|Economic outlooks seem to change month-to-month, and yet again, we find ourselves in a unique moment in time. The Fed rapidly switched from loose to contractionary monetary policy in March and recently increased the federal funds rate by 0.75% — the biggest increase since 1994. The effects have yet to curb inflation, which is still at a 40-year high (+8.5% CPI year-over-year). On a monthly basis, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects the prices of approximately 94,000 items from a sample of goods and services to calculate the Consumer Price Index (CPI). We didn’t look into everything in the BLS sample, but if you’re like us, it feels like everything we buy is closer to 50–100% higher than it was a year ago, or even several months ago. While prices are rising, the cost to borrow has also gotten more expensive, which is dampening demand. |
We are starting to see this play out in the housing market. We are noticing more inventory coming to market, coupled with fewer sales. We must, however, provide a caveat: The housing inventory is still historically low. As rates rise, especially as rapidly as they have this year, buyers can get priced out of the market quickly and must reconsider their budgets.
A year ago, the average 30-year mortgage rates hit their lowest levels in history and have more than doubled since then, to 5.81%. Let’s take a look at some numbers to see how assets have performed in the first half of 2022: The S&P 500 declined 21% (the worst first half of the year since 1970), the NASDAQ is down 30%, and Bitcoin and Ethereum have dropped 59% and 71%, respectively. At the same time, U.S. housing prices increased by 15% nationally. Home prices, simply, rarely go down. Even if you weren’t directly affected by the 2006 housing bubble, you likely knew someone who was. One lasting effect of the housing bubble is the perception that home prices decline much like other risk assets, which isn’t the case. Stocks, bonds, and cryptocurrency are fungible assets that allow for large, multiplayer markets. The housing market has only recently become more efficient because of technology, but too many factors play into a home’s value, preventing regular downturns in the market. Large declines in liquid assets do affect demand for homes, though, as people tend to reconsider buying when they feel (and objectively are) less wealthy during dips in those markets.
But what about the Fed’s intention to slow down the economy by decreasing demand through raising rates? Won’t that cause a recession and lower home prices? We’ve already seen some slowdown in the Q1 2022 Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP)* data. The Fed’s goal is to slacken growth enough to curb inflation, but not enough to send the U.S. into a recession, which is a challenging needle to thread. The National Bureau of Economic Research, which officially declares recessions, defines a recession as a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy that lasts more than a few months and is normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales. With unemployment near all-time lows and a surplus of job openings, we may end up avoiding an official recession, even if GDP decelerates for multiple quarters. U.S. GDP is expected to outpace China’s this year for the first time since 1976, which sounds positive but could be a clear sign of a major slowdown given our economic ties.
Home prices are highly likely to continue rising despite rising rates. If you were waiting for rates to drop, they won’t. The low but rising supply continues to make the market competitive and, as more homes come to market, could mark the early stages of market normalization. As always, we will continue to monitor the housing and economic markets to best guide you in buying or selling your home.
*Real GDP is inflation-adjusted GDP, which is the broadest measure of goods and services produced. All references to GDP use Real GDP figures.