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Jobless Claims Up, But Fewer Than Expected

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WASHINGTON (8/9/13)--Initial claims for U.S. unemployment benefits inched up last week--although less than expected--from a near five-year low. That still indicates, however, a slowly improving labor market (The Wall Street Journal and Moody's Economy.com Aug. 8). 
 
Initial claims--a proxy for layoffs--rose 5,000--to a seasonally adjusted 333,000--for the week ended Aug. 3, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists had forecast a filing of 335,000 claims last week, according to a Dow Jones Newswires survey.
 
The four-week moving average of claims--which smooths out weekly volatility--declined to 335,500 from 341,750 the prior week. 
 
Continuing claims for unemployment benefits rose 67,000--to 3.018 million for the week ended July 27.
 
If claims levels stay consistently low, companies will be less worried about trimming labor costs and likely will be more willing to raise workers' wages, Jonathan Basile, director of U.S. economics at Credit Suisse, told the Journal.

Mortgage Delinquencies Drop, Home Prices Up

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WASHINGTON (8/9/13)--Seriously delinquent U.S. mortgages fell to a five-year low in the second quarter, while U.S. home prices rose in most metropolitan areas during the quarter.
 
The percentage of home loans more than 90 days delinquent or in foreclosure dropped to 5.88% in the second quarter--the lowest level since third quarter 2008, when it was 5.17%. It was 7.31% a year earlier, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported Thursday (Bloomberg.com and Moody's Economy.com Aug. 8).
 
The recovery in the housing market has provided delinquent borrowers an opportunity to seek loan modifications or become current on payments, while home prices rise at the quickest pace since 2006, Bloomberg said.
 
With home values surging in severely impacted real estate markets, the percentage of  homeowners who owe more than their properties are worth dropped to less than 20% in the first quarter, said CoreLogic Inc., a provider of consumer, financial and property information, analytics and services to business and government.
 
Meanwhile, median home prices continued to rise in most metropolitan areas during second quarter, with the national year-over-year price showing the strongest gain in seven-and-a-half years, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). 
 
The median existing single-family home price increased in 87% of measured markets, with 142 out of 163 metropolitan statistical areas showing gains based on closings in the second quarter, compared with the second quarter of 2012. Fifty areas, or 31%, had double-digit gains; one was unchanged and 20 had price declines, NAR said.

The national median existing single-family home price was $203,500 in the second quarter, up 12.2% from $181,300 in the second quarter of 2012, which is the strongest year-over-year increase since the fourth quarter of 2005 when it jumped 13.6%. In the first quarter, the median price rose 11.3% from a year earlier.