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Boost for Housing as Index of Builder Sentiment Exceeds Expectations, Gold Nears 2.5 Year High

Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes rose higher than expected, gaining 4 points from 58 to 62 in February according to the most recent National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index.

Key Takeaways

  • The index rose 4 points vs just 1 expected, signaling an unexpected jump in the confidence of home builders.
  • The increase in positive sentiment is due to a recent drop in mortgage rates combined with with a strong labor market.
  • February marks the second consecutive month in which the index saw positive growth.

After an 8-point drop to 60 in November from October’s reading of 68, the index slid a further 4 points in December before seeing some recovery in January. Analysts had predicted a flat reading or a single point increase for February, with the jump largely attributable to mortgage interest rates dropping steadily from 5% in November to the current rate of 4.4%.

The Housing Market Index (HMI) is a weighted average of responses to survey questions asking builders to rate three aspects of their local market conditions:  current sales of single-family detached new homes, expected sales of single-family detached new homes over the next 6 months, and traffic of prospective buyers in new homes.

Regionally, the South posted a one-point gain to 63 while the Northeast dropped two points to 43.  The Midwest and West each remained unchanged at 52 and 67, respectively.

The measurement of current sales conditions rose from 64 to 67 and the measurement of six-month expectations rose from 63 to 68. Buyer traffic increased from 44 to 48, all of which are positive indicators for the recently stagnant housing market.

Expert Outlook

“Ongoing reduction in mortgage rates in recent weeks coupled with continued strength in the job market are helping to fuel builder sentiment,” said NAHB Chairman Randy Noel, a custom home builder from LaPlace, La. “In the aftermath of the fall slowdown, many builders are reporting positive expectations for the spring selling season.”

“Builder confidence levels moved up in tandem with growing consumer confidence and falling interest rates,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “The five-point jump on the six-month sales expectation for the HMI is due to mortgage interest rates dropping from about 5 percent in November to 4.4 percent this week. However, affordability remains a critical issue. Rising costs stemming from excessive regulations, a dearth of buildable lots, a persistent labor shortage and tariffs on lumber and other key building materials continue to make it increasingly difficult to produce housing at affordable price points.”

Market Reaction

Gold is trading up 0.36% at $1,344.99/oz with a high of $1,346.72/oz and a low of $1,339.30/oz. The positive data from the housing sector had little impact on the price of gold which has continued climbing steadily over the last week and edging towards the highest level since June 2016 when gold hit $1,361.09/oz.

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