2024 Is Off To A Steady Start

Freddie Mac noted This Week in Real Estate a marginal increase of 1 basis point in the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, averaging 6.62% from the prior week’s 6.61%, ending a streak of 9 consecutive weeks of decline. Despite the Federal Reserve’s efforts to combat inflation with higher interest rates, the job market has proven to be resilient, as seen in Friday’s report from the Labor Department. While hiring slowed compared to the rebound of 2021 and 2022, job growth in 2023 was still impressive by longer-term standards, marking the strongest growth since 2015. The unemployment rate held steady at 3.7%, maintaining nearly two years below 4%, the longest streak since the Vietnam War. The highlight of this week’s economic calendar (Thursday) is the December consumer price index report, providing the next opportunity to assess the direction of inflation. Below are a few newsworthy events from the first week of 2024 that influence our business:  
ALTOS: THE HOUSING MARKET FINISHES STRONG. The last week of data for the 2023 U.S. real estate market is in, and pretty much all the signals for housing in 2024 are now pointing towards growth. The year finished with 513,000 single-family homes on the market. It’s almost 5% more than where we ended 2022. Sales are also growing vs the same week a year ago. In fact, over this last holiday week there were 20% more new contracts started than the year prior. When we look at all the homes in the contract pending stage, we’ve crossed a growth threshold there too, finally. There are now 258,000 single-family homes in contract. That’s 2.4% more homes in contract now than a year ago. The median price of single-family homes in the US is now $415,000. That means we finish the year with home prices up almost 3% over last year. Read the full story here.
DECEMBER JOBS REPORT: 7 TAKEAWAYS. The U.S. economy added 216,000 jobs in December and the unemployment rate held steady at 3.7%. Employers added 2.7 million jobs, or 225,000 a month, last year. That was down from 4.8 million, or 399,000 a month, in 2022. The pullback is consistent with the Federal Reserve’s goal of paring back job and wage growth enough to tame inflation without sparking a recession – a feat known as a “soft landing.” Industries that are less sensitive to rate increases and the economy’s ups and downs – such as government, health care, and social assistance – have accounted for the lion’s share of U.S. job growth lately. The trend signals a slowing labor market despite the strong December. Fed officials would like to see wage growth ease to 3.5% to align with their 2% overall inflation goal (4.1% in 2023). The share of adults working or looking fell to 62.5% from 62.8%, the biggest decline in nearly three years. A smaller supply of workers could push up wages and make the Fed’s job of wrestling down inflation more challenging. Fed officials have signaled they’re likely done raising interest rates and have penciled in three rate cuts this year, assuming inflation continues to come down. Employment gains are expected to pull back more dramatically in 2024 as the economy loses steam due partly to the delayed effects of the Fed’s 5.25 percentage points in rate hikes. Read the full story here.
U.S. MORTGAGE RATES INCREASE FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE OCTOBER. Mortgage rates ticked up ever so slightly this week, kicking off 2024 by taking a breather from the previous nine weeks of consecutive declines. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.62% in the week ending January 4, up from 6.61% the previous week, according to data from Freddie Mac released Thursday. After reaching a 23-year high of 7.79% at the end of October, mortgage rates have been brought down more than a full percentage point by the anticipation of Federal Reserve rate cuts in 2024. “Given the expectation of rate cuts this year from the Federal Reserve, as well as receding inflationary pressures, we expect mortgage rates will continue to drift downward as the year unfolds,” Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, said. Read the full story here.

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