U.S. consumer confidence improved further in December, suggesting the economy will continue to expand in 2022 despite a resurgence in COVID infections and reduced fiscal stimulus. The survey from the Conference Board showed more consumers planned to buy a house and big-ticket items such as motor vehicles and major household appliances as well as go on vacation over the next six months. Inflation concerns eased a bit and households remained upbeat about the labor market. This will likely help to underpin consumer spending even as government income to households is diminishing.
Sales of previously owned homes in November rose 1.9% from October to 6.46 million units, according to the National Association of Realtors. Sales were 2.0% lower than November 2020. These sales reflect home closings, so contracts that were likely signed in September and October. Regionally, month-to-month, sales in the Northeast were unchanged. In the Midwest, they rose 0.7% and in the South they rose 2.9%. In the West, sales increased 2.3%. Sales likely increased due to a strengthening job market and concerns among potential buyers that mortgage rates will be significantly higher next year. There were 1.11 million homes for sale at the end of November, down 13% year over year. At the current sales pace that represents a 2.1-month supply.
The Biden administration extended a student loan moratorium that has allowed millions of Americans to put off debt payments during the pandemic. Under the action, payments on federal student loans will remain paused through May 1. Interest rates will remain at 0% during that period, and debt collection efforts will be suspended. Those measures have been in place since early in the pandemic, but were set to expire Jan. 31.