It appears Congress and the president have finally reached a compromise on the “fiscal cliff” – the agglomeration of tax increases and spending cuts that were set to take effect in January 2013. The good news is the housing and mortgage markets survived unscathed.

The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act remains in force for another year. This means forgiven mortgage debt will remain untaxed. Without this extension, short sales, foreclosures, and loan modifications would have become encumbered with a tax burden. This would have been a serious blow to the recovery. These basic market-clearing mechanisms were vital to the housing recovery in 2012, and will continue to help the recovery along in 2013.

The mortgage interest deduction also remains intact, which means mortgage financing remains a very good low-cost deal. It also means mortgage financing remains a savvy leveraging strategy for purchasing an asset (residential real estate) that is rising in value; thus providing a means to increase returns on invested capital.

In other words, the housing recovery is here to stay, and the latest round of price data supports this conclusion. Trulia reports that asking-price gains accelerated throughout the past year. In the first quarter of 2012, national home prices increased 0.8% quarter over quarter; by the fourth quarter, the pace had increased to 2.3%. Year over year, national home prices were up 5.1%.

Fueling the home-price acceleration was the former left-for-dead Phoenix market, which staged a remarkable resurrection that continues to this day. Home prices in Phoenix were up 25% for the year.

We've frequently written that falling prices will eventually produce more buyer interest, which, in turn, will lead to an eventual recovery. Phoenix is proof this economic maxim works.

Las Vegas also proves the maxim. It seems like it has taken an eternity, but the Las Vegas housing market is on the mend. Home prices in Las Vegas were up 10% year over year in December, building on a price-recovery trend that begin in the second half of 2012. We noted early in 2012 that a recovery in the Las Vegas housing market would likely mean the recovery had become a country-wide phenomenon. This appears the case today.

Home prices around the country remain on the rise, and it's appearing more likely that mortgage rates will be rising too. Over the past couple weeks, rates have been inching higher. What's more, events in the debt market point to even higher rates.

We are speaking specifically of the 10-year U.S. Treasury note – a benchmark for the mortgage-backed security market and the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. The yield on the 10-year Treasury has moved considerably higher over the past month. In fact, the yield on the 10-year Treasury today is approaching its highest point in nearly four months.

The trend in the 10-year Treasury yield is worth following, because if the job market and economy continue to improve (as we expect), then you can be sure that the yield on the 10-year Treasury note will continue to rise. Should this occur, mortgage lending rates are sure to follow.

Courtesy of Jessica Regan.

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