Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - April 25, 2017 Real Estate Report - They Are Back

Congress is back in session. Not that we are 100% sure that anyone missed them, but certainly there is some unfinished business on the table. For the past few weeks, international news has dominated the markets. Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea and Russia have led this domination, and certainly these world conflicts have influenced the markets -- including stocks, bonds, energy prices and the price of gold. This is not to say that domestic issues have fallen off the map, but when Congress is not in town, there will not be news of legislative progress or failures in the headlines. Now that Congress is back, there will be issues that need to be addressed on the domestic side, in addition to Congressional activity on international issues. One domestic issue hits this very week. This Friday, the stopgap funding bill for the operation of the Federal Government expires. Could we see a government shutdown? Most political analysts predict that a shutdown will not take place. However, it is normal for the agreement to come at the last possible hour. And international issues may complicate the agreement with budget requests in place to increase defense spending with a lack of immediate corresponding cuts in domestic programs. While these issues are usually resolved before the government is shut down for anything but a minimal length of time, there is the potential for fireworks and saber-rattling. And if the government does shut down for a few days, could next week's meeting of the Federal Reserve Board's Open Market Committee be delayed? Always an interesting time in Washington. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - April 18, 2017 Real Estate Report - A Stark Reminder

Actually, we have had a few stark reminders recently. The most recent was the escalation of our engagement in Syria and another, a show of force near the Korean peninsula. Since the election, much of America's attention has been focused upon domestic issues such as the health care bill, a nomination to the Supreme Court, budgets and more. But now we are reminded that the world is connected. Connected not only in our fight against terrorism, but also the economics. From Brexit, to a devastating tsunami on the other side of the world, we have been constantly reminded as to how events in one part of the world can affect our part of the world -- both good and bad. Some of these reminders reside on our domestic side as well. Not long after the first attempt at "re-reforming health care reform," we now face a late April showdown which could result in a shutdown of the Federal government. While we are not predicting that this necessarily will happen, it is a reminder of the way Washington works -- contentiously and slowly. This is especially true when major changes are proposed. How does this affect us? We have talked about the surge of confidence that America has experienced in the past several months. It would be natural for this confidence to wane somewhat, as the processes move forward slowly. While this may slow down economic growth a tad, it also gives us the benefit of slowing down the rise in interest rates that market analysts have been predicting. Lower rates would help boost the economy and hopefully offset the cooling off of enthusiasm. While we can't predict the path of rates or the economy, it does not hurt to gain some perspective as to the possibilities, especially when we get hit with news of world and domestic events. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - April 11, 2017 Real Estate Report - Interesting Jobs Data

Every month the jobs numbers are of major interest to analysts who are looking for direction with regard to the economy. In essence, there is no up-to-date economic statistic which is more important, as job growth is the spark which can spur on economic growth, as well as inflationary concerns. In addition, there are certain employment reports that seem to attract even more interest because of other events occurring before, or as the data are being released. March's jobs numbers were no exception in this regard. This month, the numbers took on more importance because of these additional circumstances. For one, the report followed a pretty strong jobs report released last month. Two strong months of jobs growth could have provided a signal to the Federal Reserve Board, whose members will be considering when to raise rates again. To make the timing more interesting, the minutes from the last Fed meeting were released two days before the jobs report. These minutes give us a feel as to how the Fed is likely to react to the numbers, not only with regard to increasing rates, but also regarding paring off their portfolio of bonds and mortgages. The report was also released after the stock market rally hit a pause in the second half of March, which enabled long-term interest rates to ease back down. A strong report had the potential to refuel the stock market rise and higher rates quite quickly. Thus, when the numbers were released on Friday, the increase of less than 100,000 jobs and the downward revision in the previous months' gains, as well as stable wage growth, all seemed to have signaled that the economy is not running too hot -- despite the drop in the unemployment rate. Weather factors may have affected the extreme variations from month-to-month and, thus, one should not be coming to any conclusions regarding one month of weak employment growth. Additionally, it will be hard to measure the immediate reaction to the news with the escalation of the Syrian conflict going on at the same time as the report was issued. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - March 28, 2017 Real Estate Report - Alternative Reality

