Freddie Mac: Many of the nation’s housing markets are stalling


The recovery remains underway. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

The bad news keeps piling up on the housing front, this time with glum statistics from mortgage giant Freddie Mac, which declared Wednesday that many of the nation’s housing markets are stalling.

The third installment of Freddie’s “Multi-Indicator Market Index” (or MiMi), which sizes up homebuying activity and other factors, found that only 10 states and the District of Columbia fall in the “stable” range, as do four of the 50 metro areas included in the index – San Antonio, New Orleans, Austin and Houston.

The outlook for the rest of the housing market looks bleak. “Less than half of the housing markets MiMi covers are showing an improving trend, whereas at this time last year more than 90 percent of these same markets were headed in the right direction,” Frank Nothaft, Freddie’s chief economist, said in a statement.

The index draws from various data sources, including Freddie’s own business with more than 2,000 mortgage lenders across the country, to assess the health of the single-family housing market. The company said it benchmarks a market’s performance against that market’s historical norm, taking into account home purchase applications, employment, mortgage delinquencies and other factors.

It then averages the weighted indicators to pull together a composite value, with a score of zero indicating a stable market. Based on the index, Freddie labels a market “weak” when its value falls below a negative 2 or “elevated” when it ranks above 2. It does not factor in cash-only sales, which make up roughly 40 percent of home sales today, or loans that do not meet Freddie Mac criteria.

The national value of the index stood at -3.06 points in March, with a three-month flat trend in housing activity. Freddie crunched numbers going back to 2001, and found that the all-time low was -4.49 in November 2010, during the depths of the housing crisis.

North Dakota was the highest-ranked “stable” state, with Wyoming, the District of Columbia, Alaska and Louisiana among the top of the list of 10 states that are considered to be in balance.

Even before the index came out, Freddie had revised its forecast for the housing market downward. Earlier this month, Nothaft said there are “various imbalances” holding it back, most notably the job market. “Housing needs stronger, and just as important, sustained levels of job creation to get the housing engine firing on all cylinders,” he said.

Other industry gauges show that sales of existing homes were down nearly 7 percent from the same time a year ago, home prices are starting to moderate, and builders still lack confidence in the housing market.

Read More:
Strong gains in home prices of the previous two years are slowing
Builders are breaking ground on more homes. But you won’t be able to buy them.

Dina ElBoghdady covers housing policy for The Washington Post.
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