Industry NewsMortgage

Economy in low-wage holding pattern

Despite uptick in retail sales, office market still in decline

Psssst. Don't tell anybody, but low-fee 30-year mortgage deals reached 5.5 percent yesterday for the first time since last summer. Freddie Mac's early-week survey missed the decline, and won't discover the "news" until next week's survey, when the low-rate opportunity may be in the rear-view mirror. Mortgage prices move in real time with The Street, not in survey time. This week's economic data should have pushed rates up, not down – yet another indication that the economy and financial markets are in atypical condition. Retail sales in December gained .9 percent, and a cumulative 6.7 percent over December '02. Industrial production picked up a slender .1 percent, as did overall capacity utilization, now up to 75.8 percent, safely out of the collapse zone under 75 percent. The Fed's "beige book" was optimistic in nine of 12 districts, and subsidiary studies in New York and Philadelphia for early January showed off-the-chart strength. Long-term rates are still enjoying the b...