The Housing Chronicles Blog: 2014 Forecast: Positive Signs Indicate Strong Economic Growth

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2014 Forecast: Positive Signs Indicate Strong Economic Growth

Recently, the Bureau of Economic Analysis announced that their third estimate of GDP growth in the third quarter of 2013 – which includes more complete source data than in the first two estimates – leaped to 4.1 percent, which is great news for an economy in which 3.0 percent is considered fairly robust.  Still, much of this increase was due to private companies re-stocking inventories or investing in future production, so GDP growth in the fourth quarter will likely be more constrained.

Looking forward to 2014, however, the U.S. economy seems poised to grow at the fastest rate since the dawn of “The Great Recession,” with GDP growth averaging 3.0 percent versus the plodding 2.0 percent rate with which we’ve been saddled over the past 4.5 years.  In turn, this projected rate of growth could push up monthly job growth to 250,000 versus 190,000 over the past years.

Should that occur, then the country would actually regain all of the jobs lost by the end of 2014, thereby pushing the unemployment rate closer to 6.0 percent or even 5.5 percent.  For those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, the rate is now down below 4 percent, which has helped to improve household incomes for the first time since 2007.  Employment gains are also starting to trickle down to lesser-skilled jobs, with the unemployment rate for workers without a high school degree falling two percentage points over the last year.

Even problems outside the U.S. seem to be getting slowly fixed, with most European economies improving and positive GDP growth for the European Union.  In addition, better growth in China and Japan should help bolster U.S. exports, especially since a dollar which is 25 percent cheaper than a decade ago makes our products even more globally competitive.

Still, for the housing market there remain a host of mixed signals.  One reason for the still-subdued pace of homebuilding is due to continued regulatory uncertainty in the banking sector due to the Dodd-Frank Act being incomplete, thus leaving many lenders in limbo and less willing to lend versus previous economic recoveries.

On January 10th, new mortgage rules set forth by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will certainly impact the ability of some potential homeowners to obtain the type of ‘qualified mortgages’ (no longer than 30 years, fees and points no more than 3 percent of the loan amount, no negative amortization or interest-only programs) eligible for purchase by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. 

While the actual impact on lending is difficult to predict, the Mortgage Bankers Association has reported that many loan programs which allow for more than a 95 loan-to-value ratio and low- to mid-range FICO scores have either been discontinued or had the requirements adjusted accordingly. The data company Corelogic has also estimated that up to 12.8 percent of new mortgages made in 2012 would not meet the new “qualified mortgage” standard.

Particularly vulnerable are young people hoping to afford their mortgages by betting on future raises, since it will soon be harder to obtain an adjustable-rate loan because the new rules require lenders to estimate how high the rate and payment may rise over the life of loan instead of simply underwriting on the teaser rate alone.

Still, if the last few years have been the domain of the housing investor, next year is likely to be the year of the repeat home buyer, fueled in large part by existing owners who have finally regained enough equity to consider moving up to larger quarters.  Nonetheless, the combination of more supply listed for sale, higher mortgage rates and fewer investors in the marketplace will likely mean a more subdued rate of price appreciation (i.e., close to five percent in 2014 versus over 10 percent in 2013).

According to NAR Economist Lawrence Yun, higher mortgage rates – which could approach 5.5 percent by the end of the year -- will cause refinancings to decline sharply in 2014, forcing banks to increase their originations to make up for the shortfall.   NAR is projecting existing home sales to closely mimic the 5.12 million estimated for 2013, while limited inventory will continue to push up prices.

For new homes, the NAHB is projecting a 30 percent rise over 2013 levels to over 840,000 single-family starts, with a lesser increase of about six percent in multi-family starts to nearly 320,000 units.  Finally, the remodeling industry will also continue to grow in 2014, albeit much more slowly than for new construction, projected at 1.7 percent versus 2.4 percent in 2013.

In other words, Happy New Year!

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