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Housing Market Tracker: Housing inventory falls once more

The Housing Market Tracker shows that housing inventory decreased by 6,468 units, a more pronounced decline from the previous week. 



We are off and going now, as seasonality has kicked into full gear with the purchase application data. And, so far, it’s been a good start to the year.

Here’s the housing market rundown for the last week:

  • Purchase application data showed positive weekly growth again — and the bounce from the bottom is more noticeable now.
  • Housing inventory decreased by 6,468 units, a more pronounced decline from the previous week. 
  • The 10-year yield can’t break lower from the critical level I have discussed, so not much is happening with mortgage rates.

When I talk about seasonality, I am talking about the second week of January to the first week of May. Total volumes traditionally fall after May, so you can get a good sense of how spring is turning out by the end of March.

We have had back-to-back weekly growth of 25% and 3%. However, the key is that the year-over-year declines have stopped going lower, and we have risen noticeably higher from the bottom.

Remember, though, that this is always the case. We had a waterfall dive in purchase apps in 2022 — a historic dive, I would say — so there is a shallow bar to bounce off of. Does this move have more legs to run, and will we need lower mortgage rates to get more growth in this data line?

The key with purchase application data is that this data line looks out 30-90 days, so the growth we see here takes about 30-90 days at minimum to hit the sales data. As I have stressed for some time, this data line started to improve on November 9th, 2022. It will take until February or March to see it in sales data for January and February.

The most recent pending home sales data from last week went positive; this runs in line with what we saw starting in November and December. It’s low bar bounce for now, but the bleeding in housing has stopped, and we are showing some growth.

We focus on the weekly data to give us a forward-looking idea of where sales are going. Hopefully, the evidence I have shown you above, and the fact nobody else was talking about how the purchase application data internals were getting better starting from November 9th, will give you some faith in my models — kind of like the “America is back” recovery model of 2020.

Weekly housing inventory

There is, again, another downside report on weekly inventory, as inventory has fallen noticeably again this week from the week prior. We are running into a timeline where the inventory can fall just because demand has picked up slightly from the lows, and I am keeping an eye on it.

I was concerned about how fast inventory was falling earlier in the year, and then we paused for about two weeks. However, it has now fallen again, and inventory decreased by 6,468. This is not what I want to see, but this is the reality of the world we live in post-2020.

Hopefully we get the seasonal inventory push sooner in 2023 than we did in the last two years, but thankfully, inventory is still higher this year than last year.

  • Weekly inventory change (Jan. 20-27, 2023): Fell From 472,122 to 465,654
  • Same week last year (Jan. 21-28, 2022): Fell from 276,865 to 271,954

In June 2022, I predicted that as long as mortgage rates stayed high, weakness in demand over time could create more inventory — and we could get back to 2019 levels of inventory in 2023, meaning inventory breaks over 1.52 million using the NAR inventory levels.

Right after I made that forecast, new listing data started to decline earlier and faster than usual, which put a big dent in the forecast. This forecast will get even more complicated if the weekly inventory levels don’t grow.

The NAR data lags a bit, but the most recent existing home sales report shows inventory broke to under 1,000,000 again. This is only the second time in recent modern-day history that inventory starts the year under 1,000,000.

NAR total inventory is currently at 970,000.

It will be critical that we keep an eye on purchase apps and inventory levels going into spring, as we should see the traditional inventory increases that have occurred every spring season outside of 2020. The question is: Will the higher demand trends eat into the inventory growth, and is this happening already?

Even with the big hit in demand in 2022, it’s been a struggle to get total inventory levels back to 2019 levels, which were the four-decade low in active listings before the Covid 19 pandemic hit us.

I would like the traditional spring season inventory levels to grow quicker than we have seen in the last two years. As of now, this hasn’t happened yet — at least not in any meaningful way. However, I am very grateful that total inventory levels are higher this year than last year.

10-year yield and mortgage rates

There wasn’t much action in mortgage rates last week. The 10-year yield has simply been unable to break under the critical level I have been talking about of 3.42%-3.45%.

