A colleague of mine pointed out that Trump has not been tweeting his flatulence about the economy recently. This thankful hiatus is after he just passed a tax cuts and a spending budget that is supposed to be stimulative. As it turns out, the economy is hitting the headwinds of marginally higher interest rates and a consumer that is bulging from the eyeballs with debt. Windfall tax rebates to large corporations will not fix this nor will rampant Government deficit spending.
This leads us to the housing market. Mortgage originations were down 5.6% in Q4 from Q3. This is not a result of seasonal bias. Q4 mortgage originations in 2017 were down 26.7% from Q4 2016. One caveat is that the Fed does not breakout the numbers between purchase mortgages and refinancing. But higher rates are starting to affect all mortgage applications. According to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association, mortgage purchase applications dropped 6% two weeks in the row. Declines in purchase apps should not happen moving from January to February, as February is statistically a seasonally stronger month for home sales than January.
Moreover, existing home sales for January were released this morning. To the extent that we can trust the National Association or Realtor’s Seasonally Adjusted Annualized Rate statistical Cuisinart, existing home sales plunged 3.2% in January from December and nearly 5% from January 2018. Decembers headline report was revised lower. I’m sure the King of Spin, Larry Yun, will blame it on “low inventory.” But this is simply not true:
If Yun’s thesis were true, the chart above would be inverted. Instead, going back to j1998, there is a definitive inverse correlation between inventory and home sales. Curiously, when attempted to run the numbers to the present, I discovered that the Fed removed the data series I had used to create the chart in in 2015. Mere coincidence, I’m sure…
The mortgage rate for a 30-yr fixed rate conventional mortgage at Wells Fargo, the country’s second largest mortgage originator, is now 4.5% with an APR of 4.58%. As recently as September, the rate for a 30yr mortgage was 3.87%. At current rates, the monthly payment for a home purchase with a $400,000 mortgage has increased $187. It may not sound like much, but for many first-time buyers that small jump in monthly payment can mean the difference between buying and not buying.
Since the Fed began printing money and the Government knocked the down payment requirement to 3% on a Government-backed mortgage, homebuyers have based the amount they are willing to pay for a home on determining the highest possible monthly payment the mortgage underwriter will allow. In the example above, the monthly payment on a $400k mortgage at 3.78% is $1,857. At 4.58%, the same payment only “buys” a $363,000 mortgage. This is nearly a 10% decline.
The same math applies to flippers/investment buyers, who pay an even higher rate for an investment purchase. One of the SSJ subscribers is a real estate professional here in Denver. She emailed to tell me that, “it doesn’t take much for interest rates to change Investors ideas.” She has a client who wants to buy an investment home for around $350000. Since investor rate loans are at least a quarter of a point higher than an owner-occupied mortgage, the client’s purchase with 20% down goes up $161 a month from the from the recent jump in mortgage rates. This means he now needs the rent to go up by that much to work on the purchase-decision formula he is using.” I believe that a lot of flippers are going to be stuck with homes they can’t re-sell at the price they paid.
The average price the average-income homebuyer can afford has declined nearly 10% as a result of just a 75 basis point rise in mortgage rates. What happens when rates go up another 50-75 basis points? This fact has not been reflected in the home price data that is released every month from Case-Shiller and from the Government. This is because those surveys have a 3-6 month lag built into the methodology of calculating their respective home price indices.
As it becomes obvious that the price the average potential homebuyer can pay has been reduced from $400k to $363k, it will trigger a price decline cycle similar to 2007-2009. Flippers will be the first to fold just like during the mid-2000’s housing bubble. That housing market crash was triggered by the collapse of subprime lenders, which removed a key source of funding used by flipper and for end-user home purchases from flippers. This time around it will be triggered by a lack of buyers who are able to pay the same price now that they could have paid in September when rates were 80 basis points lower. Soon rates will be 180 basis points higher than in September and home values will be crushed.
The analysis on the housing market above is an excerpt from the latest Short Seller’s Journal, a weekly newsletter that provides insight on the latest economic data and provides short-sell ideas, including strategies for using options. You can learn more about this newsletter here: Short Seller’s Journal information.