The Housing Chronicles Blog

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Look Ahead to 2019: A more balanced housing market, but geopolitical turmoil brews


For most of this year, we saw the steady global expansion underway since mid-2016 continuing, with growth during the 2018-19 period projected to remain at its 2017 levels.

That’s the good news.

However, even with the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) estimate of 3.7 percent growth in 2019, more downside risks to this growth rate have emerged in the past six to eight months, as political turmoil continues to spread to more places around the world.

Here in the U.S, the Federal Reserve is still projecting GDP growth to slow to 2.5 percent in 2019 after 2018’s tax cuts helped boost annual GDP growth to 3.1 percent. Unemployment remains low at 3.7 percent, and, as of October, there were one million more jobs than there were people actively seeking work, which has put upward pressure on wages as the competition for skilled workers heats up.

More recently, however, wild swings in the stock market due to escalating trade tensions with China and slowdowns in other developed countries have dramatically impacted the global appetite for risk, with the State Street Investor Confidence Index declining at the fastest pace in a decade over the last few months.

Still, one positive side effect of this volatility for the housing market has been a recent escape to the safety of long-term bonds, helping to reverse the steady increase in mortgage rates. This, in turn, could help make housing purchases more affordable and give buyers a badly needed break. Indeed, after several years of steady growth for housing sales and prices, 2019 is likely to return to a more balanced market between buyers and sellers, at least temporarily.

Projections by multiple sources including the NAR, Realtor.com and Zillow are envisioning a market with home prices still rising, albeit at a slower rate of growth. As buyers wait to catch their breath, Realtor.com is also suggesting that overall sales levels could slip by about two percent, while the NAR is predicting a small gain of one percent.

However, beyond the short run, these slipping or mostly flat sales levels could also exacerbate the country’s overall housing shortage even more. According to a recent study by Freddie Mac, the annual rate of U.S. construction is about 370,000 units below long-term housing demand, leading to a current pent-up shortfall of over 2.5 million homes. In many popular markets, until construction of new homes is able to increase and stabilize at higher levels, excess demand will continue to put some pressure on home prices and rents.

At the same time, the inventory shortage is not equally divided among housing sectors. In 2018, the NAHB modified their Leading Markets Index (LMI) to measure building permits against historical norms while adjusting for population growth. According to their new methodology, as of the third quarter of 2018, single-family permit activity, adjusted for population growth, was operating at 59 percent of potential capacity. Meanwhile, multi-family permit activity was at 98 percent of capacity. 

Since multi-family construction generally offers more affordable housing options, the City of Minneapolis is taking this idea one step further by rezoning single-family neighborhoods to higher densities. In early December, their City Council approved the Minneapolis 2040 plan, which will allow up to three-family homes in the city’s residential neighborhoods, remove minimum parking requirements for all new construction, and permit high-density buildings along transit corridors.

The idea is to break open restrictive zoning laws in order to provide new opportunities for residents to move for schools or a job, allow aging residents to downsize without leaving their neighborhoods, slow the displacement of lower-income residents in gentrifying areas, and address the lack of affordable housing citywide.

Whether or not this idea will spread to other cities, the timing is opportune. More millennial buyers are moving into their home buying years, and are expected to represent 45 percent of mortgages in 2019, with most looking to buy that first home. Gen X buyers are expected to account for another 37 percent of new mortgages, most likely trading up to the mid- to high-priced tiers, while Baby Boomers looking to relocate or downsize will capture 17 percent.

Finally, another wild card to consider is the impact of the 2018 tax cut on the housing market, with overall sales levels declining soon after it passed. Although most renters will enjoy a higher standard deduction and thus lower taxes, for owners the result is less clear, as some will find lower benefits from fewer personal exemptions and itemized deductions, especially in high-tax states. If nothing else, 2019 will certainly prove to be interesting.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Personal income rose 0.5 percent in October vs. 0.6 percent rise in personal spending

Both personal and disposable income rose 0.5 percent in October, versus a rise of 0.6 percent for personal spending, resulting in the personal savings rate slipping to 6.2 percent.

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October Pending Home Sales Index down 2.6 percent from September and 6.7 percent year-on-year

The Pending Home Sales Index  decreased 2.6 percent to 102.1 in October, down from 104.8 in September. Year-over-year contract signings dropped 6.7 percent, making this the tenth straight month of annual decreases.

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October PCE Price Index up 0.2 percent from September and 2.0 percent year-on-year

The Fed-preferred October PCE price index increased 0.2 percent from September, and 2.0 percent year-on-year. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.1 percent from September and 1.8 percent year-on-year.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Mortgage applications rebound 5.5 percent as fixed rates slip four basis points

The Market Composite Index increased 5.5 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans up 9.0 percent and refinance activity up 1.0 percent. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 5.12 percent from 5.16 percent.

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October new home sales declined 8.9 percent from September and 12.0 percent year-on-year

Sales of new single-family houses in October 2018 fell 8.9 percent from September and 12.0 percent year-on-year to the lowest rate in nearly three years, or an annualized rate of 544,000 units.  Meanwhile, inventory rose to 7.4 months, the highest level in 7.5 years.

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Monday, November 26, 2018

November private sector output index dips to 54.4, but still well in positive territory

The IHS Markit Flash U.S. Composite PMI Output Index registered 54.4 in November, down from
54.9 in October but still well above the 50.0 no-change threshold.

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October Leading Economic Index up slightly, but pace of improvement slower

The US Leading Economic Index (LEI) increased slightly in October, but the pace of improvement slowed for the first time since May. Although the index still points to robust economic growth in early 2019, the rapid pace of growth noted for much of 2018 may already have peaked.

