Property-designer confidence highest in four weeks


The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo housing-market index reached 58 this month — matching an eight-year high hit in August — up from 54 in November. Economists polled by MarketWatchhad expected a December level of 56. Results above 50 signal that builders, generally, are optimistic about sales trends.

“In short, the report suggests that the recovery in home sales is getting back on track,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.

Part of December’s improvement is a rebound from the government shutdown that hit housing, said David Crowe, NAHB’s chief economist.

“We continue to look for a gradual improvement in the housing recovery in the year ahead,” Crowe said.

NAHB’s overall builder-confidence gauge increased 23% over the past year, supported by pent-up demand, even as mortgage rates trended higher. In fact, the gauge rose so much that it’s at higher levels than those typically associated with current construction rates.

Looking at the components of builder confidence, the gauge of present sales of single-family homes rose to 64 in December — the highest since 2005 — from 58 in November. Meanwhile, the gauge of single-family-home sales over the next six months rose to 62 from 60. And a barometer of prospective-buyer traffic picked up to 44 from 41.

Banks, which have seen plunging applications to refinance, are looking to loan more to home buyers. And although mortgage rates are rising, they remain relatively low by historical standards. Plus, there could be more opportunity to buy if builders, encouraged by rising prices, speed up production, and more homeowners become able and willing to place their homes on the market.

Still, the housing-finance system is in somewhat of a state of flux with new mortgage rules, and plans to lower limits for government-backed mortgages. Plus, U.S. lawmakers working on housing-finance reform, adding one more element of uncertainty.

Inquirer Editorial: Thin themes at Neshaminy

Ever since the editors of Neshaminy High’s student newspaper decided not to use the word Redskins - the nickname their teams share with Washington’s NFL franchise - there has been a lot of loose talk about free speech.

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Robert McGee, the principal of the Bucks County school and an opponent of the paper’s new policy, wondered, “How can one group of students limit what another group of students write? It becomes First Amendment vs. Related businesses:

As we all should have learned in high school civics, though, the First Amendment protects expression from government infringement. When government officials, such as the principal of a public school, decide what may be published, it’s censorship. When editors do, it’s just, well, editing.

A majority of the editorial board of Neshaminy’s Playwickian decided the team name is derogatory toward American Indians, explaining in an editorial, “If racist institutions had remained in other areas of society simply because they were time-honored traditions, America would be a vastly different place.” The paper also carried a dissenting editorial by the minority of editors who don’t mind the term.

Many words never or rarely appear in this and other newspapers because their editors have deemed them offensive. In fact, the term Redskins has been banished from several publications. These are the sorts of decisions editors make, and the Playwickian’s editors made theirs with precocious skill and evenhandedness.

Unfortunately, their principal responded by asking them to reverse the ban, calling a meeting with their parents, and requiring the publication of an advertisement using the name. That ad was eventually dropped, but several student-press advocacy groups placed their own ad citing a school code provision that protects student expression.

Putting aside the students’ good point about the Redskins name, the courts have recognized their right to make it. The U.S. Supreme Court has famously ruled that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The state’s Public School Code offers further protection, stating that student newspaper editors “are as free as editors of other newspapers to report the news and to editorialize.” While the code and case law make exceptions when student expression undermines education, that hasn’t happened here.

Quite the opposite: Free engagement in journalism is educational. Granted, since the term at issue is still in dispute, the editors could amend their policy - for example, by allowing outside contributors to use it. But as a matter of law and learning, that and other editorial decisions should be up to the student editors.