The Best-Performing Sector in the Economy Today

Home builders are downright spunky these days. Optimism runs rampant. The latest Wells Fargo/NAHB Sentiment Index posted at 64 for October. This is the highest posting since 2005. (A posting above 50 tilts sentiment toward optimism.) Things are good today, and they're good for the immediate future. The current sales component of the index, the most heavily weighted component, rose three points to 70. This means the immediate outlook for new-home sales is strong.

As for the longer-term outlook, it looks like blue skies ahead. The permits component was up seven points to 75. This means home builders are expecting strong starts and sales for the next six months.

As for starts today, they continue to ratchet higher. Starts jumped 6.5% to 1.206 million units on an annualized basis in September. This is nearly double the number of starts we saw four years ago. Multi-family units lead the charge. They spiked 18.3% to 466,000 units for the month. The good news is that we're still seeing gains in the larger and more important single-family component. Here, starts rose 0.3% to 740,000 units.

Now, combine rising construction activity and rising sales volumes with rising stock prices, and it's easy to understand why so many home builders are so optimistic. The S&P Home builders ETF (NYSE: XHB) is up 134% compared to 73% for the S&P 500 Index over the past five years. From the depths of the recession, March 2009, the XHB is up 270% compared to 170% for the S&P 500.

On the financing end, mortgage rates continue to provide a strong tailwind for anyone looking to buy or to refinance a home. Freddie Mac's latest survey shows borrowers across the country are getting sub-3.9% on a 30-year fixed-rate loan. Borrowers who prefer a shorter-term loan are seeing the 15-year fixed-rate loan hover around 3%.

We think rates will hold these levels through November, and possibly through the rest of the year. We're sticking with our January 2015 prediction – no Federal Reserve interest rate hike for 2015. Fed officials meet next week and futures traders are betting only a 5% chance for a rate increase. Looking to December, when the last Fed meeting of the year will occur, traders are betting a 30% chance.

Getting a low-interest rate loan is nice, but it's even nicer when the process gets easier. Fannie Mae recently said that it will allow lenders to use employment and income information from a database maintained by credit bureau Equifax. For loans Fannie Mae buys, this means it won't require the traditional documentation of physical copies of pay stubs and tax data. 

Anyone considering a loan should consider acting sooner than later. Application volume has been volatile lately due to the new lending disclosure rules under TILA-RESPA. Last week, purchase activity spiked 16%, while refinance activity was up 9%. Given the expected rise in new and existing home sales, we expect lending activity to rise too.

Information provided by Jessica Regan.

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