Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Jan 19, 2023

U.S. Housing: Will Activity Continue to Slow?


Jim Egan: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jim 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.

Jim Egan: And on this episode of the podcast, we'll be discussing the U.S. housing and mortgage markets. It's Thursday, January 19th at 11 a.m. in New York.

Jay Bacow: So, Jim, the housing data hasn't been looking all that great recently. We've talked about this bifurcated outlook for the U.S. housing market, still holding that view?

Jim Egan: So to catch people up, the bifurcated housing narrative was between housing activity. And by that we mean sales and housing starts and home prices. We thought there was going to be a lot more weakness in sales and starts at the end of 2022 and throughout 2023, then home prices, which we thought would be more protected. Since we came out with that outlook, it's safe to say that sales have been materially weaker than we thought they'd be. To put that into a little bit of context, existing home sales for the most recent month of data, which was November, showed the largest year over year decrease for that time series since the early 1980s. Pending home sales, we only have that data going back to 2001, but pending home sales just showed their weakest November in the entire history of that time series, so weaker than it was during the great financial crisis. Now, Jay, when we talk about those kind of weaker than anticipated sales volumes, what does that mean for your markets?

Jay Bacow: Right. So while homeowners clearly are going to care about home prices, mortgage investors care more about the housing activity. And they care about that because that housing activity, those home sales, that results in supply to the market and it actually results in supply to the market from two different sides. There's the organic net supply from home sales. And then furthermore, because the Fed is doing QT, the faster the pace of home sales, the more the Fed balance sheet runoff is. And so as those home sales numbers come down, you get less supply to the market, which is inarguably good for mortgage investors. Now, the problem is mortgage spreads have repriced to reflect that at this point.

Jim Egan: Now Jay, a lot of things have repriced.

Jay Bacow: Right. And I think the question now is, is that going to keep up? But turning it over to you, what's causing this slowdown in home sales? And do we think that's going to continue?

Jim Egan: I think in a word, it's affordability. A lot of the underlying premises behind our bifurcated narrative, we still see those there they're just impacting the market a little bit more than we thought they would. From an affordability perspective, and we've said this on this podcast before, the monthly mortgage payment as a percentage of household income has deteriorated more over the past year than really any year we have on record. From a numbers perspective, that payment's gone up over $700. That's a 58% increase. That's making it more difficult for first time buyers to buy homes and therefore pulling sales activity down. But where the bifurcation part of this narrative comes from, a lot of current homeowners have very low, call it maybe 3-3.5%, 30 year fixed rate mortgages. They're not incentivized to list their homes in this current environment and we're seeing that. Listing volumes are close to 40 year lows. In a month in which sales fall as sharply as they just did, we would expect months of supply at least to move higher and that roughly stayed flat. And so you have this lack of inventory, people aren't selling their homes, that means they're also not buying a home on the follow which pulls sales volumes down, leading to some of those numbers we talked about on top of just how long it's been since we've seen sales fall as sharply as they have. But on the other side of the equation, that's also keeping home prices a little bit more protected.

Jay Bacow: Okay. So you mentioned affordability is impacting home sales, but then what's happening to actual home prices? Are they holding up then?

Jim Egan: We think they will now. Don't hear what I'm not saying, that doesn't mean that home prices keep climbing. It just means that the pace with which they're going to slow down or the pace with which they're going to fall isn't as substantial as what we're going to see on the activity front. Now year over year HPA most recently up 9.2%. We think in the next month's print, that's going to slow to a little bit below 8% down to 7.9%. On a month over month basis from peak in June of 2022, home prices are off 3%. We think they'll fall a further 4% in 2023. But to kind of put some guardrails around that bifurcation narrative, that drop only brings us to the fourth quarter of 2021. That's 30% above where home prices were onset of the pandemic in March of 2020. On the sale side, our base case was that we were going to fall back to 2013 levels of transactions. And given how data has come in since then, it looks like we're heading lower than that.

Jay Bacow: All right. So we think housing activity is going to continue to fall, but that slowdown in housing activity means that home prices, while seeing the first year on year decline since 2012, are going to be well supported.

Jay Bacow: Jim, always a pleasure talking to you.

Jim Egan: Great talking to you, too, Jay.

Jay Bacow: And thank you for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on the Apple Podcasts app, and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today.

With housing data from the last few months of 2022 coming in weaker than expected, mortgage investors can expect a slowdown but continued strong prices.

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