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

October Home Purchase Sentiment Index dipped 2.0 points to 85.7

The Fannie Mae Home Purchase Sentiment Index® (HPSI) decreased in October, falling 2.0 points to 85.7, continuing its recent downward trend. The decline can be attributed to decreases in five of the six components, including those measuring consumers' home buying and selling attitudes.

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October retail sales rebound 0.8 percent from September and 4.6 percent year-on-year

Retail sales rebounded sharply in October, following two months of small declines.  Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for October 2018 were $511.5 billion, an increase of 0.8 percent from the previous month, and 4.6 percent above October 2017.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

October CPI jumped up 0.3 percent, rose 2.5 percent year-on-year

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.3 percent in October, the largest increase in nine months.  Over the last 12 months, the all-items index rose 2.5 percent before seasonal adjustment.

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Mortgage applications fall to lowest level since December 2014 in weekly update

The Market Composite Index decreased 4.0 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier to the lowest level since December 2014, with purchase loans falling 5.0 percent and refinance activity down 3.0 percent. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances increased to 5.15 percent from 5.11 percent.

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Monday, November 12, 2018

CoreLogic: Home price growth slowing, thru September up 5.6 percent year-on-year

According to CoreLogic, national home prices increased 5.6 percent year over year in September 2018, and are forecast to increase 4.7 percent from September 2018 to September 2019. The September HPI gain was the slowest year-over-year gain since January 2017. An analysis of the market by price tiers indicates that lower-priced homes experienced significantly higher gains.

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Producer Price index jumped 0.6 percent in October, up 2.9 percent year-on-year

The Producer Price Index for final demand rose 0.6 percent in October, a sharp increase from September (0.2 percent) and August (0.1 percent).On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index increased 2.9 percent for the 12 months ended in October.

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Saturday, November 10, 2018

2018 in Review: A Stronger Economy vs. a Slowing Housing Market

About this same time a year ago, I wrote about an economy which was gradually building enough strength to spark inflation, thus impacting costs for suitable land, labor and materials.  Following that, the tax cuts enacted at the beginning of 2018 have certainly turbo-charged an already improving economy, resulting in robust consumer confidence, more job openings than candidates to fill them, and the lowest unemployment rate in nearly 50 years.

For the housing market, however, rising interest rates, lack of inventory and high prices have definitely conspired to slow sales for both new and existing homes.

U.S. GDP growth, which averaged 2.3 percent in 2017, surged to 4.2 percent by the second quarter of 2018, slipping to a still-strong advance estimate of 3.5 percent during the third quarter.  Notably, it was increasing consumer spending during the third quarter which made up for a slowdown in business investment. Still, current forecasts are suggesting this rate of growth to fall below 3.0 percent during the final quarter of the year.

Job growth, which rose by 250,000 in October, averaged 212,500 per month through the first ten months of 2017 (up 18.3 percent from the same period of 2017), with much of that growth noted in the fields of construction, manufacturing, health care and professional services.  In addition, October’s official unemployment rate of 3.7 percent is the lowest reported since mid-1969.

Not surprisingly, as of the end of September, the number of unfilled jobs was nearly 18 percent higher than the number of officially unemployed persons, which is the primary reason we’re starting to see more wage inflation of close to 3.0 percent per year.

Speaking of inflation, the Federal Reserve has been keeping it mostly in check so far in 2018 with three rate hikes, and a fourth planned for December.  However, given that the Producer Price Index – which tracks wholesale input prices – jumped by 0.6 percent in October (or three times what was forecast), the odds for that fourth rate hike have certainly increased.

Still, the Consumer Price Index remains fairly tame, rising by 2.3 percent year-on-year through September versus 2.1 percent in 2017.  Moreover, the annual increase in the Fed-preferred PCE Price Index has been trending lower since the summer months, falling to 2.0 percent by September.

Consumer confidence has also helped prop up the economy in 2018, with the University of Michigan’s widely watched sentiment index remaining at its highest year-to-date level since 2000.  Even stock market volatility, inflation and polarized politics have done little to dent consumer confidence, with consumers feeling flush enough to tap their savings or borrow money to fund their purchases.

Nonetheless, a booming economy with rising inflation and home prices often takes an eventual toll on the housing market.  Although builder confidence remained strong at 68 in October, building permits took a breather in September, slipping slightly from both the previous month and the same month of 2017.  September housing starts also dipped moderately from August, but were up 3.7 percent year-on-year.

Yet it was September’s preliminary new home sales which dropped the most, falling 13.2 percent year-on-year to the lowest level in nearly two years as the months of supply jumped to 7.1 months, the highest since March of 2011.  However, since this data is regularly revised, it’s possible that new home sales have merely flattened out in line with building permits.

In its own survey, the Mortgage Bankers Association showed September new home mortgage applications up 8.2 percent year-over-year, and year-to-date sales for 2018 were still up 3.1 percent versus 2017.

For existing homes, a combination of low inventory for starter homes and higher interest rates helped drive down September sales down 4.1 percent year-on-year, for the lowest annual sales rate since November 2015.

Unsold inventory rose slightly to a 4.4-month supply, up from 4.2 months a year ago, while the median sales price rose 4.2 percent, for the 79th straight month of year-on-year gains. Although September pending home sales did rise slightly from August, they were still down 1.0 percent year-on-year, and have fallen on an annual basis for nine consecutive months.

Another indicator of affordability, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index, fell to 56.4 percent in the third quarter of 2018, for the lowest rate since the same quarter of 2008, and down sharply from the last peak of 77.5 in 1Q 2012.  Consequently, in the months ahead, look for more affordable supply and rising wages to counteract higher interest rates in order to keep the housing market humming.