Housing market gains solid foundation for 2015

December 30, 2014 02:41 PM

Home prices in 20 U.S. cities rose at a slower pace in the year ended in October, putting the market on better footing heading into 2015.

The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values increased 4.5% from October 2013, the smallest gain in two years, after rising 4.8% in the year ended in September, a report from the group showed today in New York. The median projection of 24 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 4.4% advance. Nationally, prices rose 4.6% after a 4.8% gain in the year ended in September.

While smaller increases will help put ownership within reach of more Americans as the job market improves and wage gains accelerate, prices are still up 25% from the depths reached following the recession. That rebound in property values has helped repair homeowners’ finances, which is contributing to gains in consumer confidence and spending that are driving the economic expansion.

“As you look forward, we’re considering a housing market that should be a more normal housing market, which means driven by the pace of income and other aspects of affordability,” said Michelle Meyer, a senior U.S. economist at Bank of America Corp. in New York, who correctly projected a slowing in home price appreciation. “Price appreciation should slow to fall more in line with the growth in income.”

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from gains of 3.9% to 5%. The S&P/Case-Shiller index is based on a three-month average, which means the October figure also was influenced by transactions in August and September.

Gaining Confidence

Another report today showed consumer confidence rose in December as Americans embraced more employment opportunities and persistent declines in prices at the gas pump. The Conference Board’s index increased to 92.6 from a revised 91 in November that was stronger than initially estimated, the New York-based private research reported.

Home prices in the 20-city index, adjusted for seasonal variations, increased 0.8% in October from the prior month, the biggest gain since March. It exceeded the Bloomberg survey median that projected a 0.4% advance. Unadjusted prices dropped 0.1%.

The year-over-year gauge, based on records dating back to 2001, provides better indications of trends in prices, the group has said. The panel includes Karl Case and Robert Shiller, the economists who created the index.

Reaccelerating

While the year-to-year returns are cooling, more cities are starting to show a reacceleration, which bodes well for next year, according to the report.

Twelve cities experienced smaller year-to-year gains in October compared with the prior month, down from 18 in September and 20 in August. The eight cities that saw prices rise faster in October included San Francisco, Denver and Tampa, Florida.

“We are seeing hints that prices could end 2014 on a strong note and accelerate into 2015,” David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee, said in a statement.

All 20 cities in the index showed a year-over-year gain, led by a 9.5% climb in Miami and a 9.1% advance in San Francisco. Cleveland showed the smallest increase, with prices rising 0.9%.

Borrowing costs still hovering near record lows may help draw more buyers into the market. The average rate on a 30-year, fixed mortgage was 3.83% in the week ended Dec. 25, the second-lowest since May 2013, according to Freddie Mac data. The rate dropped by 0.65 percentage point this year after rising 1.13 percentage points in 2013.

Home Sales

November data show residential real estate losing traction. Purchases of previously owned homes fell more than forecast in November to a 4.93 million annual rate, the weakest reading since May, figures from the National Association of Realtors showed last week.

New-home sales unexpectedly declined in November to a four-month low, further demonstrating a lack of momentum in the market as it enters the slower winter months. Sales dropped 1.6% to a 438,000 annualized pace last month following a 445,000 rate in October that was weaker than previously estimated, Commerce Department figures showed last week.

Home-improvement retailer Lowe’s Cos. of Mooresville, North Carolina, is counting on healthy U.S. growth prospects to sustain the housing recovery over the next three years.

Builder Outlook

“Overall macro growth will bode well for industry, particularly, the improving trends in income and housing,” Chief Financial Officer Robert Hull said at a Dec. 11 investor conference. “A strengthening job market should contribute to disposable personal income growth,” while households already are “becoming more financially fit,” he said.

Payroll gains on track for their best year since 1999 also are bolstering potential home buyers. Employers have added an average 240,910 jobs per month in 2014 through November and the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.8% from 6.7% at the end of last year. The Labor Department will release December figures Jan. 9.

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