Home building permits near 4½ year high

WASHINGTON, Wed Dec 19, 2012 — U.S. permits for future home construction set their fastest pace in nearly 4½ years in November, pointing to underlying strength in the housing market, even as starts dropped after three straight months of strong gains.

The Commerce Department said on Wednesday building permits increased 3.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 899,000 units, the highest since July 2008.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected permits, which lead starts by at least a month to rise to an 875,000-unit pace last month from 868,000 units in October.

Groundbreaking fell 3.0 percent to an 861,000-unit pace, worse than economists’ expectations for a pullback to 873,000 units. October’s starts were revised down to show an 888,000-unit pace instead of the previously reported 894,000 units.

The step back in homebuilding in November followed three straight months of solid gains, and reflected a 5.2 percent drop in the Northeast, which was slammed by Superstorm Sandy in late October. Starts also tumbled 19.2 percent in the West.

The housing market has regained some footing after a historic collapse that pushed the economy into its worst recession since the Great Depression.

U.S. stocks seen nearing all-time high in 2013: Reuters poll

NEW YORK, Thu Dec 13, 2012 — The S&P 500 may end 2013 within a stone’s throw of its all-time intraday high hit in 2007 on the back of an improved outlook for global growth and with an end to uncertainty surrounding the U.S. “fiscal cliff”, according to a Reuters poll.

A major relief for the stock market would be the resolution of the fiscal cliff, nearly $600 billion of tax increases and spending cuts that are set to take effect in January and which could threaten to bring on a new recession.

The median forecast for the S&P 500 by end of 2013 was 1,550, according to 47 respondents surveyed in the latest Reuters poll of equity strategists. That is just off the index’s all-time intraday high of 1,576.09 on Oct. 11, 2007.

By mid-2013, the S&P 500 is seen rising to 1,500, for a roughly 5 percent increase from Wednesday’s close of 1428.48.

Consumer confidence at seven-month high in September

NEW YORK, Tue Sep 25, 2012 – Consumer confidence jumped to its highest level in seven months in September as Americans were more optimistic about the job market and income prospects, a private sector report showed on Tuesday.

The Conference Board, an industry group, said its index of consumer attitudes rose to 70.3 from an upwardly revised 61.3 in August. It was the highest level since February and topped economists’ expectations for 63, according to a Reuters poll.

August was originally reported as 60.6.

“Despite continuing economic uncertainty, consumers are slightly more optimistic than they have been in several months,” said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said in a statement.

The expectations index climbed to 83.7 from 71.1, while the present situation index gained to 50.2 from 46.5.

Consumers’ labor market assessment improved. The “jobs hard to get” index slipped to 39.9 percent from 40.6 percent the month before, while the “jobs plentiful” index rose to 8.3 percent from 7.2 percent.

Looking six months ahead, 16.3 percent expected income increases, up from 16 percent, while 14.1 percent anticipated decreases, down from 16.7 percent.

Consumers also felt better about price increases with expectations for inflation in the coming 12 months down to 5.8 percent from 6 percent.

New home sales race to two-year high in May

WASHINGTON, Mon Jun 25, 2012 – New single-family home sales surged in May to a two-year high and prices rose from a year ago, further signs the housing market recovery was gaining some momentum.

The Commerce Department said on Monday sales jumped 7.6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted 369,000-unit annual rate, the highest since April 2010.

That was well above economists’ expectations for a 346,000 pace and the highest since April 2010, when sales were inflated by a homebuyer tax credit.

The report was the latest evidence of a broadening recovery in the housing market even as the economy is weakening. The sector had long been the Achilles heel of the economy’s recovery from the 2007-09 recession.

“The housing market recovery remains on track. While we still have a long ways to go, healing is taking place and we are starting to see improvement,” said Sam Bullard, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, N.C.

Reports last week showed a jump in home building permits and a fourth straight month of gains in the median price of previously owned homes.

