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Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

December was a rough month for housing, writes the Wall Street Journal's Justin Lahart, referring to the 6.4% drop in existing home sales. Lahart says a January bounce may not happen.

One big quote: "While a bounce can’t be ruled out, the housing recovery’s best days probably are behind it," he writes.

The big picture: "The drop in home sales came despite a decline in mortgage rates."

  • Part of the problem was that the things that brought about the decline in rates — worries over the economy and tumbling stock prices — likely made would-be buyers nervous. And because it takes time to close on a house, the sales drop also probably reflected the higher rates in previous months.

The state of play: The shutdown is also likely to make things worse in coming months.

  • "There are about 800,000 federal employees who are either furloughed or working without pay as a result of the government shutdown. Buying a home can’t be top of mind for many of them."

On the other hand: Bank of America economist Michelle Meyer disagrees, writing in a note on Tuesday: "Don’t believe the narratives of a housing collapse."

  • Meyer argues that the challenges facing the housing sector “should only be a slight drag on growth” and notes, “the recent decline in mortgage rates is well timed, ahead of the spring selling season.”
  • "Sentiment among U.S. homebuilders rose last week for the first time in three months amid a decline in borrowing costs, even as home sales have slumped."
  • "We suspect that potential homebuyers who may have been scared from the market during the period of rising rates in the fall could see it as an opportunity to jump back in."

Go deeper: Home improvement retailers play down sluggish housing market

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

NYC firefighters union urges members to defy mayor's vaccine mandate

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The president of New York City's firefighters union told reporters Wednesday that he's advised unvaccinated members to ignore Mayor Bill de Blasio's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers, per Reuters.

Why it matters: Under de Blasio's order that's due to take effect Friday, unvaccinated city employees would be placed on unpaid leave. But Uniformed Firefighters Association head Andrew Ansbro said he told members that "if they choose to remain unvaccinated, they must still report for duty," according to Reuters.

4 hours ago - Health

Study: Common antidepressant guards against COVID hospitalization

A COVID-19 intensive Care Unit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil on May 27, 2021. Photo: Fabio Teixeira/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The readily available antidepressant fluvoxamine significantly reduced COVID-related hospitalizations, according to a large study published Wednesday.

Why it matters: The clinical trial suggests that a cheap, readily available drug could dramatically reduce serious illness and death when prescribed early.

By the numbers: Catholics, Biden and abortion

Expand chart
Reproduced from Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals

President Biden — the second Catholic U.S. president — will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday, as some church leaders debate whether to deny Holy Communion to politicians who support abortion rights.

By the numbers: Overall, two in three U.S. Catholics believe Biden should be allowed to take Communion despite his stance on abortion, according to polling by Pew Research Center.