More of the Same, But for How Long?

For now, the cavalcade continues; that is, the cavalcade of home-price increases that began nearly two years ago.

CoreLogic's Home Price Index shows prices increased 1.9% in June compared to May, which marks the 16 th consecutive monthly increase. This latest increase lifts the index's year-over-year gain to 11.9%. For 2013, home prices are already up nearly 10%.

But not all indicators suggest the trend will continue unabated. Trulia's data show asking prices dropped 0.3% in July compared to June, which marks the first monthly decrease since this past November.

A slowdown in home-price gains wouldn't necessarily be bad. We've argued in the recent past, that double-digit yearly price increases are unsustainable. A lower rate of annual increase would be a more sustainable rate, and one more attuned to historical norms. The last thing any of us wants is another bubble market followed by a bubble burst.

We've also a seen a slowdown in the rise in the price of mortgage funding over the past month.

Rates, though higher than they were six months ago, have stabilized. What's more, it appears consumers are becoming acclimated to the new higher-rate reality. A recent survey by Fannie Mae finds that 60% of respondents believe interest rates will increase over the next 12 months. At the same time, three out of four of these respondents believe now is a good time to buy a home. The prospect of buying an appreciating asset appears to trump the higher cost of financing that asset.

But are the respondents expectations properly calibrated?

After the latest employment report, we are less sure of interest rates rising.

The employment report, issued the past Friday, points to sluggish job growth. In July, businesses increased payrolls by only 162,000, roughly 20,000 below most economists' expectations. To be sure, the unemployment rate dropped to 7.4% from 7.6%, but this was attributed to a lower labor-participation rate, which fell to a 35-year low.

The current trend in labor participation runs counter to recent history. After a recession, the labor force usually grows. But this post-recession period has been an anomaly. We are four years into a recovery, yet labor-force growth, as well as job growth, remains stubbornly stagnant.

Many economists believe disappointing job numbers won't dissuade the Federal Reserve from throttling back on quantitative easing. In fact, a few economists speculate the Fed could throttle back as soon as next month. At a minimum, that means mortgages won't drop any further.

We're not convinced, and we don't think most market participants are either. Mortgage rates have held steady for the past six weeks, as has the yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note. Given stubborn economic weakness, we expect quantitative easing to continue through the remainder of 2013.

Moreover, quantitative could even extend deep into 2014, depending on who takes the reigns of the Federal Reserve next year after Chairman Ben Bernanke steps down. Of the frontrunners, one in particular, Janet Yellen, appears keen to keep the Fed's current monetary policies going for a while longer.

Courtesy of Jessica Regan.

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