Underscoring the firming tone, new home sales in May were up 19.8 percent from their year-ago level.

Bank earnings at highest since first half 2007, but lending slackens

WASHINGTON, Thu May 24, 2012 – The banking industry enjoyed its highest earnings since the first half of 2007 in the first quarter, but lending slowed, reversing what had been an encouraging trend in loan growth.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s quarterly report, released on Thursday, showed the industry earned $35.3 billion in the first quarter, up $6.6 billion, or 22.9 percent, from a year earlier. The increase was largely due to banks setting aside less money to guard against loan losses.

Banks pulled back on lending during the first quarter as loan balances dropped for the first time in four quarters.

FDIC Acting Chairman Martin Gruenberg cautioned that it is too soon to draw conclusions about the lending drop after only one quarter but said “the overall decline in loan balances is disappointing after we saw three quarters of growth last year.”

Overall loan balances declined by $56.3 billion, or 0.8 percent, during the first quarter.

Until lending picks up considerably it will be difficult for the U.S. economy to gain steam and for banks to continue recording the profits they have shown in recent quarters.

Gruenberg said one factor in the drop in loan balances was seasonal, noting that credit card lending went down following the end-of-year holidays.

The data also showed, however, that housing remains a persistent problem.

Residential real estate loan balances fell by $19.2 billion, or 1 percent, during the quarter.

A bright spot continues to be lending to businesses, with loan balances in this category growing $27.3 billion, or 2 percent, during the first quarter.

“Total lending volumes continue to suffer solely because of weakness in the housing sector,” said Jim Chessen, chief economist at the American Bankers Association. “The overall lending volume for banks will continue to grow at a gradual pace until the housing market improves.”

Gruenberg warned that the European financial crisis is a major threat to the U.S. banking industry going forward.

Pending homes sales near two-year high in March

WASHINGTON, Thu Apr 26, 2012 – Contracts to purchase previously owned homes increased solidly to a near two-year high in March, suggesting the spring selling season got off to a firmer start and offering hopes of a pickup in housing.

The National Association of Realtors said on Thursday its Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed in March, jumped 4.1 percent to 101.4, the highest level since April 2010.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected signed contracts, which lead existing home sales by a month or two, to rise 1.0 percent after a previously reported 0.5 percent fall.

March’s strong rise in signed contracts pointed to a pick up in home resales after they stumbled in the past two months.

The housing market, saddled with an oversupply of unsold properties, has struggled to regain its footing since collapsing in late 2006. It remains a major constraint to faster economic growth.

“First quarter sales closings were the highest first quarter sales in five years. The latest contract signing activity suggests the second quarter will be equally good,” said Lawrence Yun, chief NAR economist.

Signed contracts were up 12.8 percent in the 12 months to March.

Contracts rose strongly in the South and West, but fell in the Northeast and Midwest.

Housing starts dip; permits near 3½-year high

WASHINGTON,| Tue Mar 20, 2012 – Housing starts fell in February, but permits for future construction jumped to their highest level since October 2008, according to a government report on Tuesday that showed steady improvement in the housing market.

The Commerce Department said housing starts slipped 1.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 698,000 units. January’s starts were revised up to a 706,000-unit pace from a previously reported 699,000 unit rate.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast housing starts little changed at a 700,000-unit rate. Compared to February last year, residential construction was up 34.7 percent, the biggest year-on-year rise since April 2010.

New building permits surged 5.1 percent to a 717,000-unit pace last month, far exceeding economists’ expectations for an advance to a 690,000-unit pace from January’s 682,000-unit rate.

Green shoots are starting to emerge in the housing market, but an oversupply of unsold homes, which is depressing prices, remains a major hurdle, even as sales have picked up in recent months as job growth accelerated.

Residential construction is expected to add to economic growth this year for the first time since 2005.

Sentiment among home builders held at a near five-year high in March, a survey showed on Monday, and they were optimistic about sales over the next six months.