July Market Update

Steve Cain, Director – Writer/Editor

It’s ironic that the economy keeps building up steam just as the steam seems to be leaking out of the housing market. The most recent jobs numbers and unemployment figures are impressive.

Steve Cain

According to the Department of Labor Statistics, the US economy generated 288,000 new jobs in June, the fifth straight months of 200,000-plus employment increases.  The June jobs figures also came with revised May and April numbers.  In both months, jobs growth was revised upward to 224,000 and 304,000, respectively.

In a separate report, the June unemployment rate was reported to be 6.1%, its lowest level since the recession began in late 2008.  The unemployment report also found that there are fewer discouraged workers and long-term unemployed than there have been in recent years.   About the only bad news in the unemployment report was the percentage of the population that is in the labor force: at 62.8% (same as last month), this participation rate is close to 30-year lows and seems to indicate that there are still many people who would be working if there were more jobs out there that needed to be filled.
 
Still, it’s hard to argue that the economy is doing well and gaining strength as the summer progresses.  June 2014 marks the 45th consecutive month of job gains.  If we can keep this going for three more months, we can round it off to a nice four-year stretch of employment gains.
 
With all this good jobs and unemployment news, it comes as no surprise that the stock markets are also doing very well.  On Thursday, July 3 (the markets were closed on Friday for the 4th of July holiday), the Dow Jones closed at 17,068.  This is the first time in its history that the index closed above 17,000.
 
You would think that all this good economic news would keep the housing recovery going too.  Not to imply that housing is declining again – it’s not.  But according to recently released data, year-over-year price increases have slowed considerably in recent months for both the 10-City and 20-City Indices tracked by S&P/Case Shiller.  The year-over-year rate of appreciation for April (the most recent month available) was 10.8%.  This is below the March level, when both the 10 and 20-City Composites were up by more than 12% from a year earlier, and below the double-digit increases we had gotten used to for about a year now.
 
If housing prices are showing signs of coming back down to earth, I’m not sure the same can be said for apartment prices.  We don’t have a Case Shiller Index to point to for apartments in Chicago, let alone Rogers Park.  But, by all indications, prices are still rising and demand outpaces supply.  For our long-time members with large portfolios, this is probably nothing but good news.  But for everyone else hoping to get a piece of the pie, it is making life more difficult.
 
All in all, this is probably a good problem to have, and certainly a big improvement over what we were all worried about just a few short years ago.  So, enjoy the peak of the summer along with these peak apartment prices (assuming you already own).  But don’t get too fat and happy.  No doubt, things will look different again in a month or a year.  They always do.