Freddie Mac Sees Bright Spots in Economy but few in Housing


Freddie Mac’s November Economic Outlook
holds some good news for the economy as a whole, but the housing picture
remains relatively bleak.  Third quarter
growth is expected to come in at a 2.5 percent annual rate, more than three
time the pace of the first half of the year. 
The domestic aggregate demand (consumers and businesses) rose 3.6
percent annualized, the second biggest gain in five years, and non-residential
fixed investment expanded at what Freddie Mac called “a striking 14 percent
pace” during the quarter.  Declining
inventories hindered growth by a full percentage point and, combined with
inventory-to-sales ratios at a low level, portends an increase in production in
coming months.

Consumers worried about their financial
well being are a major reason why home sales remain relatively lackluster
amidst the most affordable home-buyer market in decades.  Interest rates are at levels last seen more
than 60 years ago and house prices are sharply down from pre-recession peaks in
most markets.   Freddie Mac’s House Price Index, which has
declined 25 percent since the peak in mid-2006, has lost less than a percentage
point in the first nine months of this year which indicates that the index is
near the bottom but is probably not there yet. 
A large inventory of homes in some stage of delinquency or foreclosure
will continue to put downward pressure on home values especially during the
always slow winter months

One thing that will especially benefit from
the low interest rates is the extension and expansion of the Home Affordable
Refinance Program (HARP) which is available for certain homeowners with performing
mortgages connected to Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae.  About 900,000 borrowers have already taken
advantage of the program and, while estimates of the expansion possibilities
vary, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) is projecting that HARP
refinances may ultimately double from that level.  

Forward looking projections from Freddie
Mac indicate that there will be 590,000 housing starts this year and 680,000
next year.   There will be only marginal
improvement in home sales; this year is projected to finish with approximately
4.65 million sales, rising to 4.80 million next year.  Things should pick up in 2013, with 5.40
sales projected.

The FHFA Housing Price Index which is
expected to be down 2.7 percent in 2011 will remain unchanged through 2012 and
then rise 2.0 percent in 2013; projections from SP/Case Shiller are -1.7
percent in 2011 but identical to FHFA for the remaining two years.

Mortgage appreciations are expected to
total $1.300 trillion this year, $1.135 trillion next year, and $1.065 trillion
in 2013 while mortgage rates remain in the 4.5-4.7 percent range through the
end of 2012.  

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