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Consumer Spending Measure Flat in February

Deloitte’s Consumer Spending Index was largely flat in February, seeing “only a marginal change” amid moderate economic growth, the professional services company reported. The index, which tracks consumer cash flow as an indicator of future spending, edged down slightly to 3.9 from a reading of 4.0 in January. “The fundamentals for consumer spending remain stable,” commented Daniel Bachman, senior U.S. economist for Deloitte.

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Leading Indicators Point to Warm-Weather Recovery

The Conference Board reported its Leading Economic Index (LEI) increased 0.5 percent last month to 99.8, inclining steeper after a 0.1 percent gain in January. “The U.S. LEI increased sharply in February, suggesting that any weather-related volatility will be short lived and the economy should continue to improve into the second half of the year,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, economist at the Conference Board.

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Does the Labor Market Have What It Takes to Boost Housing?

In its latest Economic and Housing Market Outlook, released Wednesday, Freddie Mac expects home sales to grow along with wages this year, despite a still-tough job market in most sectors. Freddie is projecting a 3 percent rise in home sales and a 20 percent rise in new home construction in 2014, which the agency expects to level out to a 5 percent overall growth.

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Mortgage Rates Down in Lead-Up to Fed Announcement

Freddie Mac’s weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey, released Thursday, showed the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaging 4.32 percent (0.6 point) for the week ending March 20, down from last week, when it averaged 4.37 percent. A year ago, the 30-year FRM average was 3.54 percent. Since falling from 4.53 percent in 2014’s first weeks, the 30-year fixed average has seen limited movements since, staying in the 4.2-4.3 percent range.

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Existing-Home Sales Weaken Further Amid Tough Conditions

According to the National Association of Realtor’s sales data, total existing-home sales—including single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops—declined 0.4 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.60 million, matching a consensus forecast among economists surveyed by Bloomberg. Following January’s decline, February took the new record for having the slowest sales pace since July 2012.

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Fitch Finalizes Criteria on QM, Non-QM Securities

Two months after the implementation date of the qualified mortgage (QM) and ability-to-repay rules, Fitch Ratings announced it has finalized new criteria for analyzing loans in securities taking the new guidelines into account. Fitch developed assumptions with respect to the probability of challenges to the rule or a mortgage’s QM status, as well as the potential costs or damages.

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Report: Buyer/Seller Balance a Matter of East vs. West

A look at buyers' and sellers' markets around the country from Zillow shows that the better job market in the West is drawing more buyers and driving up competition for homes in more economically stable cities, thus giving sellers the upper hand in home sales negotiations in western metro areas. Meanwhile, leverage for buyers is strongest in cities in the East and Midwest, where less competition for homes will likely give them more room for bargaining on prices.

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Loan Closings Up in February; Credit Standards Unchanged

Using a sample of loan applications initiated in November 2013, Ellie Mae calculated a closing rate of 55.3 percent in its February Origination Insight Report—a small bump from 54.9 percent in January. Meanwhile, credit standards on closed loans remained unchanged, averaging a FICO score of 724 and a loan-to-value ratio (LTV) of 82 percent. Compared to February 2013, though, standards were much more relaxed.

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