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Market Insights: Week of 3/25/2024

25 Mar 2024

Week of March 18, 2024 in Review

The Fed held rates steady, as anticipated, with their forecasts showing that three cuts are still expected this year. Plus, February saw positive momentum in home sales and construction. Here are the top stories:

Fed Still Signals Three Rate Cuts in 2024

After eleven rate hikes since March of 2022, the Fed once again left their benchmark Federal Funds Rate unchanged at a range of 5.25% to 5.5%. This decision was unanimous and marks the fifth straight meeting they held rates steady.

The Fed Funds Rate is the interest rate for overnight borrowing for banks and it is not the same as mortgage rates. The Fed has been aggressively hiking the Fed Funds Rate throughout this cycle to try to slow the economy and curb the runaway inflation that became rampant over the last few years.

What’s the bottom line? Despite some recent inflation readings that were hotter than expected, the Fed noted that three rate cuts are still expected this year. The Fed’s “dot plot” of member forecasts showed that 15 out of 19 members still expect cuts of between 50 and 100 basis points over the course of 2024.

Existing Home Sales Hit Highest Level in a Year

Existing Home Sales jumped 9.5% from January to February to a 4.38-million-unit annualized pace, reaching their highest level in a year per the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). This report measures closings on existing homes in February and likely reflects people shopping for homes in December and January, when rates were improved from last fall’s peak.

What’s the bottom line? Inventory increased 5.9% from January, with NAR’s Chief Economist Lawrence Yun noting that “additional housing supply is helping to satisfy market demand.” 

Rising inventory is certainly a step in the right direction to help improve the persistent tight housing supply we’ve seen across the country. However, the 1.07 million homes available for sale at the end of February is still below healthy levels at just a 2.9 months’ supply of homes at the current sales pace. Yun added that “more supply is clearly needed to help stabilize home prices and get more Americans moving to their next residences.”

Home Builders Feeling Positive

Confidence among home builders broke above the key breakeven threshold of 50 and into positive territory for the first time since last July, per the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Their Housing Market Index climbed three points to 51 in March, which was also the fourth consecutive monthly gain. Any score over 50 on this index, which runs from 0 to 100, signals that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

All three index components posted gains this month, with current and future sales expectations both well into expansion territory at 56 and 62, respectively. The gauge judging buyer traffic also moved higher.

What’s the bottom line? The persistent lack of previously owned homes for sale, strong buyer demand, and rates below last fall’s peak have pushed builder confidence higher. NAHB Chair Carl Harris explained, “Buyer demand remains brisk and we expect more consumers to jump off the sidelines and into the marketplace if mortgage rates continue to fall later this year.”

Favorable February for Housing Starts

Housing Starts saw a big rebound in February, with both single-family and multi-family construction improving from January’s slump. When compared to a year ago, however, single-family starts were up 35.2% while multi-family starts were down 35.9%. This suggests that we’re seeing a shift from multi-family to single-family construction, which is welcome news as this is where supply is needed around much of the country.

Single-family Building Permits also reached their highest level in a year, up 29.5% when compared to February 2023, signaling that the numbers for future supply are also favorable.

We also saw a big boost in completions, and if the current pace continues, this will add a further boost to much needed supply.

What’s the bottom line? Danushka Nanayakkara-Skillington, NAHB’s Assistant VP for Forecasting and Analysis, confirmed that “single-family housing is poised for a good year in 2024 with starts and permits on an upward trend.”

Chair Carl Harris added, “The solid level of single-family production in February tracks closely with rising builder sentiment, and with mortgage rates expected to moderate further this year, this will provide an added boost for single-family building.” 

Slight Decline in Initial Jobless Claims

Initial Jobless Claims were relatively flat in the latest week, with 210,000 people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time. This was a decline of 2,000 from the previous week. Continuing Claims rose by 4,000, with 1.807 million people still receiving benefits after filing their initial claim.

What’s the bottom line? Initial Jobless Claims remain tame and continue to suggest a surprisingly low level of layoffs despite the high-profile downsizing announcements we’ve seen. Yet, Continuing Claims are trending higher compared to a year ago, showing that it’s become harder for some people to find new employment once they are let go.

Family Hack of the Week

Baseball is back! These ballpark inspired Honey Roasted Peanuts courtesy of The Spruce Eats are sure to be a homerun every time.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.

Add 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1/3 cup honey, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt to a microwave safe bowl and microwave until the butter is melted, about 45 seconds. Stir until liquid is smooth. Add 1 pound raw (or roasted unsalted) peanuts to butter mixture and stir until they’re evenly coated.

Pour peanuts onto prepared baking sheet and spread them into an even layer. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to get an even roasting. Remove peanuts from oven once they’re golden brown; stir to distribute any honey that has dripped onto the baking sheet.

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