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Friday Economic Snapshot: Cool, but not polar

Weekly-5-02212014

Photo Credit: Gary Cycles, Flickr. Ken Teegardin, Flickr.

By Tom Kaiser
February 21, 2014
Filed under Features, Top Stories

With such wild winter weather frequently upending business throughout the country, it’s getting harder to read the economic tealeaves. Many in the marine industry are reporting strong traffic at boat shows. At the same time, we’ve got conflicting economic data that suggests that we’re still poised for growth in the face of temporary weather troubles, or that the recent economic gains are slowing down.

Decide for yourself whether the glass is half full or empty.

This week we’ve seen the stock market nudge back above 16K, the Fed dropped another clue that the economy is strong enough to further taper market stimulus, no change in the unemployment situation and mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures improving significantly.

Mortgage Delinquency/Foreclosure

From the Mortgage Bankers Association comes data showing the mortgage delinquency and foreclosure rates have declined to their lowest level in six years during Q4.

According to the report, “the delinquency rate for mortgage loans on one-to-four-unit residential properties decreased to … 6.39 percent of all loans outstanding at the end of the fourth quarter of 2013, the lowest level since the first quarter of 2008.” Equally encouraging, the percentage of loans currently in foreclosure fell to just below three percent.

Housing Starts

The housing market is where the “Polar Vortex” really comes into play. The Census Bureau reports that housing starts in January fell 16 percent below the revised December numbers, and 2 percent below January 2013.

Housing stats have been rising steadily since early 2009, and really picking up steam in the last two years. Is this seasonal or something more?

My bet’s on weather, as much of the country was nearly uninhabitable in January. We’ll keep an eye on it.

Unemployment

No big news in the unemployment claims front, with last week’s seasonally adjusted initial claims at 336,000, down 3,000 from the previous week’s unrevised figures. The 4-week moving average is now at 338,500, up 1,750 from the previous week.

These unemployment numbers are fine where they are — in line with pre-recession norms — but job creation is a major drag. As more states and cities begin talk of hiking the minimum wage, expect the jobs crisis to get more ink in the coming months.

Takeaway

For a final, optimistic aside, Martin Rusin, marketing manager of Monterey Boats, said he felt the punishing winter could lead to an excellent spring and summer season in the marine industry as cabin fever has become widespread.
Here’s hoping he’s right. I can tell you this: here in the Upper Midwest we’re all ready for some summertime fun on the water.

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