U.S. Outlook: The economy is muddling along

Chief Economist

Muddling through — that’s kind of how the U.S. economy’s performance has felt over the last six months.Graph showing the US Economic Surprise Index

A worsening trade performance and declines in business investment and industrial production have dominated the economic landscape.

For more on this and other economic developments this week, see my full analysis. Highlights are outlined below, followed by a link to the full U.S. Outlook report, delivered on May 22.

Key observations:

  • U.S. economic releases have been running about 0.8 standard deviations below normal.
  • The U.S. economy has not been alone in missed economic expectations, with China standing out as consistently performing below expectations.
  • More home-building and consumer spending is expected in the second half of the year, but not enough to wipe away the poor start to the year.

Click here to read my full report.

Numbers Count: Some good news on housing inventory

Posted by Chad Royle
Mortgage Banking

Numbers count. They matter to bankers and to prospective homebuyers, sellers, and real estate professionals. Here’s my take on the key numbers on the housing market this week.

The numbers: Housing starts jump in April

New housing development, with two homes nearly built that still need siding.Housing starts in April jumped 20% from March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.13 million, the Census and the Department of Housing and Urban Development jointly announced May 19. Single-family housing starts in April were at a rate of 733,000 — up 17% from March. Meanwhile, single-family housing completions in April rose 14% from March, to a rate of 601,000.

What counts: This could be welcome news for potential home buyers! Tight inventory has been one of the main obstacles to a healthy recovery of the housing market. The limited supply of new houses has restricted options for existing homeowners looking to move to larger homes or relocate to suburban neighborhoods. And if current home owners can?t move, then the supply of existing homes for first-time buyers and others remains tight. Reports that home starts and home completions shot up significantly in April could be welcome news for prospective buyers, as it bodes well for the housing supply in certain markets.

The report also showed single-family housing starts rising in all regions: 22% in the West, 43% in the Midwest, 24% in the Northeast, and 7% in the South.

This data may prod some potential buyers discouraged by tight inventories to start looking. If you’re considering entering the housing market now, you may want to take three simple steps:

1) Take a look at your credit report to check for errors that you may want to correct before seeking a mortgage. You can request a copy of your report from freecreditreport.com. You are entitled to a free copy of your report each year. If you want to see your credit score, however, you may have to pay. And remember your credit score is just one component of the review used to determine eligibility for a mortgage and the terms of a possible loan.

2) Find a reputable real estate agent — one who knows the market and the neighborhoods that interest you and can help you assess the home features most important to you.

3) Use an online calculator, such as this calculator available on Bankofthewest.com, to get a rough idea of what you can afford. When you get closer to making an offer on a home, you’ll want to consider getting preapproved for a mortgage so that any offer you make is supported by evidence that you have a bank prepared to lend you what you need for the home.