First signs of housing disruption appear; a call for robots

Full Screen
1 / 6

Xinhua

In this Tuesday, March 24, 2020, photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a worker wearing a face mask drives a forklift at a Swire Coca-Cola Beverages Hubei Limited plant in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. According to Chinese state media, the plant restarted some production lines on Monday. While many migrant workers across China remain trapped by travel bans due to the coronavirus, some industrial production has returned to action, including in the crucial auto manufacturing industry, which is largely based in Wuhan, and in businesses that provide critical links in global supply chains. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via AP)

The outbreak of the coronavirus has dealt a shock to the global economy with unprecedented speed as it continues to spread across the world. Here is a look at some of the latest developments Wednesday related to the global economy, particular economic sectors, and the workplace:

HOUSING: Economists have been waiting for the first signs of virus-related disruptions in housing with the expectation that they will be seismic. Federal housing data looks further back for trends, meaning there is a lag in real world activity. But details have begun to emerge in private surveys.

On Wednesday, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that mortgage applications plunged 29.4% last week. People trying to sell homes have cancelled showings during the outbreak and because closings are done in person, economists expect sales will decline sharply. But the virus has affected the market in other, unforeseen ways as well.

Despite additional cuts to benchmark interest rates by the U.S. Federal Reserve, mortgage rates have actually been rising.

Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting, said that's partially because lenders amid the outbreak are wrestling with capacity issues, backlogs in the pipeline, and the challenge of working remotely in real estate.

“Home purchase applications were notably impacted by rising rates and the widespread economic disruption and uncertainty over household employment and incomes," Kan wrote. “Last week’s purchase index fell 15% to its lowest level since August 2019.”

While mortgage applications fall, refinancing, which can be done from home, is soaring. Lending Tree says the economic effects of the virus outbreak have led to unprecedented volatility in mortgage interest rates and an overwhelming surge of borrower demand. The company's data shows that refinance mortgage applications through its marketplace tripled from a year ago in each of the 50 largest cities and in all but five states. In San Francisco, refinance loan requests skyrocketed 417%.

RETAIL: Local groceries and other mom-and-pop shops have become a lifeline for millions of people ordered by states or cities to shelter at home. Major retailers are another, and the impact of the virus has reordered priorities.