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U.S. Economy: Home Resales Fall to Nine-Year Low (Update1)

Monday, February 25th, 2008

By Courtney Schlisserman

Feb. 25 (Bloomberg) — Sales of existing homes in the U.S. fell in January to the lowest level since records began nine years ago and prices slid for the sixth time in seven months, posing a threat to consumer spending, the largest part of the economy.

Resales declined 0.4 percent, less than forecast, to an annual rate of 4.89 million from a revised 4.91 million in December that was higher than previously reported, the National Association of Realtors said today in Washington.

The figures indicate declines in home prices so far aren’t sufficient to entice more buyers. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said today that the deepening rout in housing is having a “broader effect” on spending, and that a recession this year may be deeper than previous downturns.

“The Federal Reserve’s efforts to restore the mortgage market so credit is available so people can buy houses has largely failed,” Peter Morici, an economics professor at the University of Maryland, said in a Bloomberg Radio interview. “There really isn’t a lot of hope that things are going to turn around soon.”

Economists had forecast home resales would fall 1.8 percent to an annual rate of 4.8 million, according to the median of 63 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. Estimates ranged from 4.65 million to 5 million.

The Standard & Poor’s Supercomposite Homebuilding Index, which had fallen earlier in the day, rose following the report. The measure was up 2.2 percent to close at 347.38. Treasuries fell, with 10-year note yields rising to 3.90 percent at 4:18 p.m. in New York, from 3.81 percent on Feb. 22.

Unsold Properties

Mounting foreclosures are adding to a glut of unsold homes that is driving down property values. The number of homes for sale at the end of January rose 5.5 percent to 4.2 million. At the reported sales pace, that represents 10.3 months’ supply, compared with 9.7 months in December.

“The past five months’ sales activity has been very soft, but stable,” said Lawrence Yun, the real-estate agents group’s chief economist. A fiscal stimulus that included tax cuts and relaxed restrictions on so-called jumbo mortgage loans may lead to better sales late this year, he said.

Elevated inventories are driving down prices and causing some potential buyers to stay on the sideline to see if prices will go down further.

Prices Fall

The median sales price fell 4.6 percent to $201,100 from January 2007. The median cost of a single-family home decreased 5.1 percent to $198,700, while that of condominiums and co-ops fell 1 percent to $220,400.

“The general trend is down, especially in home sales,” Anirvan Banerji, director of research for the Economic Cycle Research Institute in New York, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “There is quite a bit of overhang in inventory.”

“There is more adjustment that is required” in housing, Greenspan told a conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, today. “There is a broader effect on consumer expenditures.”

Resales fell in three of four regions, led by a 3.6 percent drop in the Northeast. They declined 2.1 percent in the West and 0.5 percent in the South. Sales were 3.4 percent higher in the Midwest.

Sales of single-family homes increased 0.5 percent to a 4.34 million pace from a 10-year low in December, according to today’s report. Sales of condos and co-ops fell 6.5 percent to an annual rate of 550,000.

Inventory Glut

Housing “is going to be subdued” until inventories are reduced, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Gary Stern told reporters Feb. 19 after a speech in Golden Valley, Minnesota.

The effects of the worst housing recession in 25 years have spread into other areas of the economy. The Fed Bank of Philadelphia’s general economic index fell this month to minus 24, the weakest reading in seven years.

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News earlier this month put the chance of the U.S. entering a recession at 50-50, up from 40 percent odds a month earlier.

The Fed last week said it lowered its growth forecast and now expects the economy to expand 1.3 percent to 2 percent in the fourth quarter from the same period of 2007, compared with the 1.8 percent to 2.5 percent it projected in October.

The Commerce Department is scheduled to release the January report on new home sales on Feb. 27. While economists forecast a decline, some measures indicate demand for new homes may be near the bottom.

Builder Confidence

For example, confidence among U.S. homebuilders rose for a second straight month in February and companies said there were more prospective buyers touring properties, the National Association of Homebuilders said on Feb. 19. In addition, the Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment showed a record number of Americans said lower home prices made home buying conditions favorable.

“We’re seeing prices now that are basically back to ‘02, ‘03 levels,” Ara Hovnanian, chief executive officer of Hovnanian Enterprises Inc., said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Feb. 21. “That begins to get compelling for customers.”

Even so, the housing market “continues to be in a very difficult position right now,” and weaker sales are cutting into builders’ profits, Hovnanian said.

Lowe’s Cos., the world’s second-largest home-improvement retailer, forecast full-year earnings less than analysts’ projections after reporting a drop in sales and profits in the fourth quarter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Courtney Schlisserman in Washington at


Surprise! Home Sales Spark Hope

Monday, February 25th, 2008

Investors found a sliver of hope to line the dark clouds of the housing slump on Monday.

