US home sales rise 2.1 percent in October

Updated 20 November 2012
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US home sales rise 2.1 percent in October

WASHINGTON: US sales of previously occupied homes rose solidly in October, helped by improvement in the job market and record-low mortgage rates.
The increase along with a jump in homebuilder confidence this month suggests the housing market continues to recover.
The National Association of Realtors said yesterday that sales rose 2.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.79 million. That's up from 4.69 million in September, which was revised lower.
The sales pace is roughly 11 percent higher than a year ago. But it remains below the more than 5.5 million that economists consider consistent with a healthy market.
As the economy slowly recovers, more people have started looking to buy homes. Prices are steadily climbing, while mortgage rates have been low all year. At the same time, rents are rising, making the purchase of a single-family home or condominium more attractive.
"Altogether, the report is encouraging," said Michael Gapen, an economist at Barclays Capital. "Our view is that housing is in a recovery phase," he added, though it will be restrained by limited credit and modest job gains.
A separate report yesterday showed confidence among homebuilders rose this month to its highest level in six and a half years. The increase was driven by strong demand for newly built homes and growing optimism about conditions next year.
The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index increased to 46, up from 41 in October. Readings below 50 suggest negative sentiment about the housing market. The index last reached that level in April 2006. Still, the index has been trending higher since October 2011, when it stood at 17.
The Realtors' group said Superstorm Sandy delayed some sales of previously occupied homes in the Northeast. Sales fell 1.7 percent there, the only region to show a decline. Those sales will likely be completed in future months, the group said.
The median price for previously occupied homes increased 11.1 percent from a year ago to $178,600, the Realtors' said.
A decline in the number of homes available for sale is helping push prices higher. There were only 2.14 million homes available for sale at the end of the month, the lowest supply in 10 years. It would take only 5.4 months to exhaust that supply at the current sales pace. That's the lowest sales-to-inventory ratio since February 2006.
Prices are also benefiting from the mix of homes being sold. Sales of homes priced at $500,000 and above have jumped more than 40 percent in the past year. Sales of homes and condominiums that cost less than $100,000 fell 0.6 percent.
There have been other positive signals from the housing market. Applications for mortgage loans to buy homes jumped 11 percent in the week ended Nov. 9, compared with a week earlier, the Mortgage Bankers' Association said last week. Purchase applications are up 22 percent in the past year.
Foreclosures are slowing. The number of properties that began the foreclosure process in the first 10 months of the year fell 8 percent compared with the same period last year, RealtyTrac said last week.
And builders broke ground on new homes and apartments at the fastest pace in more than four years in September. The jump could help boost the economy and hiring.
Still, the market has a long way back to full health. Many potential home buyers cannot meet stricter lending standards or produce larger down payments required by banks.
That can be a particular problem for first-time homebuyers. They accounted for 31 percent of sales in October, down slightly from September and below the 40 percent that is common in a healthy market.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Thursday that banks' overly tight lending standards may be preventing sales and holding back the US economy.


Jordanian cabinet approves new IMF-guided tax law to boost finances

Updated 21 May 2018
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Jordanian cabinet approves new IMF-guided tax law to boost finances

AMMAN: Jordan’s cabinet on Monday approved major IMF-guided proposals that aim to double the income tax base, as a key part of reforms to boost the finances of a debt-burdened economy hit by regional conflict.
“When only 4 percent of Jordanians pay (personal) income tax, this may not be the right thing,” Finance Minister Omar Malhas said in remarks after the cabinet meeting, adding the goal was to push that to eight percent. The draft legislation was submitted to parliament.
The IMF’s three-year Extended Fund Facility program aims to generate more state revenue to gradually bring down public debt to 77 percent of GDP in 2021, from a record 95 percent.
A few months ago Jordan raised levies on hundreds of food and consumer items by unifying general sales tax (GST) to 16 percent — removing exemptions on many basic goods.
In January subsidies on bread were ended, doubling some prices in a country with rising unemployment and poverty among its eight million people.
The income tax move and the GST reforms will bring an estimated 840 million dinars ($1.2 billion) in extra annual tax revenue that will help reduce chronic budget shortfalls normally covered by foreign aid, officials say.
Corporate income tax on banks, financial institutions and insurance companies will be pushed to 40 percent from 30 percent. Taxes on Jordan’s phosphate and potash mining industry will be raised to 30 percent from 24.
The government argues the reforms will reduce social disparities by progressively taxing high earners while leaving low-paid public sector employees largely untouched.
“This is a fair tax law not an unfair one,” said Malhas, who shrugged off criticism the law is lenient on many businesses connected to politicians whose transactions are not subject to tax scrutiny.
Husam Abu Ali, the head of the Income and Sales Tax Department, said a proposed IMF-recommended Financial Crime Investigations Unit will stiffen penalties for tax evaders. Critics say it will not tackle pervasive corruption in state institutions.
Abu Ali said the government could be losing hundreds of millions of dollars through tax evasion, which is as high as 80 percent in some companies.
The amendments lower the income tax threshold and raise tax rates. Unions said the government was caving in to IMF demands and squeezing more from the same taxpayers.
“It is penalizing a group that has long paid what it owes the state,” the unions syndicate said in a statement.
“It imposes injustice on employees whose salaries have barely coped with price hikes rising madly in recent years.”