Recent housing data also give the Federal Reserve reason to pause on raising interest rates.

The trend in negative equity appears to have turned and is on the rise. CoreLogic reports that negative equity increased to 10.8% of all mortgaged properties in the fourth quarter of 2014. In the third quarter, the percentage was 10.4%. Roughly 200,000 more homeowners find themselves in a negative-equity position.

Home builders are also growing more cautious. The NAHB sentiment index dropped two points to a 53 reading, an eight-month low. The traffic component of the index showed particular weakness, falling two points to 37, a nine-month low.

Lower builder optimism is reflected in fewer starts. Housing starts dropped to 897,000 annualized units in February. This is 17% below the revised January estimate of 1.081 million units and is 3.3% below the February 2014 rate of 928,000 units. Single-family housing starts were particularly disappointing, falling 14.9% to 593,000 annualized units.

Of course, one month doesn't make a trend and the national numbers can be meaningless to any local market. That said, the Federal Reserve does pay attention to national numbers. If housing slips into a funk on the national stage, you can be sure the word “patient” will reappear in Fed meeting minutes.

Information provided by Jessica Regan.

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