Investors latched onto the National Association of Realtors’ upbeat tone Monday, sending the U.S. stock market higher in direct contrast to the stark data in the report, which said that sales of single-family homes and condominiums dropped by 0.4% in January to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 4.89 million units, the slowest pace on record since 1999. Despite this dire news investors seemed optimistic that the housing market may be bottoming out and that the increase in loan limits could lead to a rally in home sales toward the end of 2008.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note jumped to 3.89% on Monday from 3.79% on Friday, as investors moved from the safety of bonds into equities, creating what has become a rarity in recent months–a boost in confidence in the equities market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was also up to 12,486, a 106 point, or .85%, jump. The median price of a home sold in January slid to $201,100, a drop of 4.6% from a year ago, the fifth consecutive decline in home prices.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 3.4%, but the median price of a home in the Midwest was $154,200, down 4.0% from a year ago. Existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 3.6%, although median home prices rose 3.1% from January 2007 to $270,800.

Investors found a knight in shining armor in Lawrence Yun, the NAR’s chief economist, who said there are still many potential buyers on the sidelines. “Subprime loans and other risky mortgage products have virtually disappeared from the marketplace, and over the past five months, this has been reflected in soft but fairly stable home sales,” he said.

Yun said he expects demand for homes to rebound later in the year as caps on the size of loans that can be backed by Fannie Mae (nyse: FNM - news - people ), Freddie Mac (nyse: FRE - news - people ), and the Federal Housing Administration are raised as part of the economic stimulus bill passed by Congress. But the problem of a housing glut still remains as inventories continue to build, putting downward pressure on prices. Total housing inventory rose 5.5% at the end of January to 4.2 million existing homes available for sale, representing a 10.3-month supply at the current sales pace, up from a 9.7-month supply in December.

But Global Insight U.S. economist Patrick Newport wasn’t so optimistic. “We think the credit crunch is hurting all corners of the mortgage market, and partly accounts for the 10% decline in sales in the past five months,” Newport said.

Newport said falling home prices may be the greatest hindrance to a recovery, but they are ultimately the solution as well. “In cities with falling home prices, homebuyers must weigh whether to buy an asset that is depreciating or rent instead,” he said. “We think that a growing share will choose to rent and wait things out. Over time, shifts in demand will cause rents to rise, house prices to drop, and home sales to turn around.”

But Newport thinks that turnaround is still months away.

Meanwhile, Lowe’s, the second biggest home retailer in the U.S., reported a 33.4% drop in profit, a result of the weakness in the U.S. housing market. But investors were expecting worse. As a result Lowe’s shares rose 4.1%, or 96 cents, to $24.55 at the close.


35 Things To Avoid At Your Job Interview

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

Here are 35 Things To Avoid At Your Job Interview

1. Show up unprepared: Most candidates have several days to prepare for a job interview. This is plenty of time to freshen up your resume and references, and learn everything you can about the company and job for which you’re applying. Knowing the business and its major players is great way to give you the edge over other candidates.

2. Pay little attention to your appearance: Think your appearance doesn’t count? Think again! The trend may be for business casual, but it’s still proper business etiquette to wear a suit. When it comes to the job interview, it’s all about the first impression. The company wants to hire the best person to represent the business, mohawked and hardwared individuals usually don’t fit the description.

3. Have nothing to say: It’s frustrating to an interviewer to receive one syllable answers. Go into detail. Sell yourself.

4. Say too much: Give your interviewer time to talk. By monopolizing the conversation and not letting others get a word in edgewise, you’re showing yourself to be a poor listener and disrespectful to higher ups.

5. Give a sob story: No one cares how deep in debt you are. If you give your interviewers the impression you’re irresponsible or your problems are a distraction, you won’t get the job.

6. Tell jokes: A job interview isn’t the time or place to be a comedian. You need to show you’re serious about the job.

7. Lie: Don’t lie about education, qualifications, past employment or a prison record. These are all things that businesses look into nowadays. Lying during a job interview can also be grounds for dismissal later on.

8. Trash a former employer: This is one of the biggest mistakes made during interviews. When asked why they’re seeking new employment many candidates will complain about a past employer. Why would anyone want to hire a malcontent?

9. Blame problems on co-workers: If there was an incident at a past place of employment, own up to it as honestly as possible. Casting the blame on other people only makes you look worse.

10. Act too familiar with your interviewers: Don’t call your interviewers Bob and Suzy (even if it is their names). Unless invited to do otherwise, address them as Mr. Ms, Dr or another respectful title.

11. Give too many personal details: Do you think an employer would want to hire you if he finds out you like to go out and party every night or you’re getting over a drug problem? Your personal life has nothing to do with your job. Don’t divulge unnecessary details.

12. Fidget, bite your nails, drum your fingers or show nervousness: Employers are looking for confidence, especially if you’re expected to meet with clients or give presentations.

