This spring, the Fed dusted off the ole inflation-fighting playbook. It goes like this: The central bank applies upward pressure on long-term interest rates—including mortgage rates—through signaling that short-term rates will soon rise. Those spiking mortgage rates then push both home sales and homebuilding lower. That causes demand for commodities (like lumber and concrete) and durable goods (like countertops and refrigerators) to fall. Those economic contractions then spread throughout the rest of the economy and, in theory, help to curtail inflation.
The housing correction phase, of course, has already begun.
Across the country, home shoppers are putting their home search on pause. On a year-over-year basis, new home sales and existing home sales are now down 29.6% and 20.2%. And single-family housing starts and mortgage purchase applications are down 18.5% and 23%, respectively. Simply put: Housing activity is contracting—fast.
Regardless of what you call it—a housing correction, housing recession, or housing downturn—it is far from over. Just look at mortgage rates. Heading into the year, the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate sat at 3.1%. That’s long gone. On Thursday, it climbed to 6.23%—the second highest mortgage rate reading of 2022.
If a borrower took out a $500,000 mortgage at a 3.2% rate, they’d see a $2,162 monthly payment. At a 6.23% rate, that monthly payment would be $3,072 over the 30-year loan. These elevated mortgage rates—coupled with frothy home prices that jumped 43% during the pandemic—simply make new monthly payments unaffordable for many would-be buyers. Other households (see chart below) have lost their mortgage eligibility altogether.
As long as mortgage rates and home prices both remain this high, industry insiders say the housing market will continue to slump.
Earlier this week, Goldman Sachs released a revised forecast. The investment bank now projects that housing GDP will fall 8.9% in 2022, and another 9.2% in 2023. That would mark the first housing downturn of the post–Great Financial Crisis era. The culprit? The affordability crunch (see chart below) caused by spiking mortgage rates.
The bad news for buyers? It could be a while before there’s much rate relief.
“I still expect fixed rates to average 5.5% through the remainder of the year,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, tells Fortune.
Once the U.S. labor market begins to weaken, Zandi says, financial markets should begin to ease up on mortgage rates; in theory, a weakened labor market, coupled with falling inflation, would lead the Fed to ease up on its inflation fight. However, if the overheated labor market persists, rates could go even higher.
“Of course, if the job market remains resilient, the Fed will need to tighten even more aggressively than markets are anticipating, and mortgage rates [would go] higher and the ultimate damage to the housing market [would be] greater,” notes Zandi.
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