Sunday, July 06, 2008

Housing Market is Still Struggling, But Positive Signs Are Beginning to Emerge

With rising energy prices, falling nonfarm payrolls, a plunge in consumer confidence, and a host of other negative indicators, economists have plenty to worry about. Their biggest concern, however, continues to be the housing market. Yet there is finally a little hope that the worst may be over.

According to the S&P/Case-Shiller indices, housing prices are still falling. Furthermore, they are still falling at an accelerating rate. This is the bad news. However, for the second month in a row, the rate of acceleration has declined. While this is not a reason to start celebrating yet, it is a necessary sign before the crisis finally ends. And because there is a two-month delay in the numbers, things may actually be a little better than the available data suggest. Right now, economists are studying April's numbers. The figures for May won't come out until the end of July.

Another encouraging sign is the recent week-over-week increase in mortgage applications for both refinancings and home purchases. While total applications were down almost 23% from a year ago, applications for home purchases were up 2.8% from the prior week.

Some parts of the country are also seeing interest from foreign investors who are backed with stronger currencies; and vulture investors are getting interested in purchasing condos in bulk in places like Miami. The Fed is hoping for more such signs that the worst for housing is over. Because inflation is becoming a concern, the Fed is itching to start raising interest rates. It will not do so, however, until it is believes the housing debacle is nearing an end.