For now, we are just floating around between 6.15%-6.21%, the mortgage rates last week. This happened while last week’s PCE inflation data showed a cool down continuation of the growth rate of inflation. That inflation data didn’t move the market.

Part of my 2023 forecast for the 10-year yield is that if the economy stays firm, the 10-year yield range should be between 3.21%-4.25%, meaning mortgage rates between 5.75%-7.25%. With economic weakness, bond yields could quickly drop to 2.72%, taking mortgage rates near 5%. 

The economic data has been firm enough to keep the recession talk at bay as the labor market is still holding up. However, we have a lot of data coming up next week — and a Federal Reserve meeting. 

The week ahead

We will have a busy week thanks to the Fed meeting, job openings data, jobless claims data, and the Friday jobs report — all of which could move the markets. Oh my, it’s going to be fun!

The Fed wants to see labor markets and wage growth weakness. We will see if Chairman Powell has anything to say about current markets betting on future rate cuts.

This week, we’ll also learn whether the job openings data falls or grows. A decline in job openings is something the Fed believes will bring down inflation, as job openings are too high for their taste. While wage growth is cooling down, the Fed prefers to see more weakness in the labor data.

I will also be visiting the great state of Texas and speaking in Houston and San Antonio.

Any weakness in the labor market and wage growth should move bond yields lower. However, as I have talked about for the past few weeks, it’s been hard for bond yields to break lower recently. For example, despite the clear downtrend in the PCE inflation report last Friday, bond yields didn’t go down that day.

We have a busy and critical week ahead of us, which will cap off the exciting month of January. Overall, we have had a positive month in housing data in January, but I would like to have seen more inventory by now. However, the fact that we are above last year’s levels is a plus for everyone.

We will keep a close eye on all the data this week to offer the most updated take on the U.S. housing market. 

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Lower mortgage rates fueling existing home sales

To understand why we had such a beat in sales, you only need to go back to Nov. 9, when mortgage rates started to fall from 7.37% to 5.99%.



Existing home sales had a huge beat of estimates on Tuesday. This wasn’t shocking for people who follow how I track housing data. To understand why we had such a beat in sales, you only need to go back to Nov. 9, when mortgage rates started to fall from 7.37% to 5.99%.

During November, December and January, purchase application data trended positive, meaning we had many weeks of better-looking data. The weekly growth in purchase application data during those months stabilized housing sales to a historically low level.

For many years I have talked about how rare it is that existing home sales trend below 4 million. That is why the historic collapse in demand in 2022 was one for the record books. We understood why sales collapsed during COVID-19. However, that was primarily due to behavior changes, which meant sales were poised to return higher once behavior returned to normal.

In 2022, it was all about affordability as mortgage rates had a historical rise. Many people just didn’t want to sell their homes and move with a much higher total cost for housing, while first-time homebuyers had to deal with affordability issues.

Even though mortgage rates were falling in November and December, positive purchase application data takes 30-90 days to hit the sales data. So, as sales collapsed from 6.5 million to 4 million in the monthly sales data, it set a low bar for sales to grow. This is something I talked about yesterday on CNBC, to take this home sale in context to what happened before it. 

Because housing data and all economics are so violent lately, we created the weekly Housing Market Tracker, which is designed to look forward, not backward.

From NAR: Total existing-home sales – completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – vaulted 14.5% from January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.58 million in February. Year-over-year, sales fell 22.6% (down from 5.92 million in February 2022).

As we can see in the chart above, the bounce is very noticeable, but this is different than the COVID-19 lows and massive rebound in sales. Mortgage rates spiked from 5.99% to 7.10% this year, and that produced one month of negative forward-looking purchase application data, which takes about 30-90 days to hit the sales data.

So this report is too old and slow, but if you follow the tracker, you’re not slow. This is the wild housing action I have talked about for some time and why the Housing Market Tracker becomes helpful in understanding this data.

The last two weeks have had positive purchase application data as mortgage rates fell from 7.10% down to 6.55%; tomorrow, we will see if we can make a third positive week. One thing to remember about purchase application data since Nov. 9, 2022 is that it’s had a lot more positive data than harmful data. 

