As the Dow Digests Housing News, Queasiness Sets In

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A slew of economic reports seems to have the Dow Jones Industrial Average a bit confused this morning, as an initial boost following housing news gives way to concerns over a sputtering U.S. economy.

Housing so-so, confidence low
The Census Bureau released statistics on building permits earlier today, showing a 6.2% jump for October from from the prior month. The Dow spiked after the news, but fell again -- perhaps due to the fact that most of the increase was in the multifamily sector. Single-family permits rose less than 1% from September.

Better news on home prices followed, with the Federal Housing Finance Agency reporting an increase in housing prices of 2% in the third quarter compared with the second quarter, and a rise of 0.3% from August to September. The S&P/Case-Shiller Index showed an upward trend as well, with national home prices rising 3.2% in the third quarter and 11.2% over the past four quarters.

Consumer confidence is flailing, though, as the Conference Board announced another drop in its index for November. The new reading of 70.4 represents a decrease from October's 72.4, compared to an expected 72.9, and the Expectations Index dipped to 69.3 from a prior 72.2. The board noted that the expectations reading, which reflects consumer attitudes toward employment and earnings prospects, doesn't bode well for the holiday shopping season.

Investors are also feeling less than jaunty. The State Street Investor Confidence Index put in a poor showing this morning, registering a 4.2-percentage-point drop in November from the October reading of 95.5. The new value of 91.3 likely resulted from depressed confidence in Europe, which apparently offset the gains in positive sentiment from North America and Asia over the past month.

Big banks could face more mortgage trouble
Even though JPMorgan Chase has seen its stock price rise to the highest level in years, despite all of its recent legal woes, the bank is in the red by late morning.

Part of the problem could be a report from Reuters, which brings to light some distressing news on the mortgage front. Consumers are having trouble repaying their home equity lines of credit, loans they took out as long as 10 years ago. Missed payments to the decade point were interest only, but repayment of the principal, a requirement after the 10-year mark, could cause headaches for big banks like JPMorgan, Bank of America , Citigroup, and Wells Fargo if the trend continues. More than $221 billion in loans are expected to mature to the 10-year level within the next four years.

Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase could be especially hurt, with the latter expecting a total of $31 billion to mature during the next few years. Bank of America expects a whopping $65 billion resetting during that general time frame..

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