No, we are not delving into the world of science fiction. We can't change what happened. But sometimes it is interesting to wonder what would have happened if an event did not take place. In this case, we are referring to the Federal Reserve Board raising short-term interest rates. As we have previously explained, the move was a "no-brainer." The markets were surely expecting the increase. Therefore, it would have been a surprise if the Fed held rates steady. The markets don't like surprises. And a layman might have surmised that rates would have come down if the Fed kept rates where they are. Yet, that conclusion is not necessarily accurate. If the markets feel that inflation is becoming more of a threat and the Federal Reserve is not doing its job to rein in inflation, then long-term interest rates could move up even faster than they have already risen. This is why the Fed can raise interest rates at times and long-term rates can actually go down -- though presently short-term rates have not gone up high enough for the analysts to predict that they will halt economic growth. More evidence on the state of the economy is on the way. This week we have a report on personal income and spending, and next week we will see another jobs report. Coming after a strong report for February's data, you can be sure that market analysts and the Fed will be watching closely for evidence that the economy and inflation are heating up. If we see that evidence, there will be speculation that another rate increase will be coming sooner, rather than later. A disappointing jobs report could make the Fed pause and ponder whether they are moving too quickly. That would be bad news for the economy, but good news for rates. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - March 14, 2017 Real Estate Report - The Jobs Report and Fed Meeting

The data is in. The jobs report has been released and the Federal Reserve Board's Open Market Committee is meeting as we release this publication. Keep in mind that the employment numbers are a major factor in affecting the Fed's decision -- but they are not the only factor. The stock market rally, which indicates confidence, as well as inflationary indicators, are also watched closely. As a matter of fact, the numbers on wage growth might be almost as important as the jobs numbers themselves. Last month, wage growth came in 2.8% on an annual basis and this is seen as good news for workers but bad news on the inflation front. Add a strong stock market and rising wage growth to the fact that the economy added 235,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate ticked down to 4.7%, and you can see why the markets are predicting a rate increase. You might ask why a rising stock market would affect the Fed's thinking. We have already spoken about the stock market's indirect influence upon the economy. Certainly, the growth of equity will make those who own stocks more confident in making large purchases, and this has the potential to boast the economy. However, there is a more direct link between the Fed and the rise in the stock market. The last thing the Fed wants to do is raise rates and stifle the economy. With the stock market so strong right now, the Fed is much more likely to conclude that the economy can withstand the news of higher rates. If consumers are uncertain, piling on a rate increase just makes things worse. If consumers are hopeful, they are much less likely to envision higher rates as a roadblock to success. Of course, this is all speculation, and by the time you read this commentary, you are likely to know what the Fed was really thinking. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - February 28, 2017 Real Estate Report - Jobs and Rates

It has been a whirlwind start to the year with record stock prices and a new administration coming together. And the year could get a bit more interesting with an employment report due out at the end of next week. Of course, the jobs data is always important, but this report could hold a bit more weight with a meeting of the Federal Reserve coming up in a few weeks. The Fed has recently talked about raising rates as much as three times this year, but the markets have been predicting no increase before May or June. Could a very strong jobs report make a March increase more likely? This is certainly within the realm of possibilities and the recent release of the minutes of the last Fed meeting seemed to be somewhat open to that scenario. Keep in mind, even though the economic news released thus far this year has not been significantly stronger than expected, the inflation data reported recently was higher than forecasted. And the Fed is watching the inflation rate very closely while analyzing the economy. In addition, while the economic reports have not been that strong, consumer confidence is up, along with the stock market. There is a possibility that this confidence turns into more jobs created because employers are also feeling more confident. More jobs will boost the economy. In addition to the total number of jobs added, one indicator which will be watched very closely will be wage growth. If wages grow more quickly than expected, this would denote that the job market is getting tighter and would be another factor elevating inflationary concerns. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - February 7, 2017 Real Estate Report - Where the Economy Stands

Certainly, this past week was one to get a good assessment of where the economy stands coming into the new year and a new Presidency. In the past week or so, we have had reports on overall economic growth for 2016; personal income and spending for December; the jobs report for January; and a meeting of the Federal Reserve Board's Open Market Committee. That is a lot of information to assess. Let's start with the economic growth. Our rate of economic growth for 2016 was 1.6%, which was the slowest since 2011. The fourth quarter came in at 1.9% and is subject to revision, but even a significant upward revision will not affect the overall 2016 growth results by that much. The next release measured personal income and spending for December, which was another report which shows how we finished out the year. December personal spending numbers are especially important because they reflect spending through the holiday season. These numbers came in moderately robust, and met expectations. We then had the meeting of the Federal Reserve mid-last week. The markets were not expecting the Fed to increase rates since they did so in December. And this prediction was right on the mark. However, the markets were watching the Fed's statement closely. This statement indicated that economic growth remains moderate and the economy was balanced as of right now--with no more risks on the upside vs. the downside. Finally, on Friday we had the all-important jobs report, which is the first economic reading for January. The report was a real mixed bag with strong employment growth of 227,000 jobs added, but an up-tick in the unemployment rate to 4.8% and lower wage growth than forecasted. The increase in the unemployment rate is not necessarily bad news because it indicates that more long-term unemployed are re-entering the workforce. Indeed, the labor participation rate did increase as well, but remains near all-time lows. Keith Stewart - 773-529-7000