Investors Optimistic Despite Federal Skepticism

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Reserve (the Fed) reduced the Federal Funds rate to near zero, which is the rate that the Fed charges banks for loans. Its lowest, and current, point was 0.09%. For comparison, it was at 1.55% in the beginning of 2020. Typically, the 10-year Treasury Note interest rate follows suit. However, the relationship is indirect, so we could see anomalies — which is what has happened.

The T-note rate correlates strongly with investors’ economic certainty, as T-notes are an extremely safe investment. In times of uncertainty, the rate drops as more people are buying T-notes. In more certain times, investors instead move their money to less secure investments with a higher return. While it did decrease from 1.76% to 0.62% in the first half of 2020, it bounced back in the second half. At 1.08%, it is still below the Jan 2020 rate, but is continuing to climb. The Feds meanwhile have no intention of changing the Federal Funds rate until 2023, at which point the T-note rate is virtually guaranteed to go up.

What does all this mean? Well, we can say for sure that the Fed’s decision to keep the Federal Funds rate at 0.09% means they aren’t hopeful for a recovery until 2023. There are a few possibilities as to what the increasing T-note rate means. It could be that investors are too hopeful about less secure investments, and they’ll experience losses. Maybe the Fed is being overly cautious, and the economy is actually about to start recovering soon. Or it could be that investors realized in the first half that they have been largely unaffected by the economic recession, and don’t particularly care that the overall economy is in a slump.

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Industrial Sector Clear Winner in Pandemic-Era Real Estate

Real estate was halted only briefly as a result of pandemic lockdowns, but real estate is not the only aspect of the economy. Not all sectors were equally affected, so real estate won’t recover at the same rate for each sector. Retail was hit the hardest, with many businesses closing temporarily during lockdowns and some being entirely replaced by e-commerce. Success of retail is somewhat difficult to measure from a real estate perspective, but one obvious statistic is vacancy rate, which increased to 6.2% in Greater Los Angeles. It’s since dropped slightly to 5.9%, though restaurants still seem to be faring better than other retail establishments even with weakened restrictions.

Offices are essentially treading water after a steep dropoff. Many businesses have already recognized the need to transition to fully or mostly work-from-home, and already have plans in the works for how they’re going to adapt. Though they’ve certainly experienced losses, it’s unlikely to get much worse for them.

The residential market is still a flurry of activity, albeit predominantly from buyers trying to get a competitive edge. With how low inventory is, it’s inevitable that some of them will fail. Competition favors higher-income buyers, who were also less affected by the recession to begin with, so they haven’t experienced any pull to slow down. Nevertheless, it’s still clearly a seller-controlled market, and sellers don’t want to sell right now.

Meanwhile, the industrial sector has actually experienced gains. Contrary to brick-and-mortar retail, consumers don’t need to go anywhere to pull products out of warehouses. They just buy everything online. Currently, the industrial sector’s biggest roadblock is not having enough land to build even more warehouses to keep up with demand.

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Aerospace Industry Adapted to Pandemic Shutdowns

The lockdowns from the pandemic negatively affected several industries. With most flights being cancelled, you’d expect the aerospace industry to have suffered quite a bit. In reality, their employment numbers rose 6% during the shutdowns. How? They adapted, beginning to focus more on space technology and even on pandemic relief engineering.

Several aerospace companies aided the coronavirus relief effort by designing and manufacturing ventilators, face helmets, and face shields. These include Virgin Orbit, Virgin Galactic, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Some focused more on the booming space industry. All in all, aerospace lost 1400 jobs but gained 3000.

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More: February 25, 2021

Homeownership Stats Illuminate Wealth Divide

It’s a well-known fact that Black and Latinx people tend to struggle economically more than whites and Asians in the US. The wealth gap may be larger than you think, though. Examining homeownership statistics demonstrates just how significant the difference is.

California’s housing affordability for Latinx people is 20% for single-family homes and 33% for townhomes or condos. Blacks fare even worse, at 19% and 30% respectively. By contrast, 38% of whites and 43% of Asians can afford an SFR in California, and 51% of whites and 56% of Asians can afford a condo or townhouse. Part of the problem is California’s high prices, but while affordability at the national level is higher for everyone, the disparity remains about the same, and possibly larger. 62% of whites and 70% of Asians can afford a home in the US. Only 51% of Latinx people and 42% of Blacks are able to.

Within California, the disparity is smallest in San Bernardino County, which is also the most affordable for Black and Latinx households at 46% and 54% respectively. The difference between Latinx and white households is only 3%. It’s not the most affordable for white and Asian households, though — those are actually Fresno County at 61% for whites and Kern County at 68% for Asians. The least affordable county for Blacks is San Francisco County at 8%, and for Latinx households it’s Santa Clara County at 11%.

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Increasing Competition Extends Home Search Time

Demand is so high compared to supply that many prospective buyers are finding competition to be a larger impediment to purchasing a home than lacking funds, even in the midst of a recession. In January 2021, 56% of prospective buyers had bidding wars. This number is up 4% from the prior month. Getting outbid is the primary reason that 40% of prospective home buyers’ searches have dragged on. Only a year ago, just 19% cited this as the primary reason, with 44% saying it was high prices that drove them out of contention. Prices don’t seem to be as much of an issue now, as buyers are willing to overpay in order to get their chance at slim inventory while mortgage rates are still low.

That 56% nationwide doesn’t tell the whole story, though. Competition is much fiercer in some areas. San Diego, San Francisco Bay, Denver, and Seattle all had numbers over 70%. Even beyond that is Salt Lake City, where a whopping 90% of offers had competition.

