10/25/2021 Housing and Economic Update from Matthew Gardner

This video is the latest in our Monday with Matthew series with Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner. Each month, he analyzes the most up-to-date U.S. housing data to keep you well-informed about what’s going on in the real estate market.  

 


 

Hello there!  I’m Windermere Real Estate’s Chief Economist, Matthew Gardner, and welcome to the latest episode of Mondays with Matthew.

 

A few weeks ago, one of my viewers on You Tube sent me a note asking when I was expecting mortgage rates to start to rise and, if I believed that they were going to go up, how fast will they rise, and what impacts will higher rates have on home prices.

Well, I would like to thank this particular viewer for the question, and it’s going to be the topic of today’s video.

How Mortgage Rates Are Set

But before we start looking at the future of mortgage rates, I was speaking to some of our interns here at the office a while ago and one of them asked me to explain how mortgage rates are set and – because this is somewhat pertinent to today’s topic – I thought that I’d take just a minute or two to explain to you how this all works.

Of course, there are a lot of factors that impact the rate that a home buyer themselves will get, and they include credit quality, loan-to-value ratios and the like, but the base rate is set not by looking at a home buyer, but at the economy itself and, specifically, the bond market – and even more specifically, the interest rate of 10-year US treasuries.

Now, if you’re asking yourself why 30-year mortgages are based off 10-year bonds and not 30-year?  Well, that would be a good question, and this is the answer. You see we move, on average, every 10 years and that’s why!

 

 

Here is a chart showing the average yield – or interest rate – on 10-year treasury bills by month going back to 2010 in light blue, and the average 30-year mortgage rate in dark blue. I hope that you can see the tight relationship they have to each other.

Of course, there are times when bond yields can go down and mortgage rates rise, and vice-versa but, in general, they track each other pretty closely.

And if you’re wondering why the rates aren’t simply the same, well it’s because a treasury bond has no risk – as its backed by the US government – but there is some risk associated with a mortgage, so buyers of mortgage bonds expect a premium to be added because of this risk, and this has averaged just over 1.5% since the 30-year mortgage came into being back in the early ‘70’s.

Now, there are some people out there who think that the interest rate on 10-year treasuries doesn’t set mortgage rates, rather its better to track the interest paid on mortgage bonds and, although I do see why they might think  this, the base mortgage rate is actually set by treasury yields and the interest on mortgage bonds is set using that base and adjusting it to manage the prevailing risk tolerance that investors are prepared to accept so I believe that watching movements in the interest paid on 10-year treasuries is the right way to go.

And that, in essence, is how the 30-year mortgage rate is set.

The History of Mortgage Rates

If you are a regular viewer of these videos you will now that I like to start off with some context to the subject I am addressing and this chart will show the average rate for conforming 30-year fixed rate mortgages going back to their genesis in the early 1970’s.

 

Slide is titled Mortgage Rates over 4 Decades and the information is sourced from Freddie Mac Average Rate for 30-year fixed mortgages. Area graph shows a timeline from 1970 to 2021 on x-axis and percentage rates on the y-axis from 0% to 20% at the top. The colors of the graph splits these dates into decades. Overall the graph peaks in the early 1980 above 18% and slowly trends downward until 2020 where rates are the lowest ever.

 

Back in ‘71 rates were in the mid-7% range, rising to just under 10% in ‘74, before pulling back but, as you can clearly see, they started to spiral upward in ’77, ending the decade at almost 13% and if you’re wondering what led to this massive jump, well this was because the country had entered a period of high inflation.

In the ‘70s the country was pushed into a recession basically due to an oil embargo that led to the price of oil quadrupling and that led to a period of so-called stagflation which is when inflation rises, and economic activity slows.

And in the early ‘80’s we entered a period of so-called hyperinflation, as another oil embargo was took hold and the Fed was forced to step in and raised short-term rates which led rates along the yield curve to rise and this – of course – included 10-year treasuries which hit 15.3% in the fall of 1981 and that, as we have discussed, caused mortgage rates to hit an all-time high in October of 1981 at close to 18.5%. Rates then started to pull back and

In the 90’s, rates started to trend lower but jumped again in ’94 as the Fed tightened monetary policy given the significant growth that the country was seeing, but they started to pull back in the second half of the decade, falling to the mid-6’s before notching higher in ’99.

In the 2000’s, rates dropped to 5.3% in 2003 as the housing market boomed but, as we all know, it wasn’t all unicorns & rainbows in this decade of what was then – historically low rates.

