Freddie Mac issued its monthly "outlook" for the month of July as well as a round-up of the first half of 2006. While the report still projects a housing market that is undergoing a "moderate and orderly cooling," a comparison to the January outlook shows a slight decline in optimism.

Freddie harkened back to one year ago to the first quarter of 2005 when home values were growing at a rate of 15.4 percent, home sales that quarter hit a record of 8.48 million (annualized) in the quarter, and 30-year fixed mortgages, while on the rise, still averaged 5.7 percent. "A year later, the second quarter numbers for 2006 are more moderate as expected. The summer of 2005 signaled a turning point in housing activity" from a "metaphoric heat wave" to a more reasonable pace.

Noting that the economy is sending and receiving mixed signals that are creating uncertainty for everyone, the report projects that the rapid growth seen in the first quarter of 2006 will be replaced by slower GDP growth at a rate of 2.8 percent in the second quarter and an average of 3.5 for the year. This is a downward revision from the May report. Inflation, however, appears to be on the rise. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) which grew at a rate of 2.2 percent for all of 2005 reached an annualized level of 3.1 percent during the first five months of 2006, largely driven, of course, by oil prices. The Institute for Supply Management reported "tepid" growth in the manufacturing and service sectors last month which signals economic weakness.

In the second half of the year markets, businesses, and consumers will have to adjust to slower growth as an economy that has previously been largely driven by the housing sector moves into slower growth because of rising energy prices and a cooling housing market.

Freddy expects mortgage rates to continue to bounce around "gently" as they have been doing and to reach an average of 6.8 percent for the year by its end.

Due to increasing house prices and higher interest rates, housing starts will fall to 1.92 million units this year. This is a 7 percent decline from 2005 and it is expected that starts will fall another 9 percent in 2007. Home sales, both new and existing, will also drop 7 percent this year for a total of 6.96 million units. This, however, will still be the third strongest year in history. Freddie Mac expects a further decline of 7 percent in 2007.

Because of the expected decline in the GDP, the report foresees an even slower appreciation in home values than projected earlier. Values are now expected to rise 7 percent this year; this is a .05 percent lower than the May estimates (reflecting an unexpected rise in the first quarter) but consistent with projections at the first of the year.

In spite of the continuing Federal Reserve rate increases and rising energy prices, the predictions that Freddie Mac made in its January outlook are holding up pretty well, although the housing market is clearly slowing. Some selected projections from the January and the new July report are given below.

Indicator January 2006 July 2006
30-Year Fixed Mortgage Rates 6.4% 6.6%
1-Year Treasury Indexed ARM 5.4% 5.7%
1-4 Family Mortgage Originations (millions) $2,468 $2,484
ARM Share of Mortgage Originations 31% 25%
Refinancing Share of Mortgage Originations 32% 39%
Growth of Residential Mortgage Debt 11.5% 13%
Housing Starts (millions) 1.90 1.82
Total Home Sales (millions) 7.10 6.96
House Price Appreciation 7.0% 7.0%

The projections that have been revised upwards generally have to do with mortgages. The substantial upward revision in refinancing, mortgage originations, and overall mortgage debt may be due to a combination of continued cash-out refinancing as the country's individual debt load continues to grow and homeowners bailing out of adjustable rate mortgages as interest rates continue to climb.

The next Freddie Mac outlook will be published on August 8.