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Four Million Homes Return to Positive Equity in 2013

As of the end of 2013, CoreLogic estimates the number of mortgaged residential properties with equity totaled about 42.7 million, representing a share of about 86.7 percent. Due to a slowdown in the quarterly growth rate of the company's Home Price Index, the share of homes with equity versus underwater homes was mostly unchanged from Q3 to Q4.

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Credit Risk Down to Post-Crash Low

TransUnion released its Credit Risk Index (CRI) Wednesday, concluding that credit risk dropped at the end of 2013 to the lowest level since 2005. "With credit risk at such low levels, there is a possibility that consumers in higher risk segments may see more credit offers, as some lenders decide they have the room in their profit models to take on greater risk," said Ezra Becker, VP of research and consulting for TransUnion.

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Purchase Application Volumes Down to 18-Year Low

The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) application data for last month showed a 0.1 percent bump in total application volume, down from a gain of 2.5 percent in January. Growth was toppled by a 9.0 percent drop in applications for home purchases, which were at their lowest level in more than 18 years in February—despite a 9 percent week-over-week improvement to close out the month.

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Investor Calls for Corporate Changes at Fannie, Freddie

In identical letters addressed to the boards of each enterprise, Bruce Berkowitz, managing member and chief investment officer of Fairholme Capital Management, urges the directors at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to “act in the best interests of each company and in accordance with accepted best practices for corporate governance.”

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Originations Remain Subdued as Refinances Lose Steam

Origination numbers remained weak through the end of 2013, and the odds of a resurge in refinances boosting volumes don’t look great, either, according to Black Knight Financial Services (BKFS). “In January, we saw origination volume continue to decline to its lowest point since 2008, with prepayment speeds pointing to further drops in refinance-related originations,” said Herb Blecher, SVP of BKFS’ Data & Analytics division.

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More Homeowners Plan to Rent over Selling

Think home inventory will see a big boost as owners gear up for the spring shopping season? Survey results from Redfin suggest otherwise. In a poll of more than 1,900 homebuyers across 22 major metro areas, the online broker found 39 percent of homeowners have plans to rent out their existing home after buying a new place—limiting the number of supply coming to the market.

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January Construction Spending Beats Forecast

The government’s latest report shows spending on all construction projects was up 0.1 percent from December, coming to an estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate of $943.1 billion. That figure is 9.3 percent ahead of January 2013’s estimate of $863.1 billion. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 0.5 percent decline in spending to follow December’s originally reported 0.1 percent improvement.

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Servicer Earnings Underscore Uncertain Future

Three special servicers—Nationstar, Ocwen, and Walter Investment Corp.—released their fourth-quarter and year-end earnings reports with revenue increases and increasingly active originations sectors. At least one group of analysts suggests special servicers might “become the next generation of non-prime originators,” according to a report earlier this year from Moody’s.

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January Pending Sales Essentially Flat

The National Association of Realtors' Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, edged up 0.1 percent to an even 95 last month as regional gains and declines offset each other. While it was hardly a banner report, January’s gain at least turned around the prior month’s originally reported 8.7 percent decline to 92.4, the lowest reading since November 2011.

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Underwater Rate Falls Below 20%; Declines Expected to Slow

For the first time in years, the national negative equity rate dipped below 20 percent to close out 2013, Zillow revealed Friday in its quarterly Negative Equity Report. According to the company’s stats, negative equity declined to 19.4 percent nationally as of the end of last quarter, bringing the underwater rate down more than 8 percentage points over the course of 2013.

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