Noise Still Drowns Out Housing Data
economic data noise housing real estateOver the last month or so the weekly mortgage activity data produced by the Mortgage Bankers Association has been choppy to say the least. That is because of the imperfect adjustment for holidays, including Christmas, New Year’s and in this week’s data, Martin Luther King Day. However, moving forward, except for President’s Day on February 20, there should be very little noise in the data, barring wild swings in weather. Therefore, we should be able to get a clearer sense of the trend in housing, and as the weather warms, an early idea about the spring surge some real estate pundits expect.

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Noise Drowned Housing & Economic Data

This week’s Weekly Application Survey, covering the week ending January 20, included the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. It was a bank holiday, and so comes to play in mortgage activity. For the week, the MBA’s Market Composite Index fell by 5% from the week before, handicapped by what we see as inadequate adjustment for the business drop-off that occurs on the Friday before and the Tuesday that follows every three day weekend. I’ve originated this viewpoint and continue to put it forth here.

Purchase Activity, which measures mortgage application activity tied to the purchase of homes, fell by 5.4% from the week just prior. I again attribute this decline to the holiday impact, despite the adjustment by the MBA. On an unadjusted basis, this index fell by 9.7%. However, we still cannot use this data in pure form in our forecasting or investment assumptions, for the reasons aforementioned.

The Refinance Index fell by 5.2%, again on the holiday noise. Mortgage rate direction varied across mortgage categories. For instance, the average contracted rate on 30-year fixed rate mortgages with conforming loan balances (417,500 or less) increased to 4.11% from 4.06% the week before. While the points decreased for 80% loan to value ratios, the effective mortgage rate still rose. As for jumbo loan balances (greater than conforming), the average contracted rate for same term fixed rate mortgages fell slightly to 4.39%, from 4.4%. While points rose here, the effective rate still decreased. FHA sponsored loans saw the average contracted rate on 30-year fixed rate loans rise to 3.97% from 3.91% the week before. Average contracted rates on 15-year fixed rate mortgages rose to 3.4% from 3.33%.

Even the four-week moving average of the Market Composite Index seems to me seasonally skewed as it moves out of the holiday inclusive period. For the latest period, this average was up 4.12%, and it should continue higher as it leaves the holiday season behind.

As we move forward, the weekly data faces little distraction, except for what may come from weather and also President’s Day in February. Thus, those of us studying this data point, and others, will get a clearer view to which to base more solid forecasts upon. That said, this benefit will not account for what may lie ahead of us, which I’ve begun talking about in recent columns. In fact, in my latest article, I based a sell call on paper profit rich homebuilders on this view. Today’s mortgage activity data, along with the Pending Home Sales Index decline and FHFA House Price Index’s monthly price increase have the relative shares of Bank of America (NYSE: BAC), Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) and K.B. Home (NYSE: KBH) trading mixed at this hour. K.B. Home was up 2.9% near noontime, while J.P. Morgan and Wells Fargo were lower by about 1%.

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