However, the one-month decline in purchase application data did bring us back to levels last seen in 1995 recently. So, the bar is so low we can trip over.

One of the reasons I took off the savagely unhealthy housing market label was that the days on the market are now above 30 days. I am not endorsing, nor will I ever, a housing market that has days on the market at teenager levels. A teenager level means one of two bad things are happening:

1. We have a massive credit boom in housing which will blow up in time because demand is booming, similar to the run-up in the housing bubble years.

2. We simply don’t have enough products for homebuyers, creating forced bidding in a low-inventory environment. 

Guess which one we had post 2020? Look at the purchase application data above — we never had a credit boom. Look at the Inventory data below. Even with the collapse in home sales and the first real rebound, total active listings are still below 1 million.

From NAR: Total housing inventory registered at the end of February was 980,000 units, identical to January & up 15.3% from one year ago (850,000). Unsold inventory sits at a 2.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down 10.3% from January but up from 1.7 months in February ’22. #NAREHS

However, with that said, the one data line that I love, love, love, the days on the market, is over 30 days again, and no longer a teenager like last year, when the housing market was savagely unhealthy.

From NAR: First-time buyers were responsible for 27% of sales in January; Individual investors purchased 18% of homes; All-cash sales accounted for 28% of transactions; Distressed sales represented 2% of sales; Properties typically remained on the market for 34 days.

Today’s existing home sales report was good: we saw a bounce in sales, as to be expected, and the days on the market are still over 30 days. When the Federal Reserve talks about a housing reset, they’re saying they did not like the bidding wars they saw last year, so the fact that price growth looks nothing like it was a year ago is a good thing.

Also, the days on market are on a level they might feel more comfortable in. And, in this report, we saw no signs of forced selling. I’ve always believed we would never see the forced selling we saw from 2005-2008, which was the worst part of the housing bubble crash years. The Federal Reserve also believes this to be the case because of the better credit standards we have in place since 2010. 

Case in point, the MBA‘s recent forbearance data shows that instead of forbearance skyrocketing higher, it’s collapsed. Remember, if you see a forbearance crash bro, hug them, they need it.

Today’s existing home sales report is backward looking as purchase application data did take a hit this year when mortgage rates spiked up to 7.10%. We all can agree now that even with a massive collapse in sales, the inventory data didn’t explode higher like many have predicted for over a decade now.

I have stressed that to understand the housing market, you need to understand how credit channels work post-2010. The 2005 bankruptcy reform laws and 2010 QM laws changed the landscape for housing economics in a way that even today I don’t believe people understand.

However, the housing market took its biggest shot ever in terms of affordability in 2022 and so far in 2023, and the American homeowner didn’t panic once. Even though this data is old, it shows the solid footing homeowners in America have, and how badly wrong the extremely bearish people in this country were about the state of the financial condition of the American homeowner.

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SVB contagion: Australia purportedly asks banks to report on crypto

Australia’s prudential regulator has purportedly told banks to improve reporting on crypto assets and provide daily updates.



Australia’s prudential regulator has purportedly told banks to improve reporting on crypto assets and provide daily updates.

Australia’s prudential regulator has purportedly asked local banks to report on cryptocurrency transactions amid the ongoing contagion of Silicon Valley Bank’s (SVB) collapse.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has started requesting banks to declare their exposures to startups and crypto-related companies, the Australian Financial Review reported on March 21.

The regulator has ordered banks to improve their reporting on crypto assets and provide daily updates to the APRA, the Financial Review notes, citing three people familiar with the matter. The agency is aiming to obtain more information and insight into banking exposures into crypto as well as associated risks, the sources said.

The new measures are apparently part of the APRA’s increased supervision of the banking sector in the aftermath of recent massive collapses in the global banking system. On March 19, UBS Group agreed to buy its ailing competitor Credit Suisse for $3.2 billion after the latter collapsed over the weekend. The takeover became one of the latest failures in the banking industry following the collapses of SVB and Silvergate.

Barrenjoey analyst Jonathan Mott reportedly told clients in a note that the situation “remains stable” for Australian banks but warned confidence could be quickly disrupted, putting pressure on bank margins.

