Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - February 24, 2015 Real Estate Trends - The Surging Dollar

In the past few months, we have focused upon many factors affecting the economy. These have included low oil prices and interest rates. The same international economic and political factors which have pushed rates and energy prices lower and contributed to volatility in the stock market, also have caused the U.S. Dollar to surge to levels not seen for years. There are many positives associated with a stronger dollar. For one, our dollar is strong because our economy right now is stronger than many other countries, especially Europe. In addition, a stronger dollar makes imports and travel cheaper, which lowers the threat of inflation and helps keep our interests rates low. However, there is a negative side of a strong dollar. Because our exports become more expensive to foreign nations, it can slow our economy and cost us jobs. Like everything in life, each economic factor creates balances. If our economy is stronger than others, the stronger dollar can bring it down a notch. Here is the good news. With low oil prices and interest rates, the consumer has a chance to be an economic star in 2015. The creation of more jobs and low rates could very well turn into great news for the real estate market in 2015 and thus offset the negative effects of a stronger dollar. Meanwhile, it is a good time to book a hotel room in Europe and many other places. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - February 17, 2015 Real Estate Report - Have We Hit Bottom?

Usually, when we hear that someone or something has "hit bottom" -- that is a good thing, because the only direction that person or thing can go from there is up. On the other hand, if we are talking about oil prices and interest rates, hitting a bottom might not be considered a good thing. For example, if you were looking for gas prices to hit $2.50 per gallon, they are not going near that price if we have indeed already hit bottom. Indeed, there is some evidence that oil prices bottomed around $45 per barrel. We are not surprised by the fact that oil prices rebounded to the $50 per barrel range because they had fallen so far and so fast. Often markets overshoot the fundamentals and come back to be in balance. Are oil prices going back to $100 per barrel? We have no idea because we can't predict the future. However, most likely the price will settle somewhere in between $45 and $100 without some major intervening economic or political variable. Interest rates too have been falling for the past few months. Not as precipitously as oil, but one must remember that rates were already very low. The fact that rates went back to the record low levels hit two years ago, was quite extraordinary and certainly not predicted. Like oil, we are not surprised that rates have rebounded somewhat. If a few weeks ago was the bottom, there will likely be a rush of those who waited too long. When homeowners and buyers realize that, we expect there to be lines forming to refinance or purchase a home. The question is -- is there still time to get in front of the line? Keith Stewart 773-529-7000

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

February 10, 2015 Real Estate Trends - The Employment Report is Released

For the first part of the year, the focus has been international news, rather than domestic economic reports. Not that we have not had our share of news, including the first meeting of the year for the Federal Reserve Board's Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). The statement from the committee indicated some of the same emphasis on international news. This news has included increased economic stimulus in Europe where the economies continue to struggle. The stronger dollar and low price of oil are also affecting overseas economies -- as well as our own economy. It is unlikely that our interest rates would not be so low without the world-wide economies continuing to languish. The question is, will our economy continue to thrive through all of this world-wide economic and political turmoil? Thus, January's reading of the jobs situation released on Friday was all-important in this regard. What did the data show? It showed that our economy is continuing to strengthen as the world slows down. More jobs were created than expected, the previous months were revised even higher than originally reported and hourly earnings showed a healthy jump. Even the higher unemployment rate was seen as a positive as this was due to more job seekers entering the market. Any increase in the labor participation rate is viewed as a sign of an increasingly confident consumer. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000