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Credit Scores Went Up in 2020 Despite Recession

In many cases, a recession results in credit scores dropping as more people are forced to temporarily rely on credit to make routine payments. This is just one of the many ways that the current recession bucks the trends. Lockdowns, work-from-home, moratoriums, and federal relief packages have all resulted in people spending less and recouping more of their losses than their normally would during a recession. As a result, people are less reliant on credit and their credit scores go up.

The two credit scoring services lenders use the most are FICO and VantageScore. Generally, one’s FICO score is slightly higher than their VantageScore, since FICO requires a full six months of credit history to calculate a score and therefore counts fewer people. Both systems range from 300 to 850, with a FICO score of at least 660 or VantageScore of at least 670 being considered good credit. At the start of 2020, the average FICO score was 703. This increased to 711 by October 2020. Average VantageScore also went up from 686 to 690 from 2019 to 2020. VantageScore reports indicate that subprime scores — those below 600 — decreased by about 3% between January and November 2020, while prime and super prime scores went up. Near prime scores remained about the same.

Unfortunately, some of this is just delaying the inevitable. Some of those who did take out loans during the pandemic were able to negotiate deferring their payments, which also had the effect of protecting their credit scores. Once federal protections end, which will occur 120 days after the coronavirus emergency declaration is lifted, some people aren’t going to be able to repay their deferred loans. That’s going to result in credit scores plummeting.


The Healthiest Big Cities in the United States

WalletHub, normally a personal finance website, has released data of a somewhat different nature. They’ve decided to rank 182 of the most populated US cities according to various indicators of health. The categories measured are health care, food, fitness, and green space. On a scale from 0 to 100, the top scoring city averaged across all categories was San Francisco, CA, with a score of 69.11. The lowest score was 23.39, given to Brownsville, TX.

Half of the top 10 cities are on the west coast, with 3 of them being in California. Two through ten are Seattle, WA, Portland, OR, San Diego, CA, Honolulu, HI, Washington, DC, Austin, TX, Irvine, CA, Portland, ME, and Denver, CO. In addition to being #1 overall, San Francisco also takes the number 1 spot for two categories, food and green space. Top rank for the health care and fitness belong to South Burlington, VT, and Scottsdale, AZ, respectively. These cities are also in the top 20 overall, though South Burlington ranks rather low in green space.

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See the full chart here:

Are Mortgage Interest Rates Going Back Up?

Those who have been able to buy during the pandemic have enjoyed extraordinarily low interest rates. It seems like time may be running out, though. At 2.96% as of February 10th, the 30-year fixed rate is still below 3%, but it has started to go back up, from 2.92% the prior week. Because of the increasing rates, mortgage applications to buy dropped 5% in that week. Refinances also went down, by 4%.

It’s still not clear whether this trend will continue in the future, as it’s only just begun. And both applications to purchase and refinances are still up significantly from last year, by 17% and 46% respectively. The Mortgage Banker’s Association (MBA) is predicting that this was only a slight dropoff in total loan volume, as a greater percentage of the loans are for higher-priced homes, primarily because their availability is higher. Of course, even though this is a silver lining for mortgage bankers, it doesn’t help the general populace at all.

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First-Time Homebuyers Can Afford More Than They Think

In a survey of 1000 people who either just bought their first home or were trying to, 68% were surprised by just how much they were able to afford — 47% pleasantly and 21% unpleasantly. It makes sense that first-time homebuyers would generally have a less refined sense of what they can afford, but in this case, there’s a reason for it. Much of it can be attributed to the sharp decline in 30-year mortgage rates, from 3.65% in March 2020 to 2.65% in January 2021, which was a record low. This allowed prospective buyers to afford more without stretching their budgets too much.

Even if you think you can’t afford your first house at all, like 44% of respondents, you may want to reconsider in the near future. Half of the successful buyers were able to save enough for a down payment in 3 years or less. There were various methods they used to save up, and didn’t use just one method. The most common were getting help from friends or family at 52%, setting aside a portion of their paycheck at 50%, cutting spending at 33%, and saving lump sum money, such as tax refunds, at 32%.

Nevertheless, with prices on the rise, recent buyers have still had to compromise to find something within their larger-than-expected budget. 21% expanded their search area to include less desirable, less expensive neighborhoods. 18% dropped some wish list items. 20% wanted to avoid compromising on their wish list, but ended up spending more than they initially hoped. Increased competition also meant that buyers didn’t get what they wanted immediately. 20% were outbid at least once and 20% made at least five offers.

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Work-From-Home Could Help Some Young Adults Achieve Homeownership

One of the many effects of the pandemic was that a large segment of the population transitioned to work-from-home. In some cases, those were renters who had the fortune of being able to move back in with their families. Perhaps their rental home was closer to work, and the distance no longer mattered. Maybe they just wanted to be able to shelter in place with their family as opposed to alone. No matter the reason, this segment of the population suddenly is no longer worried about rent payments, yet still has a place to live and is still working. Depending on the prices in their area, this could be rather useful in saving towards a down payment on a house.

The national average of a down payment on a median-priced house is 5%, the US median rent for a one-bedroom is $1,533, and the average home price is $340,000. Given these numbers, it would take the average former renter approximately 11 months of not needing to pay rent to save up for a 5% down payment. Across the 20 largest metros in the US, the average is about 15 months. The numbers range from 11 months in Chicago for a median priced home of $327,000, to 22 months in Los Angeles at $999,000.

Of course, national averages don’t tell you everything. A down payment of less than 20% in California is going to result in increased mortgage premiums, so a 5% down payment isn’t ideal. It’s also unlikely that the entirety of the former rent payment is being put into savings. It’s true that a long-term work-from-home trend could be a boon for former renters who moved back in with family, but the effect is probably considerably lower than these statistics suggest.

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