The Mortgage Corner

The unanswered question to date is how the debt ceiling impasse and government shutdown has affected economic activity.  Both the industrial and service sectors have shown stronger growth, according to the Institute of Supply Management (ISM).  But real estate is another story.  Pending home sales in the NAR’s Pending Home Sale Index doesn’t look good. The index that measures home sales under contract, but not closed, has been declining for 4 months, a sure sign that housing sales, at least, are faltering.

This is in part because consumer confidence is faltering, as consumers lose confidence in government’s ability to function.  The shutdown endangered much more than 800,000 furloughed defense workers.  Combined with huge cuts in food stamps, no farm aid bill, and a not yet functioning Affordable Care Act, the shutdown and debt ceiling impasse has spooked consumers big time.

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Graph: Econoday

Year-on-year, the index is down 1.2 percent for the first negative reading in nearly 2-1/2 years. The National Association of Realtors (NAR), which compiles the report, cites as a major factor the government shutdown which it says pushed government workers and contractors to the sidelines of the housing market.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun wasn’t optimistic about the near future, either. “Declining housing affordability conditions are likely responsible for the bulk of reduced contract activity’” he said. (But) “In addition, government and contract workers were on the sidelines with growing insecurity over lawmakers’ inability to agree on a budget. A broader hit on consumer confidence from general uncertainty also curbs major expenditures such as home purchases.”

The government shutdown really weighed on confidence indexes.  The Conference Board’s confidence index fell to 71.2 from a revised 80.2. With an 11 point drop, the dip is the largest since 12 points in January, a month that was also hit by a fiscal standoff in Washington.

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Graph: Econoday

But the drop was mainly in expectations, which could reverse if some agreement is reached on a new federal budget by the December 15 deadline.  The component for present situations continued to show much less volatility, at 70.7 versus 73.5 for what is a 4th straight reading over 70—“a trend that is consistent with steady and soft month-on-month growth for the economy,” said Econoday

A negative on the present situation side was a sharp 2.2 percentage point rise to 35.8 percent for those that said jobs fewer jobs were available. This suggests another month of weakness for monthly payroll growth.

Consumer confidence powers much more than home sales, of course.  Retail sales are also growing just 4 percent per annum with the holiday season approaching, when 6 to 8 percent is the normal sales’ rate if consumers feel more confident.  Retail sales don’t adjust for inflation, so ‘real’ retail sales after inflation are rising just over 2 percent. This has to mean government dysfunction is definitely affecting consumer spending overall that powers some 70 percent of economic activity.

Harlan Green © 2013

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