Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Jul 9, 2024

U.S. Housing: What Will Slow Home Price Growth?


Jay Bacow: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jay Bacow, co-head of Securitized Products Research at Morgan Stanley.

James Egan: And I'm Jim Egan, the other co-head of Securitized Products Research at Morgan Stanley.

It's Tuesday, July 9th, at 1pm in New York.

Jay Bacow: Jim, housing headlines just keep coming. Home prices are at record highs. What does that mean? How should we be thinking about that?

James Egan: So, that has been a fun headline, and according to several measures of home prices, we are at record highs. But, let's put that into context. We've actually set a new record high for home prices every month for the past ten months. In fact, prior to a 12-month hiatus from July of ’22 to June of ’23, home prices had actually hit a new record high every month for 68 consecutive months.

Jay Bacow: Alright, so if we're just talking about levels, it's important. But given that I'm a physicist by training, so are rates of change; and for that matter, changes to the rate of change, or acceleration, if you will. If there's something different about the current record of US home prices that is worth discussing, that would be interesting.

James Egan: We think there is. Actually two months ago, home prices set a new record high. But it was also the first time in ten months that the pace of year-over-year home price appreciation did not accelerate. This month the pace of appreciation actually started to decelerate.

As listeners of this podcast might remember, we've been calling for the pace of year-over-year home price appreciation to slow from above 6.5 per cent to just two percent by December. We are still above six percent today, but this could be the beginning of that deceleration.

Jay Bacow: Right. And if there's going to be deceleration, Newton would say there needs to be some force that causes it. And my understanding is you thought that that force that causes it would be sale inventories increasing. Has that been the case?

James Egan: Indeed, it has been actually. Total for sale inventory has increased for six consecutive months. And the pace of that growth is accelerating. Now, we do want to highlight that overall supply remains very tight. That part of the housing narrative hasn't changed. If we take a step back and look at the whole market, total months of supply are at just 4.5 per cent. Anything below six is really considered a seller's market there.

On the other hand, this is the highest level that the market has experienced since the first half of 2020, which is another argument in our minds for the pace of home price appreciation to decelerate. But once we remove these pandemic era lows, four and a half months is close to the lowest level of the past 30 plus years.

Jay Bacow: Alright, now sticking on the level context. Home prices weren't just the only thing that set a record level these days. Pending home sales just set a new record low in May.

James Egan: Right, that's also the case. Now, we do want to put the record into context here. The pending home sales index that we're referring to only goes back to 2001. But over that 23 plus years, the May print was the lowest number that we've seen.

Jay Bacow: Alright, so given all of that, how are you thinking about demand for housing amidst increasing supply?

James Egan: Right. So this is a pretty important question. When it comes to demand at these levels, affordability remains very challenged.

One of the primary questions for the US housing market moving forward is going to be the interplay between the absolute level of affordability and the direction and rate of change. Now, we are far from being able to declare a winner here. Sales volumes have increased off of 12 year lows from the fourth quarter of 2023; but at the same time, there are several demand indicators that are having trouble achieving liftoff, if you will.

Pending home sales, for instance. They're not falling as fast as they have been, over the past two plus years; but they're also having a hard time achieving some sort of escape velocity as they continue to fall on a year-over year-basis. Mortgage applications for purchase -- another one of our leading indicators -- they're experiencing a similar dynamic.

The first half of 2024 has been a noticeable second derivative improvement versus 2023, but that improvement has slowed and applications are still falling on a year-over-year basis. Now, part of this is going to be a function of mortgage rates going forward. Jay, what are we thinking there?

Jay Bacow: Now, the biggest driver of mortgage rates is going to be the level of treasury rates. And our rate strategists are forecasting treasury rates to fall over the end of this year and into the middle of next year. If that happens, we would expect mortgage rates to get towards 6.25 to 6.5 per cent by next summer -- clearly materially lower than they are right now. But once again, the biggest driver of this is treasury rates. Not what's going on with the mortgage market.

James Egan: And we continue to expect with that decrease affordability to improve, and that to drive year-over-year growth and sales in the second half of 2024 versus 2023. But it doesn't have to be a straight line to that outcome. And how are you thinking Jay, from a mortgage market perspective about sales volumes?

Jay Bacow: So, the mortgage market is in a pretty interesting spot because there's almost two sides of it. There's the existing mortgage market, which is mostly made up of homeowners that have very low mortgage rates, and thus the coupon to the investor is relatively low; and they're trading at a discount.

If turnover is low, then those bonds are outstanding for longer, which is bad for those investors. But, if that turnover is low, that means the supply to the market in the new higher coupon mortgages is relatively low, which is good for those investors in the new higher coupon mortgages.

In effect, if turnover is lower, it's good for higher coupon mortgages, not so good for lower coupon mortgages.

James Egan: And that's why all of this is so critical. If I were to, to summarize, we're paying attention to increasing inventory volumes in the housing market. We're paying attention to some of these demand statistics that are coming in a little softer than at least consensus estimates expected them to. We do think that home price growth is going to decelerate as a result. We also think it will remain positive. There continues to be very little overall supply in the US housing market.

Jay, it was nice speaking with you.

Jay Bacow: Jim, nice talking physics in the housing market with you.

James Egan: Thanks for listening. And if you enjoyed this podcast, please leave us a review wherever you listen, and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today. 

Record-high prices remain a key concern for buyers in the U.S. housing market. Our Co-Heads of Securitized Product Research dig into the data, explaining why they still believe a deceleration in home price growth will come.