July Housing Starts hit their highest level in five months, rising 2.1 percent from June. July also marked the second-highest Housing Starts rate since the recession. Multifamily units are leading the increase. Building Permits, a sign of future construction, fell 0.1 percent from June to an annual rate of 1.152 million, in line with expectations.
New single-family home sales also surged in July, up 12.4 percent to a nine-year high of 654,000. New Home Sales also are up a whopping 31.3 percent from July 2015. These sales are making up for an unexpected slip in July Existing Home Sales. The National Association of REALTORS® reported that sales of previously owned homes unexpectedly declined in July from June due to low inventories and higher prices. July Existing Home Sales fell 3.2 percent to an annual rate of 5.39 million units, below the 5.54 million expected and down 1.6 percent from a year ago. Inventories are now at a 4.7 month supply, nearly 6 percent below last year. The median existing home price was up 5.3 percent from July 2015.
Consumers Sort Out Spending, Stagnant Wages and Tame Inflation
After big gains in June, consumers didn’t move the needle on Retail Sales in July. Economists were looking for a 0.4 percent rise, rather than the zero percent change reported. Lower sales for gasoline, sporting goods, food and beverages, and building materials pulled numbers down. The one bright spot? Retail Sales were up 2.3 percent from a year ago.
Perhaps consumers were feeling the loss in wages reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Real hourly compensation decreased 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2016 rather than the previously published increase of 4.2 percent. Compensation also fell 1.4 percent in the second quarter. Lack of wage growth doesn’t bode well for the average pocketbook. Consumers may further tighten the purse strings as the reality of wages catches up to them.
On a positive note, both consumer and wholesale inflation remained tame in July, keeping the price of goods and services in check. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) was unchanged from June to July, and Core CPI, which strips out volatile food and energy, increased just below expectations. The Core rate rose 2.2 percent on an annual basis, just below the 2.3 percent recorded in June. The Producer Price Index (PPI) and Core PPI both saw declines.
Besides being a gauge of price stability, inflation reduces the value of fixed investments, like Mortgage Bonds. This means tame inflation tends to be good news for home loan rates, since they are tied to Mortgage Bonds.
For now, home loan rates remain in historically low territory.