Negative Equity Nose Dives; Architecture Billings Slow

Negative residential equity dropped in the third quarter, a positive sign for the housing market, and initial unemployment claims fell last week. Less positively, the AIA's Architecture Billings Index slowed its pace of growth last month.

Zillow reported on Thursday that one of the persistent hangovers of the housing bubble and the recession that followed—namely, negative residential equity—dropped in the third quarter of 2012 to 21 percent of all homeowners with a mortgage. More than 1.4 million American homeowners were freed from negative equity during the quarter.

The peak in negative residential equity was in 2012, when 31.4 percent of all homeowners with a mortgage found themselves in that predicament. Since the beginning of 2012, nearly 5 million homeowners have escaped this form of debt bondage, mainly because of recovering home prices in most markets.

So the situation is better, but still not terrific. Zillow also said that roughly 10.8 million U.S. homeowners with a mortgage remain underwater. Not only that, nearly 40 percent of homeowners with a mortgage are stuck with a loan-to-value ratio of more than 80 percent. In that situation, it’s difficult to afford the down payment on another home.

Architecture Billings Tick Down in October

The American Institute of Architects reported on Thursday that following three months of accelerating demand for design services, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) indicated a slower pace of growth in October. The ABI is a leading economic indicator of construction activity, since there’s roughly a nine- to 12-month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending.

The October ABI came in at 51.6, down from 54.3 in September. That reflects an increase in design services (any score above 50 is an increase), just not as robust an increase as the previous month. The new projects inquiry index was 61.5, up from 58.6 the previous month.

“There continues to be a lot of uncertainty surrounding the overall U.S. economic outlook, and therefore in the demand for nonresidential facilities, which often translates into slower progress on new building projects,” AIA chief economist Kermit Baker noted in a statement. “That is particularly true when you factor in the federal government shutdown that delayed many projects that were in the planning or design phases.”

Initial Unemployment Claims Drop

Initial unemployment claims dropped to an annualized 323,000 in the week ending Nov. 16, according to the U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday, a decrease of 21,000 from the previous week. The less-jumpy four-week moving average was actually a little jumpy, coming in at an annualized 338,500, a decrease of 6,750 from the previous week.

Wall Street recovered some of its mojo on Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 109.17 points, or 0.69 percent, and closing above 16,000 for the first time. The S&P 500 was up 0.81 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 1.06 percent.