The housing crash led the Fed to jump in by cutting interest rates, but they also started a massive purchase of mortgage bonds at very low interest rates as they were happy to take a low return as long as it stabilized the housing market. As a result of their efforts, mortgage rates fell almost a full percentage point, averaging just a hair above 5 % in 2009.

Riding the wave of low bank borrowing costs, mortgage rates entered the new decade around 4.7% and continued to fall steadily, dropping to the mid-3’s by 2012. But in 2013 you can see that rates headed higher. Why? Well, a big part of this has to do with some panic in the bond market, but we will get to that shortly.

Anyway, rates went up in 2014 before dropping to 3.85% in 2015 as the market calmed down.

They rose again after the 2016 presidential election, reaching their peak at the end of 2018 and start of 2019, but still ending the decade below 4%.

As for the current decade, well, it’s all been about COVID-19.

 

Slide is titled Weekly 30-year mortgage rates and the information is sources from Freddie Mac. Along the x-axis is dates from January 2020 to October 2021, and the y axis has percentages from 2% at the bottom and 4% at the top. 2 spots are highlighted, the first is in March 2020, a spike in mortgage rates at the beginning of the pandemic chaos. The other spike was in March 2021, due to a variety of factors explained in the main text and video.

 

To understand what’s happened over the past couple of years, we need to look at the weekly average rate and I am sure that you have noticed the first spike in the graph.

And it was totally due to the Coronavirus which created an unprecedented situation for all rates (not just mortgages, but US Treasuries and everything else).

You see, investors were panicking during the early stages of the pandemic, not just because the country – essentially – shut down for a brief period, but there were rumors about a thing called forbearance, and investors were panicking that they would not get paid for the mortgage bonds they held, and they did what we all do when we get worried about the economy and, specifically, our investments. They get out of their investment positions and into cash and that’s absolutely what they did, but I should add that I am not talking about them stashing dollars under the mattress.  No, they moved into cash positions in financial markets, which are the most liquid, nimble place an investor in the US can be.

And with a lot of institutions and individuals getting out of bonds and not many buyers out there, what happened to rates? That’s right, they rose to attract buyers and rise they did. So much so, in fact, that on a single day in March of 2020, mortgage bonds prices changed 5 times! Quite unprecedented.

Anyway, the Fed reverted to their old playbook and went on a massive bond buying spree with the biggest ever purchase of mortgage-backed securities on Thursday March 19 but, quite remarkably, they announced the very next day that they were going to buy even more.  How much more, you ask… Well, they decided to buy three times more than the record purchase they made just the day before!

And because of this, rates dropped dramatically and continued to pretty much head lower for the rest of the year and into early 2021.

But then the music stopped, as you can see in the second highlighted spike in the above graph.

You see, a special election was being held in Georgia and the bond market decided to take a conservative stance prior to the election and that led rates higher again. But the election wasn’t the only reason why rates rose.

You see, COVID 19 cases that were dropping, improved vaccine distribution appeared to be in place, there were several stronger than expected economic reports released, and progress on a fiscal stimulus package.  All of these factors led rates higher because, as you know, when economic news is positive, that is actually bad for bond yields as people move back into equities and out of bonds which is obviously bad for mortgage rates as bonds need to offer a higher interest rate to attract the few buyers that were out there.

Mortgage Rate Forecast

So that’s where we are today, but what of the future?

 

Slide titled “10-year bond forecast” sourced from Federal Reserve History & Windermere Economics Forecasts Quarterly Average. Bar chart shows the past 10-year US treasure Yield History quarterly from Q1 2020 to Q3 2021. These bars show a valley at the end of 2020 and trend upward in early 2021. The next set of bars show Windermere Economic’s forecast for the next 5 quarters, showing a steady increase each quarter until a high at 2% in Q4 2021.

 

Here is my forecast for 10-Year treasuries through the end of next year and you will see that I am looking for rates to rise gradually as we move into next year and this will lead mortgage rates to start notching higher as well.

 

Slide titled “Average 30-year rate history and forecast” sourced from Freddie Mac history & Windermere Economic Forecasts. Bar chart shows the history of the average 30-year mortgage rate from Q1 2020 to Q3 2021, which show a quick decrease from Q1 2020 to Q4 2020, and a steady plateau in 2021. Windermere Economics forecasts a steady increase starting Q4 2021 until Q4 2022, ending at 3.81%.

