Saturday, January 21, 2006

Real estate rates stuck in neutral

Markets hold all bets until new Fed chief's commentary

Mortgage rates are still in the same narrow band they've been in since the holidays: 6.125 percent, plus or minus a debate about closing costs, but no points and no origination fee.

This narrow range should not be confused with stability.

In the last two days, concerns about Iran have overwhelmed everything; but, before laying out the market implications of that one, everything else first.

At the top of the list of standard economics is the standoff between the bet on economic slowdown and the one that all is well. In late December, bond yields fell in growing belief that a slowdown was inevitable, the Fed was not merely going to stop its campaign but would have to reverse, and the only question for 2006 would be how steep the slowdown. Everybody else -- economists, stock-market heroes, small-business execs -- disagrees.

The bond (and hence, mortgage) market is stuck, waiting for data to show who is right. On the good-news side, December industrial production rose .6 percent, on target, and capacity in use rose to 80.7 percent, the best figure since 2000. New claims for unemployment insurance fell a surprise 36,000 to 271,000, also the best number since 2000. The slowdown side expects an abrupt cooling in the housing market, and the newest data supports a cool-off: December housing starts fell twice as far as the already-weak forecast, down 8.9 percent, and new permits fell 4.4 percent.

On net, the week's good-news-bad-news data were a standoff.

Read the entire Lou Barnes article at Inman News

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