13. Chew gum: No one wants to listen to the equivalent of a cow chewing its cud.

14. Bring your breakfast, lunch or dinner: Not only is it impolite to bring a meal to the job interview, it’s the best way not to get the job. Your interviewer doesn’t want to watch you eat, nor does she want to wait until you’re finished chewing to learn the answer to her questions.

15. Be disrespectful: Even if you don’t agree, it’s best to hold your tongue. No business wants to hire someone who is disrespectful to others.

16. Turn in a messy application: If you’re asked to fill out an application, do so in a neat, tidy manner, filling in as many of the sections as possible.

17. Bring only one copy of your resume: You may have several people interviewing you. Bring several copies of resumes and other pertinent information. It’ll show you’re someone who comes prepared.

18. Sit before you’re offered a chair: Wait to be invited before sitting. You may not even be staying in that room.

19. Smoke or drink alcohol: If you’re at a lunch interview, refrain from smoking and drinking, even if invited to do so. The interviewer may be testing you. Some businesses frown upon smokers because they spend a lot of time outside and no one wants to hire someone who indulges in cocktails during his or her lunch hour.

20. Talk on your cell phone or read text messages: To not turn your cell phone or pager off for an interview is just plain rude. Your interviewer should have your complete attention.

21. Show up late: Being tardy for a job interview tells your potential bosses, you really don’t care enough to make an effort. If you have an emergency such as being caught behind a traffic accident or a subway stalling, call ahead.

22. Discuss money, time off or benefits unless an offer has been made: Though this is probably what you’re thinking about the most, you want to the potential employer to think it’s the least of your concerns. The job should be on your mind first and foremost, not the pay or vacation time.

23. Ask no questions: Your potential employer wants to know you’re interested in the job. If you don’t ask any questions, you give the impression you don’t care.

24. Bring your cute little dog on the interview: Pets don’t belong at interviews. They’re distracting and present the potential for disaster.

25. Brush hair, file nails, put on lipstick: Primp before the interview, not during.

26. Cut short the interview for another appointment: Your potential employer doesn’t expect to be your only job interview but he does expect you to block out enough time to give a complete interview. Leaving to go to another appointment is rude and tells the employer he’s not a priority.

27. Hit on the receptionist or pass your phone number to a cute guy: If you give the impression you’re more interested in dating than working you won’t get the gig.

28. Get too comfortable: Don’t put your feet up, put your arms behind your head, cross your legs or stretch them out in the aisle. A job interview isn’t the place to let your hair down.

29. Give vague answers: Don’t tap dance around issues. Answer questions to the best of your ability. If you can’t answer a straight forward question, this employer might wonder what you have to hide.

30. Use foul language: It should go without saying that foul language isn’t appropriate at an interview let alone a place of business.

31. Act as if they need you more than you need them: You’re not the only candidate. If you act smug or make the hiring agent feel inferior you won’t get the job.

32. Excuse yourself often to use the bathroom or phone: If you can’t attend the interview uninterrupted how will you do the job?

33. Forget to shake hands: A potential employer is looking for a good, firm handshake. Don’t overlook this important detail as it says a lot about your character.

34. Fail to follow up: Always follow up on the interview within a few days. It will show the employer you want the job, and also that you practice good business sense.

35. Fail to send a thank you note: It’s polite and makes a good impression.

Housing Slump Starts to Hit Stronger Cities

Friday, February 1st, 2008

It’s getting harder to hide from the housing bust.

Tight credit, fragile consumer confidence and a weakening economy are slowing sales and depressing prices even in some places — such as the Pacific Northwest and North Carolina — that until recently had avoided the housing slump afflicting most of the country.

Even Manhattan, where prices continued to rise briskly last year, looks more vulnerable to a slowdown. Falling home prices and soaring defaults elsewhere have created more than $100 billion of losses on mortgage-related securities at Wall Street firms, destroying many jobs in the New York area. The number of homes listed for sale in Long Island and Queens at the end of 2007 was enough to last 18 months at the current sales rate, up from a 12-month supply a year before.

Local markets still vary hugely around the country, according to The Wall Street Journal’s quarterly survey of housing data in 28 major metropolitan areas. Inventories of unsold homes are enormous in much of Florida, Phoenix, Las Vegas and the Detroit area. But the number of homes listed for sale declined last year in Boston and Denver, and they were flat in Dallas.

Few expect a quick recovery. Stricter credit policies at mortgage lenders have disqualified many potential buyers, and foreclosures are adding to an already glutted supply in many areas. In California, notices of default filed by lenders in the fourth quarter totaled 81,550, more than double the 37,994 filed in the year-earlier period, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a research firm in La Jolla, Calif. Meanwhile, builders caught with too much inventory are slashing prices.

All those factors create “a lot of indigestion, and I think it’s going to take all of this year to work its way out,” says Ronald Peltier, chief executive of HomeServices of America Inc. in Minneapolis, which owns brokerages in 19 states. He expects the market to begin slowly improving in 2009.

