Last week, we sang hosannas for home builders and new-home sales. This week, existing home-sales get their turn.

We praise existing homes because sales have taken a significant turn for the better. Late last week, existing-home sales posted at an annualized rate of 5.04 million units for November – a 5.9% increase over October. The pace of existing-home sales has risen to the point they are on par with the federal-tax-credit days in the spring of 2010.

The good news is the market is much healthier today compared to 2010. Back then, we were skeptical that tax credits would sustain existing home sales. Our view was that the credits were simply pulling sales in from future demand, while aggregate demand remained low.

This time is different. We expect sales to continue to trend higher. The housing market is more robust today than it was in 2010. For one, distress properties are becoming less of a factor. For November, distressed properties accounted for 22% of existing-home sales, down from 24% in October. What's more, that percentage has been trending down for much of 2012.

Supply has been an issue, and a mixed blessing. Current inventory of existing homes is at a multi-year low of 4.8 months. The number of existing homes on the market, 2.03 million, is retarding sales-volume growth. On the other hand, low supply is helping prices. The national medium price of an existing home is up to $180,600, a 10.1% increase over the median price this time last year.

All in all, the latest data show that housing – new and existing – is increasingly taking leadership for economic growth. In other words, the world is finely returning to some sense of normalcy.

Normalcy might not be the word we'd use to describe mortgage lending. Yes, rates continue to skim along multi-decade lows; that is, when they are not setting new multi-decade lows.

But this is an unusual lending market. Rates are low, but risk aversion remains high (particularly among regulators). The Federal Reserve is doing everything within its power – by purchasing mortgage-backed securities and long-term Treasury notes – to hold interest rates low. This is an unprecedented move by the Fed.

To be sure, the Fed's efforts have worked, but it's worth keeping in mind that the events of today are an aberration. A more normal lending environment would consist of higher-rate 30-year mortgages. From an investor's standpoint, the rate today barely compensates for inflation and doesn't compensate for risk and the time value of money.

The point we want to emphasis is that the housing market has returned to normal; we think that it's a matter of time (which isn't too far into the future) when mortgage lending returns to normal too.

Courtesy of Jessica Regan.

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