The housing market is emerging from its winter doldrums: Several different measures released this morning all point to a recent pickup in the real estate market.
Sales of existing homes jumped 6.1 percent in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.19 million — well above expectations and the best month since September 2013. “The pickup in sales is echoed in stronger mortgage applications, new home sales, and faster rising prices—all suggesting a rebound in demand as the spring selling season approaches,” UBS economists wrote Wednesday.
The median sale price last month was $212,100, up 7.8 percent from a year earlier (compared with a 7.2 percent annual gain as of February). “It looks like the combination of limited available inventory and a decline in the share of distressed sales in the market continue to put upward pressure on prices,” J.P. Morgan economist Daniel Silver wrote.
Mortgage purchase applications, meanwhile, rose 5 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis in the week ending April 17, suggesting that the increased activity from March has also continued into April.
That trend may also reflect a policy change by the Federal Housing Administration in January. “Almost immediately after the mortgage insurance premium was cut by 50 basis points, purchase applications started to climb to highs not seen since the summer of 2013,” the IHS Global Insight economists Patrick Newport and Stephanie Karol wrote Wednesday. “We expect that the rule change will support market entry among younger buyers.” First-time homebuyers played an important part in the March increase, they suggest, as they increased their purchases by 10 percent year-over-year. Investors, meanwhile, bought 9 percent fewer properties than they had in March 2014, as the charts below from UBS detail.
The housing recovery had softened in recent months, even beyond the winter’s weather-related issues, so the new data — while not yet signaling a stronger trend — is an encouraging sign for increased activity in the spring and potentially beyond. “Home sales should pick up through the rest of 2015,” Gus Faucher, senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group, wrote Wednesday. “The fundamentals for housing are solid, with average job growth (200,000+ per month), good affordability, very low mortgage rates, increasing consumer confidence, expanding access to credit, and significant pent-up demand after years of depressed sales.”
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The new tax law capped the amount of state and local tax deductions Americans can claim in their federal filings at $10,000. Congressional seats for nine of the top 25 districts where residents claim those SALT deductions were held by Republicans heading into Election Day. Six of the nine flipped to the Democrats in last week’s midterms.
Ten companies, including nine pharmaceutical giants, accounted for half of the health care industry's $50 billion in worldwide profits in the third quarter of 2018, according to an analysis by Axios’s Bob Herman. Drug companies generated 23 percent of the industry’s $636 billion in revenue — and 63 percent of the total profits. “Americans spend a lot more money on hospital and physician care than prescription drugs, but pharmaceutical companies pocket a lot more than other parts of the industry,” Herman writes.
Federal, state and local governments spent about $441 billion on infrastructure in 2017, with the money going toward highways, mass transit and rail, aviation, water transportation, water resources and water utilities. Measured as a percentage of GDP, total spending is a bit lower than it was 50 years ago. For more details, see this new report from the Congressional Budget Office.
The GOP tax cuts have provided a significant earnings boost for the big U.S. banks so far this year. Changes in the tax code “saved the nation’s six biggest banks $3.3 billion in the third quarter alone,” according to a Bloomberg report Thursday. The data is drawn from earnings reports from Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo.