Post and Courier
October 26, 2014

Freddie Mac: South Carolina housing market rallies while U.S. struggles with fewer mortgage seekers

Posted: 07/19/2014 12:01 a.m.


By Jim Parker


Various reports nowadays examining Americans' capacity to buy and sell homes spotlight the country's formidable rebound from a five-year housing slide.

But not every study serves up such up-tempo findings. Take, for example, MiMi.

It may look like a curious spelling of a girl's name, but MiMi actually stands for Multi-Indicator Market Index. Secondary mortgage lender Freddie Mac compiles the index monthly.

In its most recent findings released four weeks ago, the financial company says its gauge offers mixed signals for the U.S. residential market.

"Most (local) housing markets remain weak - despite declining mortgage delinquencies, improving local employment, house price gains and attractive mortgage rates - due to weak home purchase mortgage applications," Freddie Mac says.

Still, the report wasn't downbeat across the board. In fact, South Carolina posted one of the most improved outlooks for the examined April time frame.

South Carolina placed fourth best, gaining 0.95 points in the month from a year earlier. Only Florida, up 1.73 points; Nevada, up 1.52; and Texas, up 0.98, showed higher increases. California rose 0.89 points.

During the month, Texas moved up to the third most improving state from fifth place, Freddie Mac says.

"Texas is clearly a standout with three of its metros (San Antonio, Houston and Austin) claiming the top five MiMi spots. However, states like South Carolina, Rhode Island and Ohio have showed marked improvement since just the beginning of the year," says Len Kiefer, deputy chief economist at Freddie Mac.

On a national basis, the multi-indicator market index was down 3.01 points in April "indicating a weak housing market overall," the company reports.

There was a "slight improvement" in April from March, with the index rising 0.05 points. But a three-month trend showing a 0.07 point gain "is considered flat." In more promising news, the U.S. housing market improved by 0.65 points year-over-year. And it's well ahead of the all-time MiMi low, off 4.49 points in November 2010 "when the housing market was at its weakest," Freddie Mac notes.

"We're seeing very slow improvement on the housing front with most markets still trying to move beyond stall speed," Freddie Mac Chief Economist Frank Nothaft says.

"The MiMi indicators that are improving across the board show the local jobs picture getting better and seriously delinquent rates continuing to come down," he says. "Both indicators are critical to decreasing distress in local markets, but that's also putting more pressure on markets with thinning inventory, especially where short sales have fallen off dramatically."

South Carolina's improvement in April was hardly an isolated surge.

In March, South Carolina ranked third-most improved from a year earlier with a 0.99 point gain. It trailed Florida, up 1.83 points; and Nevada, up 1.60. The state also placed fifth strongest month-over-month with a 0.09 point increase. It was behind only Texas, Illinois, Rhode Island and top spot Ohio, up 0.12.

The multi-indicator scorecard in March showed the U.S. housing market had been "largely flat," even compared with last year at the same time. The index was down 3.06 points, "indicating a weak housing market overall," although year-over-year, it improved by 0.66 points.

Less than half of the housing markets covered by the index were showing an improving trend as the spring home buying season opened. By comparison, more than 90 percent of "these same markets headed in the right direction" last year, Nothaft says.

"House price gains are a double-edged sword at this stage of the recovery," he says. "They help those hard-hit markets where prices are still low and many homeowners are underwater, but in areas where supply is constrained, they're creating an imbalance and pricing out many first-time homebuyers."

The MiMi measures housing market stability nationwide, in the 50 states and District of Columbia and in the top 50 metro markets. Among other things, the index tracks four indicators: home purchase applications, payment-to-income ratios, the proportion of on-time mortgage payments and the local employment picture.

"A market can fall outside its stable range by being too weak to generate enough demand for a well-balanced housing market or by overheating to an unsustainable level of activity," according to Freddie Mac.

Congress established Freddie Mac in 1970 "to provide liquidity, stability and affordability to the nation's residential mortgage markets." For more information, visit www.FreddieMac.com/mimi.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.