 

And here is my forecast for mortgage rates. Although they should move higher, I am still not seeing rates break above 4% until 2023 at the earliest and – even as they start to increase – I really don’t see it as a major deterrent to home buyers.

But before you start to say that this is only one person’s forecast and it could be wrong, lets look at my forecast compared to some of my industry colleagues.

 

Slide titled “ and Industry Colleagues Mostly Agree.” Bar chart shows the forecasts of Fannie Mae, National Association of Realtors, Wells Fargo, Freddie Mac, and Mortgage Brokers Association compared to Windermere Economic’s forecast.

 

As you can see, we are all in a pretty tight range when it comes to forecasting the average rate this year and next.

The bottom line is that although rates will rise, they will remain very competitive when compared to historic averages and the upward trend in rates is unlikely to have any significant impact on prices. That said, many markets are already having an affordability crisis and rising rates will certainly act as an additional headwind to price growth; however, it would take a significantly greater increase in rates to negatively impact prices.

Well, I hope that you have found this month’s discussion to be interesting. As always if you have any questions or comments about this topic, please do reach out to me but, in the meantime, stay safe out there and I look forward the visiting with you all again, next month.

Bye now!

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Matthew Gardner: What You Should Know About Today’s Real Estate Market

Understanding the housing market is a matter of analyzing its many data sets. In a recent piece for Inman News, Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner offered his perspective on recent U.S. pending sales, new-home sales, and existing-home sales figures.

If you’re involved in the housing market, and I assume that most of you are, you know very well that this is a numbers business. All of us are surrounded by housing-related data day in and day out, and it can become a little overwhelming at times — even for an economist like myself.

Well, today I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about just a couple of the datasets that I think are particularly important to track and offer you my perspectives on them.

 

Housing

There’s no doubt that the ownership housing market really was a beacon of light as we moved through the pandemic period. Even though the market paused last spring as COVID-19 hit the nation, it snapped back remarkably quickly, unlike many other parts of the U.S. economy that are still suffering today.

This is important, as housing is a significant contributor to the broader economy. For example, last year, spending on the construction of new homes, residential remodeling and real estate brokers fees amounted to around $885 billion or 4.2 percent of gross domestic product.

But the real number is far greater than that when you add in all spending on all household services. The total amount of money spent on housing in aggregate was around $3.7 trillion or 17.5 percent of the country’s economy.

So, we know that the housing market is a very important part of our economy, but can that number continue to grow? Let’s take a look.

 

Inventory

The chart below shows the number of single-family homes for sale going back to 1983. As you can clearly see, there’s never been a time — at least since records were kept at the national level — where they were fewer homes for sale at any one time.

And this is a problem because the biggest issue the market faces today is that demand for homes is far exceeding supply.

A report I track very carefully — and I am sure that many of you do, too — is the National Association of Realtors pending home sales index, which is shown below.

Although it’s not a perfect indicator, as the survey only covers about 20 percent of all homes that go pending, it does give us a pretty good idea as to what the future may hold given that, all things being equal, about 80 percent of pending homes close within roughly two months, making it a leading indicator.

Line graph titled “Pending Home Sales Index” that shows the 12-month percentage change, seasonally adjusted. Along the x axis are months from January 2019 to March 2021. On the y axis is percentages from -40% to +30% with a line through the graph marking 0%. The line shows a significant decreased in April 2020 from 10% in February 2020 to -35% in April 2020, then a quick recover peaking around 25% in August 2020. Source NAR.

You can clearly see the massive pull back last spring because of the pandemic, but this was very quickly followed by a very significant surge.

It pulled back again last winter, but I would suggest that this was more a function of lack of homes for sale than anything else. However, look at the March spike.

Now, you might be thinking that this is a great number, but I would caution all of you not to pay too much attention to year-over-year changes, as they can be deceiving. You see, the index jumped because it was being compared with last March when the pandemic really started.

 

Closed sales

When we look at closed sales activity, it actually lines up pretty well with the pending home sales index, which fell in January and February. This is reflected in the contraction in closed sales that we saw this spring. And if the index is accurate, it suggests we may see closed sales activity pick up again over the next couple of months.

Line graph titled “Existing Home Sales” in millions seasonally adjusted. Along the x axis is months from January 2021 and April 2021. On the Y axis is numbers between 3.0 and 7.0, increasing by half points. The line shows a sharp decrease in April 2020 and a quick recover with a peak at 6.7 in October 2020. Source is NAR.

Of course, any time where housing demand exceeds supply, there is a solution — and that would be to build more homes.

