Will Falling Rates Mean Lower Home Prices?
Jay Bacow: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jay Bacow, Co-Head of Securitized Products Research at Morgan Stanley.
Jim Egan: And I'm Jim Egan, the other Co-Head of Securitized Products Research.
Jay Bacow: And on this episode of the podcast we'll be discussing what the recent rally in mortgage rates means to the mortgage and housing Markets. It's Thursday, December 21st at 11 a.m. in New York.
Jim Egan: Now, Jay, the last time that we were on this podcast, we talked about what an 8% mortgage rate can mean to the homeowner. Now, mortgage rates have come down. They're getting quoted with a 6% handle. What happened? And where do we see mortgage rates going from here?
Jay Bacow: The combination of data and Fed speak made the markets expect a lot more cuts from the Fed in 2024. Markets are pricing in close to 150 basis points of cuts, and that's caused a pretty large rally in rates. Primary mortgage rates to the homeowner are generally based off of secondary mortgage rate execution in the market, along with treasury rates. And you've seen a little over a hundred basis point rally in Treasury rates and a little over 150 basis point rally and secondary market execution.
Jim Egan: Okay, So mortgage rates are down 150 basis points.
Jay Bacow: Not quite. Lenders don't really drop the primary rate as fast as a secondary rate goes down because they're not going to be able to deal with the added volume of inquiries until they add staffing. So we don't think primary rates are going to come down quite as much as secondary market rates have come down right now. But if rates stay here for some time, then we'd expect mortgage rates to settle in, in the context of about 6.5% or so.
Jim Egan: Basically, what you're saying is when originators can hire enough officers to deal with the refinance and purchase inquiries, then they'll drop rates, effectively, don't cut profits if you can't make it up in volume.
Jay Bacow: Exactly right. Now, what we would point out is there's only about 5% of the market that has a mortgage rate above 6.5%. So we wouldn't really expect a huge wave of refi activity. But what we would expect is that as market is pricing in more cuts, is that investors are going to feel more comfortable buying mortgages. For instance, right now the yields on mortgages that investors earn is similar to the yield that they can earn with Fed funds. However, the market is expecting that 150 basis point move lower in Fed funds next year, but they're not really expecting the back end of the yield curve to move that much. And so we think that investors like domestic banks, will be looking to move their cash out of the Fed's interest on reserves and into securities, and the probability of that happening is higher now than it was before all these cuts got priced in. But that's sort of investor behavior. What does this rally mean for the housing market writ large, in particular I guess I'm thinking like housing activity. You know, you put out a forecast a month ago. Do we think it's going to pick up now given the rally?
Jim Egan: So when we published our year ahead forecast, we were expecting affordability to improve and to improve in line with the decreases in mortgage rates that you were discussing a little bit earlier in this podcast. But if interest rates were to stay here, that improvement would obviously be occurring far more quickly than we had originally anticipated.
Jay Bacow: Now, I guess I would think that more affordable housing would equal a higher volume of home sales. But we moved up to that almost 8% mortgage rate so fast and then we've rallied so quickly, and a lot of this happened during this slower seasonal period. So what are you thinking about the implication for home sales in general?
Jim Egan: As you're pointing out, it's not really that straightforward here. The affordability improvement that we were expecting to see over the entire course of 2024 is something that we've only seen seven or eight other times in the course of the past 40 years. In most of those instances, sales volumes actually fell during that first year of affordability improvement, and that is before they climbed significantly in the 12 to 24 months after, that affordability improved. When you combine that historical experience with the fact that, look, despite this improvement in affordability, it's still very stretched and inventories, for sale inventories, are still very low. Jay, As you just mentioned, 95% of mortgaged homeowners have a rate below 6.5%. We just don't think that that spells material increases in home sales from here.
Jay Bacow: Okay. But there's a lot of room between no change and material increase, so what are you forecasting?
Jim Egan: Despite the comments that I just made, an additional factor that we do need to consider is honestly, how much further can sales volumes really fall from here? There is some non-economic level of transaction volumes that has to occur. Think about people that need to move for jobs, in situations like that, and we think we're roughly there. Through the first three quarters of 2023, total sales volumes are at their lowest levels since 2011. But this is a much larger housing market than 2011. When we look at sales as a percentage of the total owned stock of housing, we're at the lows from the great financial crisis. That isn't to say that sales can't fall from these levels, but we think it's much more likely that they climb, especially considering this rate move and the affordability improvement that comes along with it. Our original forecast was for existing home sales to climb 2.5% in 2024 and for new home sales to climb 7.5%. If this affordability improvement were to really solidify here, we would expect sales volumes to be stronger than those forecasts.
Jay Bacow: All right. More activity means more supply and I learned in Economics 101 that more supply generally means lower prices. But housing is more affordable, and I guess that means more demand. I learned in Jim Egan housing 101 that you have a four pillar framework. So how do you balance these four pillars and what does this mean for home prices next year?
Jim Egan: For our listeners, our four pillar framework for the U.S. housing market is one, the demand for shelter. So we're looking at household formations as the marginal demand for both ownership and rentership shelter. Two, supply in the U.S. housing market. That's three fold; it's the listing of existing homes for sale, it's the building of new homes and it's distressed, so think of defaults and foreclosures in the housing market. The third pillar is the affordability of the U.S. housing market, which we've been discussing. And the fourth is the availability of mortgage credit. And Jay you're right, these factors influence home prices in different ways. While we do expect sales to increase, we're also expecting for sale inventory to increase next year, even if only at the margins. What our models are telling us is that increasing off of multi-decade lows from an inventory perspective is enough to push home prices down a little bit in 2024, despite the increase in demand that we're forecasting. We're calling for home prices to fall by about 3% year-over-year by the end of next year.
Jay Bacow: That doesn't seem like a lot given that home prices are up about 45% since the start of the pandemic.
Jim Egan: Right. And I would stress that we think this is a moderation, not a correction in home prices. We also don't think that there's a lot of downside below that 3% number, as homeowners do remain strong hands in this cycle. And by that, we mean we don't think that they're going to be forced to sell into materially weaker bids. That has and will continue to provide a lot of support to home prices in the cycle. We just don't think that that support means that home prices can't decline marginally on a year-over-year basis in 2024.
Jay Bacow: All right, Jim, it's always great talking to you about the mortgage and housing market.
Jim Egan: Great talking to you, too, Jay.
Jay Bacow: And thank you all for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on the Apple Podcast app and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today.
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