We know, we know, a mortgage meltdown sounds like a claim coming out of left field. However, it comes from a potentially big issue that no one is paying attention to—the fact that the Fed is winding down its massive $1.6tn+ mortgage bond portfolio. As the Fed has begun to unwind its MBS portfolio, there are growing worries over the economy and real estate market. This could lead to a mortgage shock. Spreads between MBS and Treasuries have already risen as investors have grown nervous about oversupply.
FINSUM: So this is more of a technical issue than a fundamental one, but given the confluence of negative sentiment and oversupply, there is certainly some significant risk on the horizon for MBS.
The US real estate market has looked weak for over a year now, and things aren’t really improving. While the market has not seen the bottom fall out, it is going through a weak period. New data on home sales shows that home price gains in 20 US cities have slowed for the 12th straight month. Property values in March were up 2.7% from a year earlier, their weakest gain since August 2012.
FINSUM: The market is steadily slowing. One might hope that falling yields could help perk up the market, but the threat of the trade war will probably keep buyers anxious.
The real estate market has been worrying and disappointing for well over a year now. Home sales and new constructions have been trending poorly, all of which has worried investors that a recession may be on the way. However, this year’s drop in yields has made mortgages much more affordable, which seems to be helping the market. Big market player Realtor.com has just put out its updated outlook for the year, saying “lower, but still increasing mortgage rates that will buoy home prices and sales by boosting buyers’ purchasing power beyond what we initially projected”.
FINSUM: For a $200,000 mortgage, the difference in monthly payments right now is already almost a $150 lower versus what it was in the fourth quarter. That is a meaningful difference for many families.
How does a big global housing meltdown sound? Crappy. Well, that is exactly one of the things that the IMF is currently warning investors about. Americans will already be well aware of the several month downturn in real estate, but what is likely much less well understood is that many markets around the world, including emerging markets, look at risk of a major housing bust. One of the big worries of the IMF is that a real estate downturn will spark a banking crisis in overseas markets that could then bubble over to the rest of the world.
FINSUM: We don’t tend to think of real estate as a particularly globally-correlated asset class. However, the banking industry that underpins it certainly is, so the risk is definitely there.
There has been a lot of gloomy reporting on the real estate market lately (admittedly in this publication too), but the reality is that the market is not in as poor shape as many think. Here are two points to digest. The first is that national US home prices rose 4.3% (annualized) in January, down from a 4.6% gain in December, but still solid. The figure is two percentage points below January of 2018. The second point is that with yields having fallen so far, cheap mortgages (think 4% or less) are back. The big reduction in mortgage expense is fueling fast refinancings, but it also seems like enough to boost home purchases.
FINSUM: The bond market and the Fed’s dovishness might prove to be a big support to the real estate market. Also, considering all the gloomy news, a 4.3% annualized gain in January (the month after the stock market rout) does not seem too bad at all.