Something discouraging is happening to the US real estate market. Home prices and sales are continuing to be weak despite a huge drop in mortgage rates. Lower mortgage rates should have given a boost to new home sales and construction, but the opposite has occurred. Home price gains and sales have slipped considerably and permits for new construction have fallen 6.6% in 15 months.
FINSUM: The question, as ever, is whether the weakness in housing is presaging an economy-wide recession, or is just an isolated situation. We favor the latter.
While investors might not feel it right now, tariffs do have some upsides. The most direct one—revenue for the US Treasury. US Treasury income is surging because of the recent tariff hikes on Chinese goods. The rolling 12-month sum of customs duties collected by the Treasury (through the end of June) was $63 bn, almost double the sum of the same period last year. If Trump enacts another round of planned hikes on September 1st, the US will likely collect $100 bn in tariffs this year.
FINSUM: This is a good number, especially at a time of major government over-spending. However, it must be remembered that the large majority of this bounty will be eaten up by aid paid to US farmers as part of tariff relief efforts.
Trump’s tariffs are having a major impact on the US’ trading relationships. The data has been showing such, but now there is a very significant data point: China is no longer the US’ largest trading partner. Mexico has now assumed that position. The decline in trade with China comes alongside an escalating trade war that has seen tariff hikes and restrictions on both sides.
FINSUM: We are now officially of the position that this trade war with China will not be resolved any time soon, so this decline in trading seems to be the end of an era.
It has been a very bumpy run for US-China trade talks this year, but after a significant hiatus, China will again return to the negotiating table with the US in September. The most recent round of talks, in Shanghai, just concluded without an agreement, but there were some signs of life, as China buying US farm goods was discussed. The negotiators only stayed in Shanghai about 24 hours.
FINSUM: This seems to us like quite an intractable issue. We do not expect a forthcoming agreement any time soon.
It has been years since there was much good news in US real estate. The market has been slightly pessimistic for years, but finally there might be some reason for optimism. New home sales actually rose in June, a sign that health is improving in the all-important US property sector. Sales increased 7% from May, but the average home price stayed flat from one year ago at $310,400.
FINSUM: With rates likely to fall and yields having already tumbled, it would not be surprising to see a short-term pop in real estate. It would actually be quite worrying if that doesn’t happen.