Related: Silvergate, SBV collapse ‘definitely good’ for Bitcoin, Trezor exec says

“Our channel checks indicate deposits are not being withdrawn from smaller institutions in any size, and capital and liquidity buffers are strong,” Mott said, adding:

“But this is a crisis of confidence and credit spreads and cost of capital will continue to rise. At a minimum, this will add to the margin pressure the banks are facing, while credit quality will continue to deteriorate.”

The news comes soon after the Australian Banking Association launched a cost of living inquiry to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical tensions on Australians. The inquiry followed an analysis of the rising inflation suggesting that more than 186 banks in the United States are at risk of a similar shutdown if depositors decide to withdraw all funds.

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Delta Move Is Bad News For Southwest, United Airlines Passengers

Passengers won’t be happy about this, but there’s nothing they can do about it.



Passengers won't be happy about this, but there's nothing they can do about it.

Airfare prices move up and down based on two major things -- passenger demand and the cost of actually flying the plane. In recent months, with covid rules and mask mandates a thing of the past, demand has been very heavy.

Domestic air travel traffic for 2022 rose 10.9% compared to the prior year. The nation's air traffic in 2022 was at 79.6% of the full-year 2019 level. December 2022 domestic traffic was up 2.6% over the year-earlier period and was at 79.9% of December 2019 traffic, according to The International Air Transport Association (IATA).

“The industry left 2022 in far stronger shape than it entered, as most governments lifted COVID-19 travel restrictions during the year and people took advantage of the restoration of their freedom to travel. This momentum is expected to continue in the New Year,” said IATA Director General Willie Walsh.

And, while that's not a full recovery to 2019 levels, overall capacity has also not recovered. Total airline seats available actually sits "around 18% below the 2019 level," according to a report from industry analyst OAG.

So, basically, the drop in passengers equals the drop in capacity meaning that planes are flying full. That's one half of the equation that keeps airfare prices high and the second one looks bad for anyone planning to fly in the coming years.

Image source: Getty Images.

Airlines Face One Key Rising Cost

While airlines face some variable costs like fuel, they also must account for fixed costs when setting airfares. Personnel are a major piece of that and the pandemic has accelerated a pilot shortage. That has given the unions that represent pilots the upper hand when it comes to making deals with the airlines.

The first domino in that process fell when Delta Airlines (DAL) - Get Free Report pilots agreed to a contract in early March that gave them an immediate 18% increase with a total of a 34% raise over the four-year term of the deal.

"The Delta contract is now the industry standard, and we expect United to also offer their pilots a similar contract," investment analyst Helane Becker of Cowen wrote in a March 10 commentary, Travel Weekly reported.

US airfare prices have been climbing. They were 8.3% above pre-pandemic levels in February, according to Consumer Price Index, but they're actually below historical highs.

Southwest and United Airlines Pilots Are Next

Airlines have very little negotiating power when it comes to pilots. You can't fly a plane without pilots and the overall shortage of qualified people to fill those roles means that, within reason, United (UAL) - Get Free Report and Southwest Airlines  (LUV) - Get Free Report, both of which are negotiating new deals with their pilot unions, more or less have to equal (or improve on) the Delta deal.

The actual specifics don't matter much to consumers, but the takeaway is that the cost of hiring pilots is about to go up in a very meaningful way at both United and Southwest. That will create a situation where all major U.S. airlines have a higher cost basis going forward.

Lower fuel prices could offset that somewhat, but raises are not going to be unique to pilots. Southwest also has to make a deal with its flight attendants and, although they don't have the same leverage as the pilots, they have taken a hard line.   

The union, which represents Southwest’s 18,000 flight attendants, has been working without a contract for four years. It shared a statement on its Facebook page detailing its position Feb. 20.

"TWU Local 556 believes strongly in making this airline successful and is working to ensure this company we love isn’t run into the ground by leadership more concerned about shareholders than about workers and customers. Management’s methodology of choosing profits at the expense of the operation and its workforce has to change, because the flying public is also tired of the empty apologies that flight attendants have endured for years."

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