For now, people trying to sell homes “don’t seem to have a prayer” in competing with lenders offering foreclosed homes and builders dumping excess inventory, says Don Schriver, owner of Assist-2-Sell Good Sense Realty in Buckeye, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix. He points to a four-bedroom house in Buckeye that was built in 2005 and sold in August 2006 for $775,000. After a lender acquired the home through foreclosure last year, it sold again in December for $380,000.

In California’s Orange County, around a quarter of the listings are either foreclosed properties owned by lenders or homes owned by people trying to do “short sales,” or sell for less than the amount they owe the bank, says Steven Thomas, president of Re/Max Real Estate Services in Aliso Viejo, Calif. Short sales require approval from the lenders, often a lengthy process.

Steve Karsten, a plumber who rents a small house in the Los Angeles area, is typical of today’s wary home shopper. He has been going to open houses and looking into possible bargains on foreclosed homes. But he aims to make a down payment of more than 10% and get a fixed-rate loan. And he won’t jump at the first decent house he finds.

“I’m in no hurry,” Mr. Karsten says. “The longer I wait, the more money I save.”

With buyers on the fence, sales are stalled. December sales in the San Francisco Bay area and in Southern California were the slowest in at least two decades, according to DataQuick.

DataQuick says sales have dried up partly because of relatively high rates on “jumbo” mortgages, those over the $417,000 limit on loans that can be guaranteed by government-sponsored investors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Rattled by defaults, investors are shying away from jumbo loans. The resulting higher costs for these large loans are pinching sales in California and other high-price areas. Home sales in the Bay Area financed with jumbo loans were down 66% in December from a year before, according to DataQuick.

Some of the fastest increases in home listings have occurred in relatively strong markets. The inventory in the Seattle metro area counties of King, Snohomish and Pierce leapt 50% last year. At the end of December, when listings are lower than usual because of the holidays, the inventory there was enough to last 4.9 months, denoting a fairly balanced market — but up from a very lean 2.7 months at the end of 2006. In King County, the median price in December was down 2.6% from a year ago.

Given the rise in supply, home prices in Seattle probably will fall further, says Glenn Kelman, chief executive of Redfin, a real-estate broker based there. “If you walk around town, you see cranes everywhere,” he says.

In Portland, Ore., another fairly buoyant market, the inventory at year end was 5.7 months, up from 3.7 months a year earlier, and the median price fell 4%. In Charlotte, N.C., the supply grew to 7.8 months from 5.9 months.

Listings in the eight-county San Francisco area surged 42% last year, but there are big differences in price trends, depending on location. In December, DataQuick reports, the median price was down 22% from a year before in outlying Sonoma County but just 1.9% lower in San Francisco and virtually unchanged in Santa Clara County, home to many thriving technology companies.

Manhattan so far has dodged the housing slump, but it may not escape completely unscathed. The median price of condominiums and cooperative apartments sold in the fourth quarter was about $850,000, up 6.4% from a year earlier, according to Jonathan Miller, research director at Radar Logic Inc., a research firm. (In the luxury end of the market, the median price jumped 28% to $4.3 million.) The inventory of co-ops at the end of 2007 was down 26% from a year earlier, while the supply of condos was unchanged.

Now, though, the housing slump that afflicts most of the country is creating huge losses at some Wall Street firms that gambled on mortgage securities. That means more job cuts and smaller bonuses this year. On the plus side, the weak dollar continues to bring in foreign buyers. Mr. Miller sees “very modest” price increases this year.

But Dean Baker, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington who has been bearish on housing for years, says Wall Street’s woes make New York’s real-estate market look “quite vulnerable.”

Job growth in the next two years is likely to be very weak in the New York metro area, where financial services account for about a quarter of income earned, says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s “Wall Street is unraveling and taking the economy with it,” he says.

In Miami-Dade County, there was a 37-month supply of condos listed for sale at year end, according to figures compiled by Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell, a big local real-estate broker. But that excludes “for sale by owner” units that aren’t listed, as well as about 19,000 units due to be completed this year, says Jack McCabe, a real-estate consultant in Deerfield Beach, Fla., who says he advises investors who hope eventually to find bargains in the area. He notes that foreclosures will add to the supply and predicts that 2008 will be “the year of the great condo meltdown.”

Monica Harvey, a real-estate agent for Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell in Miami Beach, says sales have slowed so much that she can work out at her gym more often and even drive to the airport to meet potential buyers. Ms. Harvey is encouraged, though, by the flow of buyers from Europe and Latin America, taking advantage of a weaker U.S. dollar. Already a Spanish speaker, she’s thinking of studying Mandarin. “I’m waiting for the Chinese,” she says. “I know they’re going to come at some point.”

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