Economy Watch: Mortgage Delinquencies Closer to “Normal” Levels

The MBA reports a decrease in residential delinquencies, while Bureau of Labor stats show that the the Consumer Price Index increased 0.1 percent in January.

The Mortgage Bankers Association said on Thursday that the delinquency rate for outstanding mortgages on U.S. residential properties (of fewer than four units) decreased to 6.39 percent at the end of the fourth quarter of 2013, the lowest level since the first quarter of 2008. The organization’s National Delinquency Survey found that while delinquencies were down a scant two basis points compared with third quarter, they dropped 70 basis points compared with the fourth quarter of 2012.

The delinquency rate includes loans at least one payment past due but not in the process of foreclosure. The percentage of loans in the foreclosure process at the end of the fourth quarter was 2.86 percent, according to the MBA, down 22 basis points from the third quarter and 88 basis points from a year ago. This was the lowest foreclosure inventory rate since 2008.

“We continue to see substantial improvement in both delinquency and foreclosure rates, with most measures now back to pre-crisis levels,” Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s chief economist, noted in a statement. He added that the delinquency rate is more than 3 percentage points lower than its peak of over 10 percent in 2010 and is edging closer to the historical average of around 5 percent. The percentage of new foreclosures started, at 0.54 percent, is the lowest in eight years and is back within its “typical historical range.”

Consumer Price Increases in January

Inflation continues to be the lion that doesn’t roar. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Thursday that the Consumer Price Index (all items for urban consumers) increased 0.1 percent in January compared with December. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 1.6 percent.

Increases in prices for household energy accounted for most of the all-items increase, such as it was. The electricity index posted its largest increase since March 2010, while the indexes for natural gas and fuel oil also rose. These increases more than offset a decline in the gasoline prices, resulting in a 0.6 percent increase in the energy index.

A 0.3 percent increase in the cost of shelter index was another contributor to the overall rise, and the indexes for medical care, recreation, personal care, and tobacco also increased. By contrast, the cost of airline fares, used cars and trucks, new vehicles, and apparel all declined in January. The food index rose slightly in January. Prices for food at home rose 0.1 percent, with major grocery store food groups mixed.

Initial Unemployment Claims Drop

During the week ending Feb. 15, initial unemployment claims came in at an annualized 336,000, a decrease of 3,000 from the previous week, the U.S. Department of Labor said on Thursday. The four-week moving average was 338,500, an increase of 1,750 from the previous week.

Wall Street bounced back on Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 92.67 points, or 0.58 percent. The S&P 500 gained 0.6 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 0.7 percent.