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Mortgage Applications Hit 27-Year Low, Office Attendance Edges Higher, Retailer Profits Rise

Mortgage Applications Hit 27-Year Low, Office Attendance Edges Higher, Retailer Profits Rise

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Mortgage Applications Hit 27-Year Low

The volume of mortgage applications hit a near 27-year low for the week that ended Sept. 1, even as mortgage rates backed off slightly from highs not seen in more than two decades, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

The trade group said overall application volume was down 2.9% from the prior week. Purchase applications were down 2% for the week and dropped 28% from year-earlier levels, while refinance applications decreased 5% for the week and declined 30% for the year.

MBA Deputy Chief Economist Joel Kan said overall applications hit their lowest level since December 1996, and purchase applications reached a 28-year low. That happened even as the trade group’s latest national lender survey showed 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages averaging 7.21%, down from 7.31% in the prior week.

“But rates remained more than a full percentage point higher than a year ago, despite mixed data on the health of the economy and signs of a cooling job market,” Kan said in a statement Wednesday. He noted the group’s latest weekly refinance index dropped to its lowest level since January of this year.

The banker group and other analysts have reported that historically high interest rates are discouraging prospective buyers including apartment renters, keeping apartment demand high in many regions. They are also limiting the number of homes available to be purchased by discouraging current homeowners from trading their existing low mortgages for higher rates on their next potential home.

Office Attendance Edges Higher

Big-city office attendance averaged 47.3% of pre-pandemic levels for the week ended Aug. 30, up slightly from the prior week’s 47.2% in the latest tracking data by Kastle Systems.

The security technology firm’s 10-city “Back to Work Barometer,” based on anonymous keycard data from clients’ office properties, has hovered around an average of 50% for most of the past year but hasn’t reached that mark since posting a 50.2% average for the week ended July 19. It hasn't averaged more than 50.4% of pre-pandemic levels, the peak reached in the week ended Jan. 25.

Some cities held well above average in the latest tracking, led by Houston at 61%, Austin, Texas, at 59.3%, Dallas at 54.2% and Chicago at 51.3%. Los Angeles remained close to its own pandemic peak of 50.7% reached in mid-July, posting 49% in the latest barometer report.

Attendance has implications not only for some office owners facing financial difficulties as vacancies rise with the prevalence of remote work, but also for stores, restaurants and other service businesses that depend on office worker traffic in urban hubs.

A July report from consulting firm McKinsey estimated that foot traffic near stores in the nation’s largest metropolitan regions remains 10% to 20% below pre-pandemic levels, due largely to lost traffic from nearby office buildings.

Retailer Profits Rise

After-tax profits for U.S. retail companies with at least $50 million in annual sales totaled $52.5 billion in the second quarter, rising 56% from the prior quarter and increasing 27% from the year-earlier period, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

Seasonally adjusted retail sales for those companies totaled just over $1 trillion for the quarter, increasing 3% from the prior quarter and remaining about even with the year-earlier quarter.

The government previously reported consumer spending was holding up well by historical standards in a strong job market, though inflation pressures remain and reduced spending in some discretionary categories is cutting into profits at some of the nation’s largest retail chains.

The climate is showing mixed effects on U.S. retail centers. Traffic analytics firm reported this week that August visits were down 2.5% from July at regional indoor malls, dropped 5.9% at outlet malls and declined 6.6% at open-air “lifestyle” centers.

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