Monday Morning Cup of Coffee
A look at stories across HousingWire's weekend desk, with more coverage to come on bigger issues: Existing home sales were up slightly in March, and analysts at Standard & Poor's expect it to be the start of a better spring for real estate. The National Association of Realtors reported a 3.7% gain in existing home sales in March. S&P said in a report late Friday that because pending home sales – usually an indication of transactions to come – increased in February, existing home sales should increase in April. "Pending home sales were down in December and January, but showed a modest increase in February," analysts said. "As a result, April's existing home sales are likely to improve. Standard & Poor's believes the spring months are likely to improve sales as well. Pending sales usually lead existing home sales by one to two months." Analysts at Barclays Capital agree, saying the existing home sale data for March is a good sign for U.S. housing. In fact, BarCap analysts said in their own report the housing market bottomed late in 2010. "The soft housing data in February rekindled fears in some quarters about further weakness emanating from the housing sector," BarCap said. "The incoming data for March suggest this fear was overstated, as the rebound in both starts and existing home sales indicates that recent weakness is transitory, perhaps due to adverse weather, and affirms our view that the housing market bottomed late last year." The average level of housing starts in the first quarter of 2011 was 563,000 units, which was 5.4% higher than in the previous quarter. Still, both BarCap and S&P analysts agreed as many have for some time now that there is much work to be done on the foreclosure inventory before a recovery can take hold. "The road to recovery for housing will be protracted, given the high inventory of foreclosed properties and relatively tight credit standards that we expect to remain," BarCap said. "Job growth will continue to be a key factor in supporting housing demand in 2011." Public housing authorities have until this summer to apply for up to $110 million in grants for education and job training to those who receive rental assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The initiative comes through three programs, allowing public housing authorities to provide the grants for boosting employment figures. The unemployment rate dipped to 8.8% in March. "All of these programs have a good track record of collaborating with community service providers to leverage the education and job training that help low-income families move to economic independence," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. The application deadlines for the three programs begin to expire in June. On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will hold a press conference with reporters in Washington, the first Fed chief to ever do so. This summer, the second waive of quantitative easing, QE2, through which the Fed set out to buy up to $600 billion in U.S. debt and free up markets, will expire. Since 2008, the Fed loan window has remained at 0%. But the conference will follow a two-day meeting with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors to determine what their next move will be to jolt a recovery still shaky since the financial collapse of 2008. There were no bank failures over Easter weekend. Last week, there were six, the most so far this year, bringing the total to 34. Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.