Existing Home Sales Unexpectedly Up

The NAR reported that existing U.S. home sales spiked 7.7 percent in August. The FOMC announced Operation Twist, a new policy of buying long-term U.S. debt in place of shorter-term debt. Forbes released its 400-richest list.

September 22, 2011
By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons user Images_of_Money

The National Association of Realtors reported on Wednesday that existing U.S. home sales spiked 7.7 percent in August, as compared to the previous month. The annualized rate of sales rose to 5.03 million units, 18.6 percent higher than at this time last year, when there was not only a recession to deal with, but also the aftermath of the expiration of the homebuyer tax credit. Still, annual sales of 5 million units or so is roughly a third of the average rate for the 13 years before the housing bubble burst.

The NAR also reported that the median price of a home continues to drop, depressed by the glut of distressed properties, though the glut is also inspiring some sales among people who still have the wherewithal to take advantage of the discounts. The August median U.S. home price was $168,300, down 5.1 percent since this time last year.

Lawrence Yun, the organization’s chief economist and always one in search of a diamond in a mound of rocks, noted in a statement that “some of the improvement in August may result from sales that were delayed in preceding months, but favorable affordability conditions and rising rents are underlying motivations. Investors were more active in absorbing foreclosed properties. In additional to bargain hunting, some investors are in the market to hedge against higher inflation.”

Bernanke and the FOMC Twist

As expected, the Federal Open Market Committee did the Twist on Wednesday. Or rather, the committee announced Operation Twist — a new policy of buying long-term U.S. debt in place of shorter-term debt. Through the special alchemy of central banking, the Twist is supposed to lower interest rates on large consumer loans.

“The Committee decided today to extend the average maturity of its holdings of securities,” the Fed said in its statement on the two-day FOMC meeting, which ended on Wednesday. “The Committee intends to purchase, by the end of June 2012, $400 billion of Treasury securities with remaining maturities of 6 years to 30 years and to sell an equal amount of Treasury securities with remaining maturities of 3 years or less. This program should put downward pressure on longer-term interest rates and help make broader financial conditions more accommodative.”

Unless it doesn’t. Rates are pretty low already, after all. The last time the Fed tried the Twist, the song of the same name was fairly new, and the maneuver reportedly reduced mortgage interest rates by a grand total of 15 basis points.

A Billion Here, A Billion There: The Forbes 400 Released

And who are these superrich that Warren Buffet wants to tax more? According to Forbes magazine on Wednesday, he’s certainly one of them – the number-two richest American, in fact, with a net worth of $39 billion in 2010, give or take a few million in walking-around money. Predictably, however, Bill Gates ranked No. 1 again, with wealth of about $59 billion. After all these years, owning a controlling interest in Microsoft is still like owning the patent on air.

Among those billionaires whose main business is real estate, the Forbes 400 lists Donald Bren at No. 26 ($12 billion), Richard LeFrak at No. 60 ($5 billion), Sam Zell at No. 66 ($4.7 billion) and Leonard Stern at No. 75 ($4.2 billion). Donald Trump, the real estate billionaire more people would recognize than any of the others on list, came in No. 128 ($2.9 billion).

Wall Street was humming along never break-even most of the day on Wednesday, but the apple cart was knocked over at the last minute, with investors presumably underwhelmed by the Twist, and maybe miffed by the downgrade by Moody’s of some too-big-to-fail U.S. banks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 283.82 points, or 2.49 percent, while the S&P 500 was down 2.94 percent and the Nasdaq declined 2.01 percent.