Monday Morning Cup of Coffee: Fed taper remains guessing game

Monday Morning Cup of Coffee takes a look at news coming across HousingWire’s weekend desk, with more coverage to come on bigger issues.

Looking forward to the week ahead, one of the most anticipated events will be the meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee on Wednesday, where Ben Bernanke will give his last press conference as chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Most observers expect no major change in interest rates. There is, however, speculation about the Fed’s Treasury and bond-purchase policy. Decisions on whether or not to continue at the same pace is decided in FOMC meetings. While many economists expect the Fed’s bond-buying program to remain unchanged until January or even March, there is growing sentiment that Wednesday might see some announcement.

It is important to note, that for every report showing a sentiment to taper this year, there is another suggesting otherwise.

“Fed officials face a more difficult decision at their meeting next week, as the employment and growth data have picked up since the October meeting” said analysts at Goldman Sachs in a weekend note to clients. “But our central forecast for the first tapering move remains March, with January possible as well.”

In a Reuters poll last week of 60 economists, about half expected the Federal Reserve to wait until March to start the tapering program, but 12 economists — almost one fourth — now see this week as more likely. That’s a steep increase from the three who predicted that in a poll a month ago.

The November drop in unemployment to 7% is certainly a factor in considering tapering, but there are still plenty of signs that the U.S. economy is not strong enough for a cutback in the stimulus.The positive affect on the housing market of that lower unemployment number may be offset by the expanded unemployment benefit that expires at the end of this month.

In the two-year budget deal that the House of Representatives reached this week, that benefit — which has been providing the unemployed with an extra 14 weeks of help — was not renewed. That will immediately affect 1.3 million Americans who are receiving that help now, along with another 3.6 million who would have qualified in 2014.

And although the unemployment rate declined for young workers — 16 to 24 year olds — from 15.1% in October to 14.1% in November, that number is still double the national average. As HousingWire reported last month, the decline in the overall homeownership rate to 63.9% this year shows that there are still significant barriers to first-time buyers — including that Millennial market that will be key for the future of housing.

Reported bank failures have been down for the past few months, but regulators announced Friday that the OCC and FDIC chose to close Texas Communty Bank in the Woodlands, Texas. All deposits were moved to the Spirit of Texas Bank in College Station, with former branches opening under the same brand.

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