Economic reports continued to create a good news-bad news dialectic in November, appending “yes, but” caveats to positive reports, and challenging downward trends with evidence of recovery in other indicators. The fairly even distribution of pluses and minuses has kept optimists from getting too carried away and prevented pessimists from becoming too discouraged – or perhaps just confused everyone about what’s happening in the economy.
Good news this month: There was no need to wait for the release of the September labor market report before posting this economic update. The bad news, of course is, that’s because the employment figures, a key economic benchmark – weren’t published. The Department of Labor, which publishes the report, was just one of the government agencies closed by the Congressional impasse that has shuttered most federal offices, furloughed more than 800,000 government employees and threatens to shave 1.4 percent off the fourth quarter economic growth rate, according to some estimates.
Will rising interest rates upend the housing recovery? Like an annoying puppy nipping at your heels, that question continues to trail upbeat housing reports, worrying analysts and clouding their forecasts.
The June employment report had a Goldilocks element – strong, but not too strong― perhaps not “just right,” but strong enough to suggest continued improvement in the labor market without pressuring the Federal Reserve to accelerate the phase-out of its bond-buying economic stimulus program.
A housing market that appears finally to be firing on all cylinders is increasing confidence in the strength and durability of the recovery, but it is also triggering fears that a new, potentially damaging price bubble may be forming.
The biggest economic story for March was the miniscule (read that “virtually non-existent”) improvement in the employment picture. “Yuck” was how MarketWatch described the Department of Labor report, which showed that employers added only 88,000 jobs for the month. The smallest gain in the past nine months, the March total fell miles below the most pessimistic of forecasts that had been growing increasingly pessimistic in the week preceding the labor report, as key indicators, including an increase in initial unemployment claims, had begun signaling cause for concern.
Get ready for more good housing news. Sales volumes are higher than they have been since the downturn began, inventories are lower, the percentage of distressed sales has declined and prices have increased for 10 consecutive months.
It’s too soon to know if the Cliff (in fiscal cliff) will join the Chad (in ‘hanging chad’ from the Florida election recount) on the list of names no one chooses any more for their newborns. But ‘debt’ and ‘ceiling’ not being likely choices for girls or boys, the crisis-in-waiting over the national debt ceiling isn’t likely to expand the endangered names list.
The skin-of-their-teeth Congressional action that avoided a national plunge over the fiscal cliff also rescued a measure that allows homeowners who participate in a short sale (selling their homes for less than they owe on the outstanding mortgage) or restructure their mortgages, to avoid tax liability on the debt forgiven under those transactions.
Since the beginning of this year, financial industry executives have been trying to assess the impact of the mortgage-related rules the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been issuing in a steady and widening stream. Now they are wondering which of those rules will remain in place and considering the prospect that the agency’s structure and powers may be radically changed.
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