MetroIntelligence Economic Update by P. DUFFY

March home builder confidence dips two points to 72

Although home builder confidence fell just two points to 72 in March, half off the builder responses in the March Housing Market Index (HMI) survey were collected prior to March 4, so the recent stock market declines and the rising economic impact of the coronavirus will be reflected more in next month’s report. The HMI index gauging current sales conditions fell two points to 79, the component measuring sales expectations in the next six months dropped four points to 75 and the gauge charting traffic of prospective buyers also decreased one point to 56.


Housing starts slipped 1.5 percent in February, but still up 39.2 percent year-on-year

Privatelyowned housing starts in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,599,000. This is 1.5 percent below the revised January estimate of 1,624,000, but is 39.2 percent above the February 2019 rate of 1,149,000.


Building permits fell 5.5 percent in February, but rose 13.8 percent year-on-year

Privatelyowned housing units authorized by building permits in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,464,000. This is 5.5 percent below the revised January rate of 1,550,000, but is 13.8 percent above the February 2019 rate of 1,287,000.


Mortgage applications fall 8.4 percent as rates rebound sharply in weekly report

The Market Composite Index decreased 8.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans falling 1 percent from the  previous week (up 11 percent year-on-year) and refinance activity falling 10 percent (but up 402 percent year-on-year).  The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 3.74 percent from 3.47 percent.


February retail sales slipped 0.5 percent, but up 4.3 percent year-on-year in calm before storm

Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food sales in February dipped just 0.5 percent from January, and were up 4.3 percent year-on-year. Call this “the calm before the storm,” as March figures will certainly show an impact from the current shutdown of American life.  For just the week ending Friday, 3/14, retail sales at chain stores, discounters, and department stores rose 8.5 percent year-on-year (up from 6.0 percent the previous week), as households rushed to stock up on essentials.