The outlook for the housing market darkened further Tuesday as the nation's largest buyer of home mortgages said it racked up more than...
WASHINGTON — The outlook for the housing market darkened further Tuesday as the nation’s largest buyer of home mortgages said it racked up more than $2 billion in quarterly losses and forecast a steeper drop in home prices this year.
If Fannie Mae’s prediction proves true, the real-estate woes could further shake the confidence of consumers already stung by rising food and fuel prices and an anemic job market.
Home foreclosures are accelerating around the country, adding to the glut of unsold properties and further depressing prices. As a result, a growing number of homeowners are saddled with loans that outstrip the value of their houses.
“I think that right now we are in the belly of the cycle,” Fannie Mae’s president and CEO, Daniel Mudd, said during a conference call with analysts.
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Mudd said home prices fell in the first quarter “faster than anyone anticipated” and that the company foresees a decline of 7 to 9 percent for the year, compared with earlier forecasts of a 5 to 7 percent drop.
When businesses see consumer confidence buckling under the housing slump, they, too, start to cut back, noted Michael Gregory, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto.
The tax-rebate checks arriving in mailboxes may mitigate the chill for a while, but eventually the weakness in the housing market “will continue to drag down consumer spending,” Gregory said.
“Is the average American prepared to step up and take out a loan and buy a house? Probably not,” he said.
Economists say the stricken housing market is souring the mood of consumers, the most powerful force in the economy. Also squeezing family budgets are higher prices for food and fuel.
The average price of gas Tuesday was $3.61 a gallon nationwide, an increase of 20 percent from a year earlier, and relief does not appear coming anytime soon. Some experts predict an average price of $4 in the weeks ahead.
Crude-oil futures leapt to a new high near $123 a barrel Tuesday as supply fears dominate the market psychology.
What’s more, a Goldman Sachs analyst predicted oil prices could rise to $150 to $200 a barrel within two years.
Filling up family members’ stomachs has also become costlier.
Amid rising prices for grains and feedstock, Americans are paying higher prices at the grocery.
Egg prices have jumped 40 percent in the past year and flour prices have risen 50 percent since January, raising the price of bread, cereal and other groceries.
To help stabilize housing and the overall economy, which many economists say is on the precipice of its first recession since 2001, the Federal Reserve embarked last fall on an interest rate-cutting campaign — its most aggressive in decades.
Fannie, meanwhile, has been encouraged by the government to step up its purchases of mortgages as a way to provide some relief to the housing market.
In recent months, Fannie and its smaller government-chartered sibling Freddie Mac have bought up hundreds of billions of dollars in additional mortgages and three-quarters of mortgage-backed securities are now issued by the two companies.
But analysts worry that Fannie and Freddie may be taking on too much financial risk at a time when foreclosures continue to mount.
Some critics have said allowing the companies to take on more debt could threaten the global financial system.
Fannie lost $2.2 billion, or $2.57 a share, in the January-March period, compared with a profit of $961 million, or 85 cents, in the first quarter of 2007.
Analysts polled by Thomson Financial had expected a loss of 81 cents in the latest period.
The company announced plans to raise $6 billion in capital with sales of new stock and to cut its dividend.
Its losses from soured home loans were greatest in California, Florida, Michigan and Ohio.
Further housing-slump news came Tuesday from Dallas-based D.R. Horton, the country’s biggest homebuilder. It reported that hefty charges and property write-downs swung it to a second-quarter loss of $1.31 billion, or $4.14 a share, from a year-earlier profit of $51.7 million, or 16 cents a share.