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Confidence Sliding on Main Street


With homebuilders and consumers alike.

Editor's Note: This article was written by Richard Suttmeier, chief market strategist at, which is a fundamentally-based quant research firm in Princeton, New Jersey, that covers more than 5,000 stocks every day.

Home Builder Confidence Slides in January

The National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index slumped to 15 in January on continued concerns about the weak jobs market and the increasing number of foreclosure sales. Community banks are reluctant to lend to builders and developers as nearly 3,000 banks are overexposed to C&D and CRE loans. Because of this, homebuilders have thinned inventories and slowed new construction. Remember that a reading of 50 is neutral for this index and at 15 it's a sign of a housing depression.

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Consumer Confidence Continues to Slide

The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index fell to -49 last week, down eight points since the beginning of 2010. This index is approaching the recession and record low reading of -54, set a year ago. 45% of Americans say their personal finances are positive, which is below 50% for 75 of the past 78 weeks, another record by far. Only 33% say it's a good time to spend, which is 14 points below average, and only 9% rate the economy positively, 29 points below average.

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This chart shows that consumer confidence was declining but stayed positive in the recession of 2001, which to me is a sign that the Federal Reserve was wrong to cut the federal funds rate to 1% in June 2003.

The FHA Will Make It Tougher to Buy a Home

The Federal Housing Administration is making it tougher for homeowners to get a mortgage by raising fees and tightening lending standards. The FHA is losing money as the foreclosure rate rises. As a result, its reserves have fallen below the minimum required by Congress. This should cause yet another drag on housing as they insure 30% of all new loans, and the FHA is the largest backer of mortgages for first-time buyers. The FHA only requires a 3.5% down payment, but now requires an upfront mortgage insurance premium of 2.25% from 1.75%, which can be a deal breaker. Borrowers with a credit score below 580 must put 10% down. More than 18% of FHA borrowers are at least one payment behind or in foreclosure compared to 14% for all mortgage loans.

Obama's Mortgage Modification Plan Helps Only 7%

What was supposed to help 3 to 7 million homeowners, the president's mortgage modifications only received 900,000 requests for help so far and only 66,500 have received permanent relief. The program totals $75 billion and doesn't even keep up with monthly defaults and foreclosures. It appears that the paperwork avalanche is too much for both the banks and the homeowner to handle.

Credit Card Charge-Offs Rise in December

Shoppers may have used their credit cards during the holiday season, but credit card charge-offs increased for Bank of America (BAC) and Capital One (COF) in December. Because of these charge-offs, delinquency rates declined slightly. It seems like consumers stressfully spent this holiday season. Bank of America reported charge-offs up to 13.53% up from 13% in November. Capital One reported 10.14% versus 9.6%.

JPMorgan (JPM) reported steep losses on both mortgage and credit card loans, as Main Street woes trumped Wall Street profits in the fourth quarter. CEO Jamie Dimon said, "We don't know when the recovery is."

Even with Tuesday's Dow Strength, the Bear Could Score a Knock-Out This Week

The score now stands at 9 to 2 favoring the bull. My annual support is 10,379 with a weekly pivot at 10,634, and monthly and annual resistances at 10,997 and 11,235. A knock-out punch by the bear requires a weekly close below 10,379. A close below 10,574 breaks the ascending wedge support that goes back to the March 2009 lows.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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