In Housing Market Upswing, Banks Win First and Biggest

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Buyers are creeping back into the U.S housing market, which is having a ripple effect on the U.S. economy -- and a highly positive effect on banks and mortgage lenders.

While December wasn't exactly a bullish month for housing, the overall market is trending upward, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

"Sales of new single-family houses in December 2012 were 369,000 at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, down 7.3% from November's revised rate, but up 8.8% from December 2011," the Commerce Department says. "For 2012 overall, new home sales increased 19.9% from 2011."

That should benefit homeowners, who are seeing their home values rise modestly. It also benefits the economy, as homeowners historically spend more when their home values climb.

Yet perhaps the biggest beneficiary of housing market growth are banks, who could see double-digit growth in mortgage lending in 2013, according to Turner Investments, a Berwyn, Pa.-based financial services firm.

The firm's analytical arm has released a report called How the Housing Recovery Is Helping Banks and Title Insurers. In it, researchers say any potential housing boom is tied tightly to the mortgage market.

"Just as you can't talk about the original movie version of King Kong without mentioning Fay Wray, it's hard to talk about the state of mortgage lending without referring to the health of the housing market," the report says. Turner points to an uptick in new homes and home-building activity, which is at its highest level since 2008; residential home building permits rising to 899,000 in November; and home builder sentiment hitting its highest levels since 2006 after eight consecutive months of growth.

Some other data from Turner:
  • New home sales should rise from 375,000 last year to 485,000 this year and to 640,000 in 2014.
  • Residential real estate investment will make up 3.5% of all U.S. gross domestic product by 2015 -- up from 2.2% in 2011.
  • New households -- Turner calls them "housing formations" -- should reach 1.3 million in 2013, up from 500,000 in the midst of the Great Recession. The firm says a slowly stabilizing employment market has led more Americans, especially younger ones, to take the leap to homeownership.

"We've been patiently looking forward to the housing industry recovering since its bubble burst in 2007-08," Turner says in its report. "Now it seems our patience may be finally paying off."

"As fundamentals in the housing industry perk up, we think banks that are adept at mortgage loans and mortgage refinancings like Wells Fargo ( WFC), First Republic Bank ( FRC), EverBank Financial ( EVER) and Texas Capital Bancshares ( TCBI), as well as companies like Fidelity National Financial ( FNF) that specialize in title insurance, should benefit."

For consumers, that means it should be easier to get a mortgage, as banks will find it tough to continue an industrywide policy of restrictive mortgage lending standards.

"Over the past three years banks haven't drastically changed their mortgage-lending standards," Turner says. "We think that's understandable; after all, indiscriminate lending was part of what caused the subprime mortgage collapse that sunk the banks and the economy in 2008."

"But the banks won't be able to ignore, and aren't ignoring, rising demand for mortgages for long. In a recent Federal Reserve survey of senior loan officers, the number of banks reporting increasing mortgage-loan demand was characterized as 'significant.'"

In addition, since 86% of all U.S. mortgages have an interest rate of 4.5% or more, the refinancing market should also step up significantly, as the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate stands at 3.53% this week, according to the BankingMyWay Weekly Mortgage Rate Tracker.

So it turns out that what is goods news for banks, in this case, should mean good news for consumers too.

More from Personal Finance

Video: Stop Using Student Loan Money to Buy Bitcoin

Video: Stop Using Student Loan Money to Buy Bitcoin

The Stock Market Isn't Rigged, Just Look At The Odds (VIDEO)

The Stock Market Isn't Rigged, Just Look At The Odds (VIDEO)

Are Starter Homes Still Worth It?

Are Starter Homes Still Worth It?

How to Wire Money Safely, Affordably and Quickly

How to Wire Money Safely, Affordably and Quickly

Should You Take a Mini-Retirement?

Should You Take a Mini-Retirement?