New unemployment claims hit their lowest level in four years during the week ending March 17. Initial jobless claims filed skirted down to 348,000, a decrease of 5,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 353,000, the Employment and Training Administration reported. The four-week moving average was 355,000, a decrease of 1,250 from the previous week’s revised average of 356,250.
The Administration also reported that the total population of insured unemployed U.S. workers during the week ending March 10 was 3,352,000, a decrease of 9,000 from the preceding week’s revised level of 3,361,000. The four-week moving average was 3,385,750, a decrease of 13,000 from the preceding week’s revised average of 3,398,750.
Real estate was also a big newsmaker in last week’s economic news, with existing home sales slightly off February’s pace, but still well above the pace of a year ago, the National Association of REALTORS® reported last week. Total sales of existing single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops slipped 0.9 percent to an annual rate of 4.59 million in February from an upwardly revised 4.63 million in January, but were 8.8 percent higher than the 4.22 million-unit level in February 2011, thanks to improving real estate conditions.
“The market is trending up unevenly, with record high consumer buying power and sustained job gains giving buyers the confidence they need to get into the market,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun. “Although relatively unusual, there will be rising demand for both rental space and homeownership this year.”
Looking at price, the national median existing-home price for all housing types was $156,600 in February, up 0.3 percent from February 2011, NAR reported. Distressed homes, such as foreclosures and short sales that are sold at deep discounts, accounted for 34 percent of February sales (20 percent were foreclosures and 14 percent were short sales), down from 35 percent in January and 39 percent in February 2011.
Total housing inventory at the end of February rose 4.3 percent to 2.43 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 6.4-month supply at the current sales pace, up from a 6-month supply in January. Even so, unsold listed inventory has trended down from a record 4.04 million in July 2007, and is 19.3 percent below a year ago.
Permits issued in February for construction of privately owned housing units were at an annual rate of 717,000, which was 5.1 percent over January’s revised rate of 682,000 and 34.3 percent higher than the February 2011 estimate of 534,000, the Census Bureau reported last month. Permits for single-family homes issued in February were at a rate of 472,000, which is 4.9 percent over January’s revised figure of 450,000.
Construction starts of privately owned housing in February were at an annual rate of 698,000, which was 1.1 percent down from January’s revised estimate of 706,000, but was 34.7 percent over the February 2011 rate of 518,000. Starts on single-family homes in February were at a rate of 457,000; this is 9.9 percent below the revised January figure of 507,000.
Completed constructions of private homes in February were at an annual rate of 568,000, which was 6.2 percent over January’s revised estimate of 535,000, but was 7 percent below the February 2011 rate of 611,000. Completions of single-family homes in February were at a rate of 421,000; this was 8.2 percent over the revised January rate of 389,000.
This week’s financial news starts off tomorrow with consumer confidence scores for March from the Conference Board. Wednesday, the Census Bureau reports on durable goods orders for February.
On Thursday, the Employment and Training Administration releases initial jobless claims totals for last week, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis releases its third estimate for Q4 2011’s gross domestic product.