Reporting on all forms of payment, including cash, retail sales rose 3.6% from November 1 through December 24, according to a top credit reporter. Internet sales popped up 18%, consumer electronics rose 5.9% and jewelry sales climbed 5.6%. Major economists had anticipated overall retail sales to remain unchanged. They were mistaken.
Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell by 22,000 to 432,000 in the week ending December 26. It was the lowest pace since July 2008. Continuing claims for the week ending December 19 fell by 57,000 to 4.98 million, the lowest level since February 2009.
Freddie Mac reported Thursday that after four straight weeks of increases, 30-year fixed-mortgage rates dropped to an average of 5.09% this week, reducing real estate mortgage costs for home buyers.
Last week the rate averaged 5.1%; last year at this time the rate was 5.01%. The average 15-year fixed mortgage rate dipped 0.4% to 4.5%, and the average five-year adjustable-rate mortgage remained flat. The average one-year ARM edged down 0.03% to 4.31%.
The Federal Government now holds $909 billion of mortgage-backed securities. Since the beginning of 2009 it has purchased 73% of the mortgages that government-backed Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae have turned into securities.
If mortgage rates spike up or the economy weakens, economist speculate, that the central bank might need to keep buying mortgage-backed-securities. However, with the economy improving and the mortgage market already heavily dependent on government, officials are eager to leave the business of purchasing MBS’s.
After expiration of the current, extended, home buyer tax credit the U.S. real estate market may be left to stand on its own. That will be the true test of the recovery.