The economy may not be recovering at enough of a pace to please everybody, but it has been steadily getting better in most areas. But over the last nine months or so, the housing market has been bucking the trend--in a bad way. We'll get updated existing home sales data tomorrow, and perhaps we'll see a turn. But that seems unlikely. In a new Economic Letter , San Francisco Fed senior economist John Krainer shares some key data about home sales, and observes that investors, "may be pulling back as house values have increased in comparison with rental prices." Many indicators of housing market activity stalled over the second half of 2013, but the weakness is most evident in existing home sales. Sales of existing single-family homes reached a recent peak of 4.75 million units in July 2013, compared with the year before and adjusted for seasonal trends. Sales have fallen ever since. Figure 1 shows that the pattern of declining home sales has been broadly similar across different regions of the country. Sales in these regions all reached their peaks in July 2013 and then fell about 10% through October; the figure shows the regions indexed to 100 in July for comparison. The fact that home sales in different parts of the country peaked and fell together suggests that some common underlying factors were at play. One such factor that could account for the decline in home sales is rising mortgage interest rates. Starting in May 2013, financial market participants became increasingly convinced that the Federal Reserve would soon taper its long-term asset purchases, and interest rates moved up. Mortgage rates in particular rose by nearly a full percentage point. Higher mortgage rates generally have a direct dampening effect on home sales, as buyers face constraints on the size of loans they can secure and on loan payments relative to their incomes. Since individual incomes likely did not rise over this short period, and house prices continued to grow in most regions, the rise in mortgage rates was expected to have an unambiguous negative impact on sales. To gauge the effects of higher mortgage rates on home sales over time, I use a simple statistical model that relates existing home sales to past sales, past mortgage rates, and house price appreciation. I include past values of single-family construction permits to control for conditions in the market for new homes—a substitute for existing homes. Figure 2 shows both actual data and dynamic simulations of existing home sales during the period of interest. The model simulations use seasonally adjusted monthly data through March 2013. Beyond that date, I use actual mortgage rates, house price appreciation, and building permits to predict sales of existing homes. This simulation is dynamic in the sense that the model predictions are based on past values of home sales, which themselves are predictions from early periods in the simulation. In the figure, the solid blue line shows the actual path of existing single-family home sales, and the dashed red line is the simulated path from the model. The dashed green line offers another simulation of what sales would have been if mortgage rates had remained at the low levels observed in April 2013. Read The Slowdown in Existing Home Sales here .
Filed under: housing, new home sales, economic indicators, real estate, investing, San Francisco Fed, federal reserve bank of san francisco, economic letter, John Krainer, existing home sales, real estate investment