Tuesday PM March 27th, 2007

Houston real estate market outpaces nation; Houston foreclosure rates drop as national rate climbs...Consumer confidence drops over gasoline price and stock market worries...

The greater Houston area real estate market continues to outpace most of the nation, according to the Houston Association of Realtors, experiencing continued increases in growth. Total property sales for February registered 5,991—a 2.6 percent increase over the same month a year ago. Properties sold reached more than $1.1 billion—a 5.7 increase over February 2006. The median home price for a single-family home set a monthly record for February of $146,000—a 2.5 percent increase over the same month a year ago, and the average single-family home price came in at $195,561—an increase of 2.6 percent over February 2006. HAR Chairman Rob Cook says Houston is still one of the most solid real estate markets in the country, and doesn't expect any dramatic downturns. With reports of rising foreclosures nationally and concerns about the impact of subprime lending, though, he says Houston must watch for any indication of a weakening market.

U.S. foreclosure filings in February jumped 12 percent nationwide, compared with a year ago. More than 130,000 homes entered foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac—the second-highest since the group began collecting data in 2005. However, in the Houston area, foreclosure filings dropped 18 percent last month.

A housing index shows the worst results in more than 13 years for nationwide single-family home prices in January. The Standard and Poor's Index shows home prices nationwide depreciated in January, compared to a year ago. The S&P/Case-Shiller Composite Index showed a drop of seven-tenths of a percent from a year ago in the price of a single-family home, based on existing homes tracked over time in ten metropolitan markets. Growth hasn't been that slow since January of 1994 when it dropped by nine-tenths of a percent compared with the prior January. The data underscores disappointing new home sales figures released by the government Monday. The Commerce Department reported the number of home sales in February fell to the lowest level in seven years, and followed an even larger drop of nearly 16 percent in January.

One of the nation's largest homebuilders has been hammered by the soft housing market. Lennar reports a 73-percent plunge in its first-quarter profit, and warns that it doesn't expect to meet its 2007 earnings guidance. Lennar President and Chief Executive Stuart Miller says "the typically stronger spring selling season has not yet materialized.'' The company says it's still pursuing cost reductions, savings in selling, general and administrative expenses and product redesign, in hopes of seeing some improvement in the second half of the year. But Miller says he's "not comfortable providing a new earnings goal at this time.''

Consumer confidence has dropped more than expected this month. The Conference Board says its Consumer Confidence Index fell to 107.2, down from the revised 111.2 in February. Analysts had expected a reading of 109. The March index was the lowest since November 2006, when the reading was 105.3. The widely watched index slipped as shoppers became anxious about a run-up in gasoline prices and the recent turbulence in the stock market. But Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center, says that despite diminished expectations, consumers' assessment of present day conditions remained steady and does not "suggest a weakening in economic conditions.'' Economists closely monitor consumer confidence because consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of all U.S. economic activity.

A new documentary film looks at ExxonMobil and climate change, with a showing this evening at Anderson Hall on the University of St. Thomas campus. The film premiere is sponsored by the Citizens League for Environmental Action Now and the Houston chapter of the Sierra Club. The movie "Out of Balance: ExxonMobil's Impact on climate Change" is being screened by writer/director Tom Jackson, who is traveling the country on an alternative fuel vehicle.

Tags: News


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