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Consumer Confidential: Mortgage rates, slower mail, Netflix

September 15, 2011 | 10:01 am

Homepic Here's your three-coins-in-the-fountain Thursday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--There's a fire sale on mortgages. Fixed mortgage rates fell to the lowest level in six decades for the second straight week. But few Americans can take advantage of the historically low rates. Freddie Mac says the average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage fell to 4.09% this week, down from 4.12%. That's the lowest rate seen since 1951. The average rate on the 15-year mortgage, a popular refinancing option, fell to 3.30% from 3.33%. Economists say it is likely the lowest rate on the 15-year ever. Still, cheap mortgage rates haven't helped home sales. Sales of new homes are on pace for the worst year on records dating back a half-century. The pace of resales is shaping up to be the worst in 14 years. Many Americans are in no position to buy or refinance. High unemployment, scant wage gains and large debt loads have kept them away.

-- The U.S. Postal Service is cooking up new ways to save a buck, and they won't get the mail to your home any faster. The agency says it may close more than half of its 487 mail processing facilities, eliminate 35,000 positions and slow mail delivery service in an effort to return to profitability. To process mail with fewer facilities, first-class delivery would slow to two to three days, so that mail would no longer necessarily arrive the day after being mailed. The Postal Service would lose some 35,000 mail-processing jobs out of a total 151,000 positions currently. It hopes to avoid layoffs and rely on retirements. The plan comes on top of additional plans, such as delivering mail only five days a week instead of six. Congress must write laws for the Postal Service to cut back on deliveries.

-- Netflix is bleeding ... subscribers, that is. The company, which split its streaming and DVD-by-mail services two months ago, now expects a total of 24 million subscribers in the third quarter, down from the 25 million it forecast in July. It expects 21.8 million people to subscribe to its streaming service, either with or without also getting DVDs in the mail. That's down from an expected 22 million it forecast earlier. And Netflix expects 14.2 million people to subscribe to the mail-order DVD rental service, with or without streaming. That's down from its July forecast of 15 million. The plan split, which went into effect Sept. 1 for existing subscribers, means people who want both mailed DVDs and streamed Internet videos are paying more. Turns out people don't like that sort of thing.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: Mortgage rates are at 60-year lows -- not that that's boosting home sales. Credit: Joshua Lott/Reuters