Better Pricing Driving More Sales

We've frequently mentioned that a slowdown in home-price appreciation would help drive sales volume. So far, our thesis has proven correct.

New home sales surged to 467,000 units on an annualized rate in September. This was the best monthly display since July 2008.

Discounting by home builders was a key factor in driving volume. The median price of a new home dropped 9.7% to $259,000 in September. Before the decline, the year-over-year median price was trending higher. But now the median new-home price is actually 4% lower than it was this time last year.

New-home prices should stabilize going forward. Supply remains muted, with 207,000 new homes on the market. This means that supply relative to sales is at a reasonable 5.3 months.

It appears existing-home sales might start trending higher with new-home sales. The pending home sales index was up 0.3% in September. This isn't a monumental increase, but it does point to another monthly gain in existing-home sales for October. The year-over-year trend in the index is another subtle plus. It had spent most of 2014 in the red but is now back in the black with a 1.0% gain.

As for home prices, the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index shows they were down in 12 of the 20 cities the index follows. In aggregate, this translates to a 0.1% index decline. This marks the fourth-consecutive monthly decline, which drives the year-over-year gain down to 5.6% compared to 6.7% in July. The downward trend will likely persist: Zillow projects the year-over-year gain will drop to 4.7% when Case-Shiller reports September numbers.

Continued improvement in gross domestic product (GDP ) growth should keep home sales moving forward through the end of the year. GDP growth decelerated in the third quarter, falling to 3.5% on an annualized rate, compared to the second quarter's 4.6% annualized rate. That said, 3.5% is respectable, and still beat the consensus estimate for 3.1% annualized growth. What's more, GDP growth at the current level should keep monthly job growth above the coveted 200,000 level.

Now, we just want to see an uptick in purchase-mortgage activity. Last week's numbers from the Mortgage Bankers Association weren't terribly encouraging. Purchase volume was down 5.0% for the October 24 week despite the fact rates remain low: sub-4% is still regularly quoted on the 30-year fixed-rate loan. What's more, rates are showing little inclination to move materially higher.

The question is, will mortgage rates remain sedated now that the Federal Reserve has ended quantitative easing?

Information provided by Jessica Regan.

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