There is no question that the COVID-19 virus, and the reactions to it, are controlling the United States economy right now. But the breadth of that control was extremely evident this week.
As expected, the Federal Reserve decided to keep overnight lending rates stable, in the range of 0% – .25%. The big news for the housing industry was the Fed’s decision to continue its purchases of bonds, as well as the current lending and liquidity programs put in place, to help mitigate economic problems due to the pandemic.
The general sentiment from the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee was lukewarm at best. The post-meeting statement noted that financial conditions “have improved in recent months, in part reflecting policy measures to support the economy and the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses.”
However, many of those policy measures have now expired. As of Friday morning, July 31, the $600 per week unemployment supplement expired, with no new plan in place. On July 24, the moratorium on evictions also ended, putting millions of Americans at risk of becoming homeless.
There are two pieces of legislation in front of Congress that would continue support for American businesses and individuals affected by the pandemic. The HEROES Act was proposed in May by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), while the HEALS Act was introduced Monday of this week by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R).
The HEROES Act would cost the U.S. about $3 trillion while the HEALS Act comes with a $1 trillion price tag. Both would extend unemployment supplements, just in differing amounts, with the HEALS act reducing the $600 payment to $200 per week. Both acts include another round of $1,200 stimulus checks for Americans, but there are different ideas on who should receive those based on income.
With that battle ongoing as of Friday, American households affected by job loss due the pandemic find themselves in a tough spot. Research done by the Urban Institute shows that about 30% of the country’s rental units were covered by the eviction ban. Beyond the federal ban, there were also state eviction moratoriums that are also expiring. It’s estimated that 40 million Americans could be evicted if no further support is put in place. John Pollack is a coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Rights to counsel. He says that in 2016, for the full year, there were 2.3 million evictions. If nothing is done soon, Pollack says, “we could see that many in August.”
Exacerbating the expirations of the eviction ban and the unemployment supplement is another round of more than one million Americans filing initial unemployment claims. The latest data from the Labor Department shows we are now at 19 straight weeks of more than 1 million Americans filing initial unemployment claims. Continuing claims rose for the week as well, settling at more than 17 million Americans filing unemployment claims for at least two straight weeks.
Generally, it was a really negative week for economic news. The Commerce Department reported this week that the U.S. gross domestic product contracted by 32.9% in Q2. To put that record plunge into perspective, the GDP contracted by just 8.4% in Q4 of 2008.
The good news this week is that tech stocks are absolutely on fire, in a good way. FAANG stocks like Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Alphabet crushed their earnings reports. Apple passed the $400 per share threshold in after-hours trading on Thursday. Meanwhile, Amazon and Facebook traded 5.4% and 6.1% higher, respectively, with Facebook showing 11% growth. Those four stocks collectively added about $200 billion to their total market cap.
Notable housing market news
- Interest rates remain historically low. Freddie Mac’s 30-year fixed-rate average is 2.99% this week.
- Pending home sales were up 17% in June, according to the National Association of Realtors.
- NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun forecasts the median price for a home will likely increase by 4.3% this year and hit $283,600. The median price on a new home, Yun predicts, will jump by 1.1% to $324,900.
- 10-year Treasury note yield was trading at 0.54% as of Friday morning.