resiliency funds to address issues arising from last year’s hurricanes, and it makes $12 billion available under the Community Development Block Grant program to fund U.S. Army Corp of Engineers flood mitigation projects. • Extension of tax provisions. The deal retroactively extends provisions for the 2017 tax year for mortgage debt forgiveness; mortgage insurance premiums and energy efficiency improvements in commercial buildings. • Tax Credit. The nonbusiness energy property tax credit applies to ten percent of the amount paid for qualified energy efficiency improvements such as energy-saving roofs, windows, skylights, and doors, and 100 percent of that paid for qualified energy products, such as high-efficiency water heaters, air conditioning units, and furnaces. Source: REALTOR® Magazine Existing-home sales in 2017 surged to the best year for sales in 11 years, the National Association of Realtors® reported. Total existing-home sales—which include completed transactions for single-family homes, townhomes, condos, and co-ops—rose 1.1 percent in 2017 to a 5.51 million sales pace. The sales pace surpassed 2016’s 5.45 million, which had been the highest pace since 2006. End-of-the-year sales numbers were overcast somewhat by a slower sales pace in December. Existing-home sales decreased 3.6 percent in December month over month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.57 million. “Existing sales concluded the year on a softer note, but they were guided higher these last 12 months by a multi-streak of exceptional job growth, which ignited buyer demand,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “At the same time, market conditions were far from perfect. New listings struggled to keep up with what was sold very quickly, and buying became less affordable in a large swath of the country. These two factors ultimately muted what should have been a stronger sales pace.” The median existing-home price for all housing types in December was $246,800, which is 5.8 percent higher than a year ago. First-time home purchasers comprised 32 percent of sales in December, up from 29 percent in November. Source: NAR Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

February 13, 2018 Real Estate Report - Rate Predictions and Perspective

It is amazing how it seems every year we have predictions that interest rates will go up. And each year interest rates do go up. And then, they go back down. The yield of the 10-year Treasuries have gone up over 0.5% over the past few months. But they also went up just about the same amount during the winter of 2016-17. Similar rises were witnessed in 2015 and 2014, though the patterns were slightly different. Each time, rates came back down. If we look at this pattern, we can conclude that rates are likely to come back down again, right? Not so fast. There is one intervening variable that occurred this year, as opposed to previous years. That variable is the tax legislation. Tax reform is designed to stimulate economic growth. In previous years, rates came back down because our economic growth never became too strong to ignite inflation. Nor did rates move high enough to scare the stock market into a correction, as has happened in the past week -- not that stocks were not due for a correction after so many years of increases. Some say that the Federal Reserve Board raising short-term interest rates makes higher long-term rates a certainty. But, we must remember, the Fed raised rates in 2015 and 2016, albeit not as quickly as 2017. In 2015 and 2016, the Fed was "normalizing" rates because the economy had stabilized. Now the economy is growing, and we have added a major stimulus. Rates are not rising because the Fed is raising rates, rates are rising because the markets and the Fed expect further economic growth. That being said, it is still impossible to predict the future of economic growth or rates. On the other hand, if you feel this is the last opportunity to take advantage of historically low rates, you may want to act accordingly. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - January 30, 2018 Real Estate Report - Double Feature

As we have mentioned previously, it has already been a busy year with major storms, wildfires that turned into mudslides, a new tax plan and the in-fighting in Washington seemingly getting worse. And that is just the first month of the year. We end the first month and start the second month with another busy week, at least on the economic front. This week we have the first meeting of the year for the Federal Reserve Board and also the first reading on jobs which contains 2018 data. Thus far this year it seems that the economy continues to move forward, even without the anticipated effects of the tax plan. Of course, the anticipation itself has fueled much optimism which can be seen in record stock market closes. The performance of the economy is all about optimism. Since the Fed just raised their benchmark rates in mid-December, most analysts are not expecting another increase so soon. However, even if they do not raise short-term rates at this meeting, they will be discussing how much and how quickly they will be raising rates this year. How much and how fast will depend upon the strength of the economy. And major evidence of this strength will be released a few days after they meet in the form of the January employment report. December's job gains were a bit under forecast, and thus we will be looking at not only January's numbers, but revisions to the previous months' data. A really strong report could move the Fed to raise rates at their next meeting in March. Even if they do not, one thing is certain -- unless something happens to derail the economy, their only move is up this year. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

December 12, 2017 Real Estate Report - Taxes, Jobs and Rates

We promised a busy December and certainly we have not been disappointed in this regard. We entered December with the tax legislation flying through the Senate faster than anyone would have predicted. This is not to say that the work is finished, as there are many differences between the House and Senate versions -- differences that must be reconciled in conference before the final package is put to a vote. While it seems like there are a few weeks left in the year, the holidays make it a very short month to get this accomplished. Though you can see that the stock market seems to be very optimistic that it will get done. Then we had the jobs report released. The economic numbers leading up to the report had been strong, and this had resulted in some optimistic expectations. In reality, the number of jobs created was even higher than expected. The unemployment rate of 4.1% keeps us near full employment and wage inflation continued to be tame. In addition, the average work week increased to 34.5 hours from 34.4 hours and 18,300 temporary workers were added. Taking the data into account -- along with the specter of a tax package passing -- there is little doubt left that the Federal Reserve will not be raising short-term rates this week. The announcement will be coming Wednesday afternoon and the Fed should be comfortable that the economy can withstand another increase as it returns rates closer to what it considers "normalcy." The stimulus of a tax cut will also place the Fed on high alert with regard to the threat of future of inflationary pressures. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - October 3, 2017 Real Estate Report - Clouded Jobs Report

The jobs report is a very significant economic indicator. Yet, it seems that every monthly jobs report takes on some extra form of significance. This one is certainly no exception, with the report coming in the midst of the recovery from two natural disasters hitting major population centers within the United States. Hurricanes Irma and Harvey caused major damage to some of the largest states in America -- Florida and Texas -- as well as affecting several other population areas. Along with major damage, lives were changed radically. It is anticipated that we will certainly see the effects of these disasters in our economic numbers, and the jobs report should be the first major indicator. It was no surprise that initial claims for unemployment were up in the weeks after the hurricanes hit and that these additional claims were concentrated in the affected areas. The numbers may not be affected radically on a national level, but there are likely to be major changes regionally and these will affect the national numbers. How much? We will know by Friday. The good news is that these numbers should be temporary, as many jobs will be created in the rebuilding of affected areas. So, the markets will be prepared for one or two down months, but should be anticipating a rebound pretty quickly. The Federal Reserve Board meets two more times this year and most are expecting one more rate increase in December. The size and extent of the damage and rebound may very well be one of the determining factors in this decision. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000