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Why Low Mortgage Rates Aren't Helping the Housing Market

Why Low Mortgage Rates Arenít Helping the Housing Market
Ron DeLegge, Editor
July 9, 2010

SAN DIEGO ( -  Break out the champagne! Of all the depressing economic news, mortgage rates isnít one of them. Freddie Mac now reports interest rates for 30-year fixed rate mortgages now average just 4.57 percent. Mortgage rates havenít been this low since the 1950s!

Generally, the interest rates on mortgages move in lockstep with yields of long-term U.S. Treasuries (NYSEArca: TLT). And yields have been falling, which is great for borrowers.

But why arenít low mortgage rates lifting the beaten up housing market?

Lots of Supply and No Demand
During residential real estateís boom years, it was the prevailing opinion that buying real estate at any time and at any price was the prudent thing to do. ďGod isnít making any more land,Ē home buyers were reminded by their brokers. And for a long time, probably too long, the strategy worked well, until one day it didnít.

The supply/demand metrics of the housing market today have completely flip-flopped. Yesteryear, it was sellerís market. Today itís a buyerís market, except for one thing; qualified buyers are scarce.

The oversupply of homes has created another perverse effect; foreclosures.

From 2005 to 2009, foreclosure sales jumped 2,500 percent with Arizona, Florida, California and Nevada leading the way.

"As lenders have begun repossessing homes at record levels over the first half of 2010, it will be interesting to watch how they will manage the inventory levels of distressed properties on the market in order to prevent more dramatic price deterioration,"  states James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac.

Buyerís Remorse
Today, recently baptized homeowners regret buying their homes because they overpaid. Almost one quarter of all single family homes with a mortgage have negative equity, according to Zillow Real Estate Market Reports.

Since the value of peopleís homes is less than their mortgages, refinancing at todayís lower mortgage rates is out of the question. Furthermore, most people with the ability to refinance have already done so and those that havenít are stuck. Presumably, everyone else doesnít qualify for nice low mortgage rates. Or as Bob Hope said, ďA bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you donít need it.Ē

A Crazy Little Thing Called Jobs 
People that donít work donít have income. (Yes, unemployment checks count as income, but theyíre temporary and usually not adequate to cover expenses.) And people without income usually donít make major purchases, like buying a home. So from this perspective, the ailing job market is having a negative impact on the housing market.

Yet, "unemployment is the lowest in eleven months" is the optimistic message conveyed by Juneís job report.

Too bad this rosy statement misses a lot of grotesque details. Namely, nationwide unemployment (U-6) really rose to 16.7%. And if we count college graduates unable to obtain work along with self-employed unemployed workers, the jobless rate is easily above 20%.

Low mortgage rates donít matter if people are unemployed.

So far this year, the performance of mortgage and real estate equities has been outstanding. The iShares FTSE NAREIT Residential Index Fund (NYSEArca: REZ), SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF (NYSEArca: XHB) and iShares FTSE NAREIT Mortgage REITs Index Fund (NYSEArca: REM) are all outperforming broader stock market benchmarks through July 7th market close.

But what does it mean? Does it prove the resiliency of the housing market? Does it mean low mortgage rates are helping residential real estate? Is the worst over?

The ETF Profit Strategy Newsletter includes a detailed short, mid and long-term forecast. This includes a target-range for the ultimate market bottom based on historically indisputable evidence. The July issue includes the one chart that shows just how much bearish potential there is right now.

In summary, the discrepancy in performance between publicly traded REITs and the depressed housing market shows a Grand Canyon separation between reality and fantasy. Hollywood isnít the only place with artificial effects. Just look at real estate.   

CommentsAdd Comment

Groodle said on July 16, 2010
  I sure hope you're right about real estate, because so far I've been VERY disappointed by the selloff... VERY. A nice house in Olivenhain or Rancho Sante Fe is still priced in the millions. What a joke! When do these come down to realistic prices?
ukagent said on July 09, 2010
  i couldnt agree more - i am a real estate agent in the uk and I guarantee you the next 6 months will see a hard decline

public sector cuts, a raise in unemployment and what about all the people saved from foreclosure from low interest rates - i guarantee you they have not overpaid on mortgages!
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