Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Oct 7, 2021

Highs—and Lows—in U.S. Housing


James Egan: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm James Egan, Co-Head of U.S. Securitized Products Research here at Morgan Stanley.

Jay Bacow: And I'm Jay Bacow, the other Co-Head of U.S. Securitized Products Research here.

James Egan: And on this edition of the podcast, we'll be talking about continued growth in the housing market and the current state of supply. It's Thursday, October 7th at 10:00 a.m. in New York.

Jay Bacow: So, Jim, last time we were on this podcast, it seemed like we were seeing record home prices. However, every month since, we've continued to break those records. What's going on? When do we expect to see home prices start to turn?

James Egan: The most recent print - and so we're talking about Case-Shiller National here that we got in September, it referenced July; 19.7% year over year growth. We're rounding to 20%. Now, we've set new records each of the last few months, but if we remove this specific chapter in history, the prior record from the early 2000s was a little bit over 14%. So, we're well north of anywhere we've been.

Jay Bacow: All right. But if we are at a record right now, I thought previously you had talked about things slowing down. So, what's going on there?

James Egan: So, when we talk about the view for home prices, right? We talk about demand, we talk about supply, we talk about affordability, and we talk about mortgage credit availability. And one of the things we highlighted the last time we were on this podcast was that affordability. Those pressures that were building up there were going to lead to a slowdown in home price growth in the second half. The most recent print, as I said, September - references July - technically, we're in the second half of the year. We do think as we move through the third quarter and really as we get into the fourth quarter is when you're going to start to see those affordability pressures take hold.

James Egan: Most notably, mortgage rates - look, they haven't increased dramatically from all-time lows in January, but they're still off of those lows. Most importantly, they're not setting new lows. And that means they're not acting as a release valve for this increase in home prices. And we're seeing that manifest itself in terms of growing affordability pressures. The monthly payment on the median priced home is up over $200 since January - that's over a 20% increase. On top of that, when we look at consumers attitudes towards buying homes, they're at the lowest point they've been now since the early 1980s, far lower than they were at any point during the global financial crisis earlier this century. But affordability pressures are just one piece of the puzzle here. There are other aspects that might be keeping home prices elevated.

Jay Bacow: When I’m thinking about home prices, you know, obviously one of the factors is going to be supply; that’s Economics 101. We’ve talked beforehand about how we’re not building enough homes. Is that just the biggest factor here?

James Egan: I do think that we can’t ignore supply. I mean, when we think about this growth we’ve seen in home prices, the most consistent or persistent part of that narrative has been a shortage in supply.

James Egan: Now there are a lot of ways that we can go about attempting to size the shortage in supply in the housing market. But two of the things we looked at recently were kind of net supply versus net demand, but also the vacancy rate. So, if we start with that first calculation, we look at net supply in terms of the total amount of single unit completions added to the market every year, the total amount of multi-unit completions added to the market every year, and we control for a small obsolescence rate. Some of the housing stock does come out of use every single year. And we compare that net supply to net demand or household formations.

James Egan: And you know what? Going back to the early 1980s, those two metrics track each other pretty well. That relationship really fell apart post the global financial crisis. From 2009 to 2019 net demand has exceeded net supply by a total, a cumulative total of 5 million units. Now that’s just one way to size the shortage from purely a building perspective. Another way is to look at vacancy rates. Owner vacancy rates right now are tied for the lowest they’ve been since the Housing Vacancy Survey started getting published in the 1950s. If we were to raise owner vacancy rates to their average level of the past 40 years, that would take over 1.5 million units. So, from a building perspective, we’re anywhere from a 1.5 to 5 million units short.

Jay Bacow: Alright but new home sales will obviously change the amount of absolute supply. But then there’s also existing home sales – now somebody’s gotta buy a home, someone’s going to sell that home. That’s also gotta be part of that calculation. How do I think about the interplay between new home sales and existing home sales on the supply front?

James Egan: I mean, you hit the nail on the head there, right? We talk about new builds in terms of a supply perspective, but they're just one piece of the puzzle here. We have to think about existing inventories. We talk about shadow inventories as well with respect to things like foreclosures that play a role in supply, that play a role in housing activity, that play a role in home prices. But it's not just new inventory that's short, existing inventory is short as well. If we look at the number of single unit homes available for sale, we have that data going back to the 1980s and it's never been lower than it is right now. It would take, depending on how we measure it, 1.1 to 1.5 million additional existing units being listed for sale to bring that number back to long run averages.

James Egan [00:07:34] So supply is really tight across the board. Now, the pace at which that supply is tightening, that has slowed down. We're not seeing the same year over year decreases that we were seeing in 2020. So, we are starting to see a little bit of a plateau there. We do think that you're going to start to see supply increasing a little bit. But these incredible tights from a supply perspective we think are playing a pretty substantial role in keeping home prices this elevated despite the growing affordability pressures that we've noted both earlier and on previous podcasts.

Jay Bacow: All right. So we addressed supply, we addressed demand, we addressed affordability. The last pillar is credit availability.

James Egan: Yes, we think that credit availability kind of plays two roles in both supporting the healthy foundation of the housing market here, but also important for the trajectory of the housing market going forward. Credit availability itself. We were easing, from a lending standard perspective, on the margins from 2013 through 2020 - February of 2020 specifically. Then we gave up six years’ worth of easing over the course of the next six months. Lending standards have started to ease a little bit from here, but we're starting from a very conservative place, if you will. That starting point means that we think that delinquencies foreclosures will remain controlled. But the fact that we believe we're going to see easing from here also means that we can see more demand than we otherwise would materialize despite the fact that we're seeing these affordability pressures.

James Egan: Both of those are positive, but there are reasons to think that we'll see credit easing from here, one of which being the level we're coming from, another being how mortgages are performed. But a big factor here is also what we're hearing out of the administration down in D.C. But Jay, can you kind of walk through what we're seeing from these various FHFA announcements, what the implications could be here?

Jay Bacow: When we look at the FHFA announcements, there's been a series of them and it's not just FHFA, it's also been from HUD and Ginnie Mae. And they're all aligned with what we believe are the current administration's goals to increase access to homeownership and reduce some of the affordability pressures. And one of the ways that they've done that is they've allowed the GSEs to increase capital via producing more loans that are either for investors and none are occupied where the guarantee fee is accretive to their business via warehousing more cash window loans, along with changing the regulatory relief for doing credit risk transfer deals. And we think the GSEs are going to take this capital and with this capital, they're going to expand the credit box, perhaps in the form of LLPA changes or G-Fee reductions, which will make it both cheaper for homeowners to get a mortgage and perhaps shift the credit box a little bit wider, particularly on the lower end of the credit box. Doing this will help align the affordability pressures and lack of access to homeownership with the current administration's goals.

James Egan: So, when we think about everything we've talked about on this podcast, from supply to credit availability, what that means for home prices moving forward; look, affordability pressures are real, and they've been building. But a tight supply environment, even if we're seeing it ease a little bit and credit availability easing from here, both of those things should work to keep home prices growing. We think they contribute to the healthy foundation. The pace of growth it will slow from almost 20% today. It'll slow into the end of the year. We think throughout 2022 it continues to slow but remains in the mid-single digits from a growth perspective.

James Egan: So, Jay, thanks for taking the time.

Jay Bacow: Always a pleasure. Thanks, Jim.

James Egan: As a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show. 

Affordability pressures continue to mount as housing supply tightens. How long will home prices continue setting records and what could it mean for credit availability?

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