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Market Minute Write-Up

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May 20, 2024 – Mortgage rates moderated further last week before inching up in the past couple days, as latest economic reports suggest that consumer inflation resumed its downward trend, while retail spending cooled more than expected. It will take more than just a couple reports to justify rate cuts for the Fed, but the new numbers offer hope that the central bank could still lower rates in their upcoming July or September meeting. The California housing market, meanwhile, kicked off the spring homebuying season with an encouraging start. April home sales at the state level improved moderately from last month and were up from the same month of last year, while the statewide median price soared to the highest level on record. Housing supply continued to improve, with new active listings surging by double-digits from a year ago for the fourth consecutive month.

April Consumer Price Index offers hope for Fed rate cut: The latest inflation report on consumer prices suggests that overall price growth eased slightly in April, with core inflation dropping to the lowest level in three years. The headline Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.3% month-to-month in April and was above the 12-month ago level by 3.4%. Shelter costs remained one of the major driving forces that fueled the increase in the headline CPI number, but flat food prices helped partially offset the climb in prices at the gas pump. The core CPI was up 3.6% year-over-year and recorded the slowest growth pace in three years. Results are mostly in line with expectations and the slight ease in inflation offers hope that the Fed’s rate-cut is still on the table.

Softer than expected retail sales suggest spending fatigue: American shoppers spent less than expected at the start of the second quarter, with retail sales in April unchanged month-over-month but increased 3.0% year-over-year. The flat monthly sales growth pace was a marked deceleration from the 0.6% increase posted in March and was sharply below the census expectations of 0.4% increase. Easter falling in March and the Amazon’s Spring Sales Event in late Q1 2023 probably pulled some sales forward, as online spending dropped 1.2% in April from the prior month. While the latest slowdown in retail sales may suggest inflation and high interest rates are finally curbing consumer spending, we will need a few more months of data to show that a meaningful and consistent downshift in spending activity is indeed underway.

Home sales bounce back in April: The California housing market bounced back in April after losing some of its momentum in March. Sales of existing single-family homes in California inched up and totaled 275,540 in April 2024, an increase of 3.0% from 267,470 in March and a jump of 4.4% from 263,960 in April 2023. The statewide pending sales, on the other hand, fell below last year’s level by 4.0% as mortgage rates climbed steadily throughout the month of April. The dip in open-escrow sales last month suggests that closed sales in May will likely slow month-over-month and year-over-year. With rates cooling off since the start of this month, however, more buyers could reenter the market in the coming weeks as the market moves further into the homebuying season.

California median price set a new record high: The statewide median price recorded another strong year-over-year gain in April. The median price of existing single-family homes in California reached a new all-time high of $904,210, an increase of 5.8% from March and a surge of 11.4% from the $811,510 in April 2023. The robust year-over-year growth was the tenth straight month of annual price increase for the Golden State and was the highest since March 2022. It was the first time in California history that the statewide median price exceeded $900,000. More new records will likely be set before the end of the summer though, as seasonal factors and tight inventory conditions will continue to put upward pressure on prices in the coming months.

Housing starts improve but builder sentiment dips for first time in six months: The U.S. Census Bureau reported a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.36 million units of housing starts in April, an increase of 5.7% from March and a dip of 0.6% from 1.37 million in April 2023. Last month’s improvement in construction activity was due entirely to a spurt in new multifamily development, as multifamily starts jumped 30.6% from the prior month. Single-family starts, on the other hand, declined on a month-over-month basis by 0.4% from March but jumped 17.7% year-over-year from 12 months ago. It was the second straight month that housing starts declined for single-family homes. The back-to-back dip coincided with a drop in single-family permits, which also have been slipping for three straight months. Despite an improvement in the overall housing starts, many homebuilders were put on pause as the resurgence in mortgage rates in April created more uncertainty for the housing market. Homebuilder confidence, in fact, declined for the first time in six months, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Index. The sentiment had the biggest drop in the West, with the index sliding 12 points to 36. The renewed concerns about the recent volatility in rates are putting builders on stand-by mode, as more of them have become less optimistic and likely have adjusted their demand outlook downward for the year.

Note: The weekly market minute report is updated every Monday by 6:00 PM PST.

Weekly Data for Week Ending 2024-05-18

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