Signs are emerging that the nation's long housing slump is likely to continue through the summer and may not recover for at least another...
WASHINGTON — Signs are emerging that the nation’s long housing slump is likely to continue through the summer and may not recover for at least another year.
The latest report, the National Association of Realtors’ pending home-sales index, slipped 4.7 percent in May to the third-lowest reading on record. The decline “suggests we are not out of the woods by any means,” said the trade group’s chief economist, Lawrence Yun.
The bad news came as the regulator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac tried to reassure investors an accounting-rule change wouldn’t force the government-chartered mortgage-finance companies to raise tens of billions in capital to offset losses.
With more negative data about the housing market continuing to emerge as the economy weakens and job losses accelerate, economists are reluctant to say the worst is over.
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“Even if housing-market activity does manage to bottom out later this year, it is likely that any recovery would be exceedingly slow,” Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, said in a speech in Washington, D.C.
While home sales are likely to fall to their lowest point late this year or early next year, any recovery is likely to be weak through at least 2010, said Mark Vitner, senior economist with Wachovia.
Prices shouldn’t hit bottom for another year at the earliest, Vitner said, since the housing market is glutted with unsold new homes and foreclosed properties.
Meantime, shares of mortgage financiers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stabilized Tuesday, a day after plunging to early-1990s levels on worries they might need billions of dollars in new capital if a new accounting rule is put into effect.
Fannie Mae shares rose $2.20, or 14 percent, to $17.94 Tuesday, a day after plunging more than 16 percent. Freddie Mac shares rose $1.90, or 16 percent, to $13.81 after sliding nearly 18 percent Monday.
The federal regulator for the two companies, Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight Director James Lockhart, said in a CNBC interview the accounting changes “would really have no impact on the risk of these firms.” It would “make no sense” to mandate extra capital due to accounting changes, he said.
As the housing market and broader economy continue to sag, Senate lawmakers appeared on track to approve — possibly by week’s end — a rescue plan to save hundreds of thousands of homeowners from foreclosure.
But it was still uncertain whether Congress would reach a deal with the White House, which is balking at key portions of the bill, particularly $3.9 billion included for buying and fixing up foreclosed properties.
Democrats argue the money is key to preventing neighborhood blight, but most Republicans call it a bailout for lenders who helped cause the mortgage mess.
Speaking Tuesday to a mortgage-lending forum in Arlington, Va., Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson emphasized the limits of what the government can do to help.
“Many of today’s unusually high number of foreclosures are not preventable,” Paulson said. “There is little public policymakers can, or should, do to compensate for untenable financial decisions.”
Separately, the Federal Reserve will issue new rules next week aimed at protecting future homebuyers from dubious lending practices, its most sweeping response to a housing crisis that has propelled foreclosures to record highs.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke of the much-awaited rules in a broader speech Tuesday about the challenges confronting policymakers in trying to stabilize a shaky U.S. financial system.
To that end, Bernanke said the Fed may give squeezed Wall Street firms more time to tap the central bank’s emergency loan program.
To prevent a repeat of the mortgage mess, Bernanke said the Fed will adopt rules cracking down on shady lending practices that have burned many of the nation’s riskiest “subprime” borrowers — those with spotty credit or low incomes — who were hardest hit by the housing and credit debacles.
The plan, which the Fed board will vote on Monday, would apply to new loans made by thousands of lenders of all types, including banks and brokers.
Under the proposal unveiled in December, the rules would restrict lenders from penalizing risky borrowers who pay loans off early, require lenders to make sure these borrowers set aside money to pay for taxes and insurance and bar lenders from making loans without proof of a borrower’s income.
It also would bar lenders from lending without considering a borrower’s ability to repay a home loan from sources other than the home’s value.
“These new rules … will address some of the problems that have surfaced in recent years in mortgage lending, especially high-cost mortgage lending,” Bernanke said.
Associated Press reporters Alan Zibel, Jeannine Aversa and Stephen Bernard contributed to this article.