But as you can see here, though more homes started to be built as we emerged from the financial crisis, the number today is essentially the same as it was two decades ago and has been declining for the past two years.

Two line graphs next to each other, the slide is titled “New Homes for Sale” on the left is Single Family New Homes for Sale in the US in thousands, seasonally adjusted. Along the x axis is years from 2000 to 2020 and on the y axis is numbers from 0 to 700 in increments of 100. This graph shows a peak between 2006 and 2008 just under 600, with a sharp decline after that, the lowest point in 2021. With some recover, the line peaks again in 2020 just above 300. On the right is New Homes for Sale by Stage of Construction. The light blue line is not-started, the green line is completed, and the navy blue line is under construction. Not-started is consistently the lowest number between 2000 and 2018, but in 2019 it rises above the green line. The navy blue line is consistently on the top of the graph, which a small dip that goes below the green line in 2009. Source: Census Bureau.

That’s significant, as the country has added over 12 million new households during the same period which has further fueled demand for housing. If there are no new homes to buy, well, that does one thing — and that’s to put more focus on the resale market, which has already led to very significant price increases.

 

New home market

But this particular report also offers some additional data sets, which I think give more clarity to the state of the new home market.

Before the housing market crashed, you can see that a majority of new homes that were on the market for sale were being built at that time, but — as the housing bubble was bursting — the market dropped, and the share of homes that were finished and for sale naturally rose.

But what I want you to look at is the far right of the chart above. You see the spike in the share of homes for sale that have not yet been started?

Well, given the massive increase in construction costs builders have, understandably, become far more cautious and are trying to sell more homes before they start to build them to mitigate some of the risk. It also tells me that they see demand that is not being met by the existing-home market and are looking to take it advantage of this.

When we look at new home sales, you can see that the trend, in essence, follows the number of homes for sale, but I would caution you on a couple of things.

Two graphs side by side, the slide is titled “New Home Sales” on the left is a line graph of us single family new home sales in thousands. On the x axis is dates from 2006 to 2020 and on the y axis is numbers from 0 to 1,600 in increments of 200. The line shows the peak in 2006 at 1,400 with a sharp decline afterwards until it bottoms out in 2010 at around 200. From there there’s a slow recover, with a peak in 2021 at around 1,000. On the right is a clustered column graph titled New Homes Sold by Stage of Construction. The green bars represent not started, the light blue columns represent under construction, and orange shows the completed projects. On the x axis is months from January 2020 to April 2021 and on the y axis I percentages from 20% to 45% in 5% increments. From Jan 2020 to July 2020 the orange bars representing completed are the highest bars, but from August 2020 to March 2021, the blue bars are the highest showing that homes under construction were the most common new homes purchased. Source: Census Bureau.

Firstly, these figures do not represent closed sales, as the Census Bureau, which prepares this dataset, considers a home sold once it has gone under contract. This makes sense, as a home can be sold before it has even broken ground. In essence, it’s more similar to NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index than anything else.

Look now at sales by stage of construction on the right. You can see that, as the pandemic was getting started, new homes that were ready to move into were what buyers wanted, and that accounted for over 42 percent of total new sales in April.

As the supply of finished homes dropped, homes that were being built took the lion’s share of sales — as they have done historically. However, look at April. The greatest share of sales — 37.7 percent — were homes that hadn’t yet been started.

Again, this supports the theory that builders remain cautious given ever-escalating costs, but it also shows that buyers’ needs are not being met by the resale market, so they were willing to wait, likely a considerable time, for their new home to be built.

Of course, the couple of datasets I’ve shared with you today are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the housing-related numbers you should all be tracking, as they can tell a story that can impact everyone involved in the development or sale of homes.

Mortgage rates

In addition to the data we have discussed today, you should be well versed in mortgage rate trends, demographic shifts, building permit activity and the economy in general — and you need to understand all these numbers at a local as well as national level.

For the vast majority of households, buying a home will be the most expensive thing that they will ever purchase in their lives. And given memories of the housing crash, as well as the significant increase in home prices that we’ve seen since last summer, it’s now more important than ever for you to be able to share your knowledge with your clients and be able to advise them accordingly.

 

Windermere’s Chief Economist, Matthew Gardner, often contributes to local and national publications with his insights to the housing market. Recently he offered his analysis of home sales numbers to Inman News, this is a repost of that video and article

For more market news and updates from Matthew Gardner,

visit our Market Update page.

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