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. Securities Products Research.
Jim Egan: And on this episode of the podcast, we'll be discussing supply and demand in the U.S. housing market. It's Wednesday, September 7th, at 3 p.m. in New York.
Jay Bacow: All right, Jim. Housing headlines have started to get a little more bleak. Home price appreciation slowed pretty materially with last week's print. Now, your call has been that activity is going to decrease, but home prices are going to keep growing. Where do we stand on that?
Jim Egan: We would say that the bifurcation narrative still holds. We think housing activity metrics, and when we say housing activity we're specifically talking about home sales and housing starts, have some continued sharp declines in the months to come. But we do think that home prices are going to continue growing on a year over year basis, even despite a disappointing print that you mentioned from last week.
Jay Bacow: But I have to askv, what are you looking at that gives you confidence in your home price call? Where could you be wrong given the slowdown we just saw?
Jim Egan: We say a lot of fancy sounding things when we talk about the housing market, but ultimately they're just different ways of describing supply and demand. Demand is weakening. That's that drop in activity we're forecasting. But supply is also very tight and that contributes to our view that while home price growth needs to slow, it should remain positive on a year over year basis.
Jay Bacow: All right, but haven't some metrics of supply been moving higher?
Jim Egan: Look, we knew we were not going to be able to say that supply was historically tight forever. Existing inventories are now climbing year over year for the first time in 37 months. And another very popular metric of supply, months of supply, is effectively getting a 1-2 punch right now. Months of supply measures how much the current supply of housing listed for sale, would take to clear at current demand levels. So in a world in which supply is increasing and demand is falling, you have a numerator climbing and a denominator falling, so you're effectively supercharging months of supply, if you will. We were at a cycle low of 2.1 months of inventory, the lowest we've seen in at least three and a half decades, in January of this year. We're at 4.1 months of supply just six months later.
Jay Bacow: So that number is a lot higher, but 4.1 months of supply is still really low. Isn't there some old saying that anything less than six months of supply is a seller's market? So wouldn't that be good for home prices?
Jim Egan: Yes. And given recent work that we've done, we think that that saying is there for good reason. If we go back to the mid 1980s, so the Case-Shiller index that we're forecasting here that's as far back as this index goes. And every single time that months of supply has been below six, the Case-Shiller index was still appreciating six months forward. Home prices were still climbing, six months forward. So the absolute level of inventory is in a pretty healthy place despite the recent increases. However, that rate of change is a little concerning. We've gone from 2.1 months to 4.1 months over just six months of actual time, and when we look at that rate of change historically, it actually does tend to predict falling home prices a year forward. So, absolute level of inventory leaves us confident in continued home price growth, but the rate of change of that underlying inventory calls continued home price growth in 2023 into question.
Jay Bacow: So we're going to have more inventory, but the pace has been accelerating. How do we think about the pace of that increase?
Jim Egan: If that pace were to continue at its current levels, that would make us really concerned about home prices next year. But we do think the pace of inventory growth is going to slow and we think that for two main reasons. The two biggest inputs into inventory are new inventories and existing. New inventories, and we've talked about this on the podcast before, we think they're about to really slow down. Homebuilder confidence is down 43% from cycle peaks in November of 2020. Part of that's the affordability deterioration we talked about earlier, but it's also because of a backlog in the building process. Single unit starts are back to 1997 levels. Units under construction, so between starts and completions, are back to 2004 levels - it is taking longer to finish those homes. And we have had a forecast that we thought that was going to lead to single unit starts slowing down, it finally has over the past two months after plateauing for almost a year. We think they're going to continue to fall pretty precipitously in the back half of this year, which should mean that new inventory stop climbing at the same pace that they've been climbing. Existing inventories also should stop their current pace of climb because of the lock in effect that we've talked about here before. Effectively, current homeowners have been able to lock in very low mortgage rates over the course of the past two years. They're not going to be incentivized to list their homes at similar rates to historical places because of that lock in effect. So for both of those reasons, we think the pace of increase in inventory is going to slow, and that's why we continue to think that home prices are going to grow on a year over year basis. They're just going to slow from 18% now, to 9% by the end of this year, to 3% by the end of 2023.
Jay Bacow: Okay. So effectively the low amount of absolute supply is going to keep home prices supported. The change in the amount of supply makes us a little bit more cautious on home prices on a longer term outlook. But we think that pace of that change is going to slow down.
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.